11:00 am, april 13, 2016, day 01 | indigenous protestors and allies stage a die-in the indian and northern affairs (INAC) office on the 8th floor at 25 St. Clair Avenue East to demand real support for the crisis at Attawapiskat. when they realize they are not going to be able to meet with officials to have their demands heard, they decide to occupy the office indefinitely.
Attawapiskat is a Cree reserve in northern Ontario. with more than a third of the population under 19, the alarming number of suicides in the community have forced Chief Bruce Shisheesh to declare a state of emergency.
Shadiya outside inac building behind banner for attawapiskat
12:30 pm, april 13, day 01 | Davyn Calf child, hereditary chief of Siksika Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy earlier speaks on the livestream:
"we are not leaving until a solution is made. we don't want outsiders throwing band aids, we want a permanent solution. we don't want our youth committing suicide. we want to fix the problem, not a temporary solution. if justin trudeau and kathleen wynne are so concerned, why are they not up there right now ?
6:50 pm, april 13, day 01 | Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs, speaks before joining the protestors inside,
"I think that it’s going to take a concerted effort on many fronts. I appreciate the efforts of the community and government having their emergency debate last night before the house of commons . it’s also going to take effort from our grassroots community. We need a resurgence of the indigenous peoples movement in order to get the ball rolling and start saving the lives of our young people. Our hearts and leadership are broken across the land recognizing what’s happening right now. We are here to lend support, to stand up, and be brave right now.
we need to continue to organize in a positive, peaceful way to talk about the history of the legacy of the indian act, about the amendments that have been created to promote genocide on paper of who we are as indigenous peoples. we need to wake up. we need to become aware and organize in a peaceful way."
11:10 pm, april 13, day 01 | Dani Hebert is throwing air hugs at the crowd gathered outside the INAC building. Sigrid Kneve, Cathy Leigh Tsoukalas, & Coyote Watson make hearts with their hands while allies outside shout, "Attawapiskat, we got your back!" they are coming down to speak with a lawyer who's only allowed to meet them at the lobby. love and prayers are pouring in from across turtle island tonight.
11:49 pm, april 13, day 01 | Sue-Lynn Manone & Davyn Calf child wave and show their love to the supporters outside the INAC building in tkaronto. they won't be allowed to go back in if they step outside these doors. indigenous activists have been occupying space on the 8th floor to demand sustained support for Attawapiskat. along with Sigrid Kneve, Cathy Tsong Deh Kwe, Carrie Lester, Crystal Sinclair, Dani Hebert and Coyote Watson, about two dozen people remain there. there are two young children there, three months and two years old. #groundzeroinac has been continuing for over 12 hours.
Derek Nipenak on the phone with Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs
1:50 pm, april 14, day 02 | Whabagoon from Lac Seul Treaty 3 is on the sidewalk drumming and singing with the crowd. Two young indigenous women, Keisha (Cree) and Sofi (Mi'kmaq) also join her in ceremony.
Sofi contextualizes drumming as part of protesting :
"ongoing colonialism is the systemic issue, and ceremony is the ultimate resistance. "
6:50 pm, april 14, day 02 | Kayla Sutherland from Attawapiskat addresses an emergency rally held today outside the inac building in tkaronto. over 300 people show up after a call out only hours earlier. #groundzeroINAC has been going on for 31 hours. she speaks emphatically about the realities of her community, of living in a fly-in reserve, truth spoken bluntly that people are not ready for.
“we need so much more support than what we are getting. what it looks like in dollars seems huge when they put out those billions of dollars anyone that wasn’t aware of first nations issues thought that was a huge amount of money but really it’s nothing because it’s an isolated reserve. you have to fly in everything there."
“why is it that a bottle at the lcbo is the exact same price up there as it is down here but a bag of milk is four times the price ?
“when i read an indigenous coursebook here in toronto, i had to drop the course because in that book they literally talked about attawapiskat in past tense like we do not exist.”
“...why are we called aboriginal ? ab-original, ab means not. Not original. i am original. i am indigenous.”
she points out the lack of clean water, no water treatment plant, poor education standards, how pipes in refurbished houses burst because they weren’t built to stand -50 C, how five generations of people are all living in one house, about how the pain of residential school survivors are passed onto their children but they have no support, and how easily we forget that colonization still continues.
“...by separating us from our culture and forgetting who we are, now all we know what we want are youth centres, programs, councils which are great but they are colonized systems. we don't even remember what we need. we don't remember that we need to be connected to our families, to our elders. our elders need to be teaching our children and there needs to be understanding and recognition of what happened with residential schools.”
"...i don't think that trudeau going up will do anything. i think they will take a lot of pictures and then the world will think he did something ...my recommendation is that all levels of government meet with the council and the community, including elders and youth, to create an action plan for each (stakeholder).”
“i want to say miigwetch to all of you…. i know everyone in Attawapiskat appreciates this so much. i am talking to them and they are in a meeting right now. the youth have come together and they are sitting in the arena to talk about what they are going to do as a community, as youth, to make a change. so even if nothing comes out of this, they are doing the work. and if they can do that, work with nothing, then we can do the work too.
2:15 am, april 18, day 06 | Wasse Abino Kwe (Lenore) from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve is staying outside of the inac building all night to support the occupation. warm teas, plastic chairs, blankets, sleeping bags, cold food are scattered along the sidewalk. posters continue to be added, now stretching the length of the ramp entrance.
yesterday was a day to recuperate and build community with people who dropped in to show their support. a day to reflect and remember to lead with love, to calibrate and recognize that we are here for something much bigger than us, that we are challenging the state and occupying space to ensure youth in Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities are supported.
so please, recognize that you don't know what the solutions are. understand that you need to listen directly to what the youth and community of Attawapiskat need, not what you think they want. don't romanticize the language you are using in communicating the issues concerning First Nations communities. don't say "the youth have lost all hope." ask what you can do to help them become and remain resilient, not how you can save them. admit that Canada is directly responsible for the genocide of indigenous peoples and that colonization continued through the Indian Act and residential schools which ravaged these communities. that it still continues. recall how you are complicit as settlers (white or racialized) in reinforcing the conditions which you suddenly consider 'unacceptable.' don't lie to yourself that these issues are new, they have been around for a while. for years. decades. centuries. attawapiskat and other communities have been making noise and demanding attention to a deaf government and silent public.
Maanii, originally from Waskaganish and Sagamok in northern ontario, has been up all night outside.
Sue-Lynn Manone signals the security to unlock the door so she can go back upstairs. Protestors upstairs intermittently given access to come outside.
1:00 pm, april 18, day 06 | Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett is visiting Attawapiskat to listen to the community and the youth.
Pam Palmater, indigenous lawyer and professor, in a recent article writes,
"canada can’t claim that it didn’t know there were widespread suicide crises in First Nations."
"the most significant barrier is lack of political will to take action. It is a conscious choice made by each successive government — federal, provincial and territorial — to turn a blind eye to the suffering and premature deaths of indigenous children."
7:43 pm, april 18, day 06 | Kayla Sutherland stands in a circle of women and children drumming and singing. the outer circle that's formed on st. clair street east follows along with the songs. moments ago, Gary Wassaykeesic holds the megaphone and yells out to the crowd,
"i have got one question, why aren't we on the sidewalk? take the streets! take the streets!"
uneasy at first but growing more confident with each step, people spill onto the intersection and form a circle. cars unexpecting traffic hit the breaks. a streetcar is stopped still as people block its path. the police remain idle, unstirred and loitering without purpose
kayla also presents the official demands to the federal government from Attawapiskat youth :
"in order to reconcile the generations of cultural genocide, there must be permanent supports for healing, culture and strengthening individual identities.
the current oppressive legislations must be amended to end the continued assimilation of First Nations children through western practices and systems, and must be transformed to let each band/territory create indigenous self-governance
the federal government must be held accountable for the actions of past governments. all levels of government and territorial organizations must come together to collaborate with community members about an innovative, indigenous-based leadership system. a plan of action must fund on the land programs and put emphasis on land and water knowledge. for the physical and mental wellbeing of the people there has to be increases in funding for the water treatment plant to be able to limit mercury exposure. there should be a de-privatization of the Northern stores to be able to provide federally assisted food to northern communities
reconciliation is about doing something differently than what you have been, that means there needs to be fundamental change in the federal government to end the assimilation of First Nations people to be able to learn about their first nations identities."
(written by Kayla Sutherland; approved by Robert Sutherland & Conrad Ihtail).
in between moments of exhilaration and feeling the power of ceremony, people take moments for their loved ones. those they have lost. they remember the loss their communities have been witness to but remain defiant that they will not succumb to the sorrow
as the drumming ends, people are drawn back to the sidewalk where a banner is hoisted over the building sign. the inac building is now renamed to "Attawapiskat First Nation; Toronto in solidarity with youth across Turtle Island.
it is confirmed that kenora and vancouver inac offices have also been occupied, in addition to winnipeg.
Shadiya sharing her spoken word poem inspired by occupation on turtle island and diaspora.
Sigrid Kneve, one of the indigenous women, leading the occupation upstairs.
Krystal performing fancy shawl dance outside inac building.
Gina has been occupying the 8th floor as an ally since day 01.
Jay Robi, hip hop artist, sharing one of his poems with a crowd of supporters
Rick Scott from the Aamjiwnaang community comes to the occupation to do a pipe ceremony.
Gary is always present with the mohawk flag asserting indigenous sovereignty over this land.
Chris Thunder stands in solidarity with Attawapiskat.
Dean painting a poster to hang onto the wall with dozens of messages for Attawapiskat.
Originally from Spanish, Ontario, McLeod has also been one of the protestors occupying the 8th floor.
collection of letters being sent to Attawapiskat youth.
Thomas has been inside the occupation since day 01.
Rachel, one of the people occupying the 8th floor, comes down for a break.
Carrie Lester discussing the demands of Attawapiskat youth posted outside inac building
Gloria and Des sit in a circle with other supporters on a cold night exchanging stories, food, and songs.
8:30 pm, april 20, day 08 | it's been decided after meetings with the youth in Attawapiskat and INAC occupations across Canada that they will be leaving tomorrow (april 21). the rally and closing ceremony is taking place at 4 pm in tkaronto.
however, the work is only beginning in holding the government accountable. we need to keep our attention on the youth in Attawapiskat and other first nations communities and address the root causes of the conditions they continue to face
11:45 pm, april 18, day 08 | tonight, people continue to fill the sidewalks and talk into the night. upstairs, preparations are underway to clean and organize things that can be sent to shelters. the banner continues to cover the inac building sign: "toronto in solidarity with youth across turtle island".
kayla and cathy come down to drum and do ceremony. they sing a number of songs including the grandfather song. one of the posters hanging on the wall behind them include the teachings of the seven grandfathers:
wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth
lenore is standing with them, hugging a blanket around her. she joins in from time to time listening intently to each sound and drum beat. kayla and cathy take turns going through songs they can retrieve from their memories. they close with this song:
"when i was younger
they used to tell me
that i was wrong to be strong
wrong to be strong
but now i am older
and i tell them
i was giving away my power
i'm taking it back
i'm taking it back..."
protestors occupying the building come outside on the final day of the toronto occupation.
4:30 pm, april 21, day 09 | Carrie and Sigrid bring down a map of ontario that hangs on the wall upstairs. they point out the discrepancy in government priorities,
"they gave $500 million to build a road for de beers diamond mine but the government gave only $2 million to split between 7 reserves."
Sigrid Kneve hugs her daughter after the group officially leaves the occupation.
4:15 pm, april 21, day 09 | one of the speakers taking the stage is Jay Mason who was actively involved in the american indian movement. he addresses the crowd,
"...back in the 70s we started occupations with guns in our hands because of the high rates of suicides of our young people. And here we are today 40 years later and we are still facing the same issue. So it’s time canada starts looking at what’s going on and start realizing what’s happening with our people. They need to understand our frustrations and quit calling us names. They used to call us radicals and militants, well they gave us a promotion ...we are now terrorists. Whatever name they call us, we are still anishnaabe, still the original peoples of this land. And we want our children to be alive. We want our children to be happy. ..."
Originally from Attawapiskat, Maurice comes daily to show his support.
protestors take over the street again for ceremony.
they have taken out the canada flag from inac and replaced it with the wampum belt flag.
Yusra Khogali, co-founder Black Lives Matter Toronto, points out the unremitting power of black and indigenous solidarity.
Black Lives Matter supporters continue to show up in solidarity with indigenous peoples and the occupation.
rally outside the inac building takes over the streets
Rachel, an ally, has been occupying the inac building since day 1.
protest baby was inside the occupation for the first two days with his parents Sakura and Darius. he's getting some well deserved rest
5:30 pm, April 21, day 09 | toronto inac occupation ends today as youth of Attawapiskat have announced that they are satisfied for now.
each occupation across canada will be deciding when to end individually based on their demands. We take over the street again today. 500 years of resistance bursting in the beat of drums and voices of the crowds. today, they let the government know that they will be back if the youth are not supported adequately. today we all make a commitment to support youth across turtle island.