Wa’tkwanonwerà:ton to all of the parliamentary committee members.
Like many people around the world, when the pandemic began we felt like we were walking through a dystopian world in a blindfold. There was no leadership in the community for at least a month. We were vulnerable to outside community members coming in to buy marijuana or cigarettes and it took awhile for the emergency response unit to actually declare a pandemic on March 23.
My apologies to the translators. I realize I have five minutes and not enough time.
The fact that businesses in Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnwake have been vilified and ostracized by colonial entities made it more problematic, and we felt even more vulnerable at the start of this pandemic. As you may know, we live in a community that has been fighting for three centuries for our rights to our homelands and being ignored, and when you have no rights in a pandemic this does not improve the situation of fear, uncertainty and more land dispossession.
This problematic perspective of course is rooted in institutionalized and societal racism that devalues indigenous peoples' lives that have been subjugated by colonization and its impacts.
As Prime Minister Trudeau declared an epidemic, indigenous peoples were still in the throes of the Wet’suwet'en anti-pipeline protests for indigenous rights, and the pandemic suppressed this movement. While we understand why—because of the health precautions—the construction workers and police remained occupying Wet’suwet'en lands, and they continued in spite of an MOU with the traditional hereditary chiefs.
In Kanehsatà:ke we were trying to deal with economics before rights. We have an elder's home that was shut down when the pandemic was declared, so we have no cases there. I should clarify that the community I come from, Kanehsatà:ke, was also where the the Oka crisis occurred. I heard one of the previous speakers mention Oka Park. That's where I'm coming from.
There was a meeting of mostly local Mohawk merchants. Because we were told to stay home because of COVID-19, nobody knew about this in spite of people like Theresa Tam telling everybody to stay home. In spite of my hesitancy, I do agree with the checkpoints that were put up. There is a preconceived notion—and we are a community villainized by the media and the government—and fallacy that we are lawless, and so public attitudes seemed to dictate that no laws applied to our community even during a pandemic. We have youth who are on spring break coming to our community as if it were their playground.
The pandemic has caused us to be more vulnerable inside our checkpoints. Many human rights abuses were committed and people at the checkpoints were harassed even by the SQ, by a doctor, and by the mayor of Oka. These are outlined in my written submission.
As indigenous people we are shut out in silence by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett. She silences the voices of the traditional government. This is too big an issue to discuss at this parliamentary committee, but on a daily basis we feel vulnerable, especially when land dispossession is continuing because construction has been allowed while everybody has been told to stay home and self-isolate.
We do not have a voice and I think it's safe to say that we suffer from chronic fatigue of institutionalized racism. As indigenous peoples we have been made to feel, throughout our lives, as if we are dispensable by a settler society that has not come to the realization that our rights are human rights. We are peoples with a right to self-determination, but Canada still exerts colonial oppression, stalling any progress that could be made if it upheld the various international human rights norms it is signatory to. Instead, we are placated with engagement sessions that benefit the colonizers' dispossession of our inherent rights.
This year, July 1, 2020, marks the 30th anniversary of the siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnwake, which you know as the Oka crisis. It is a time of awakening of a three centuries' long dispute by the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke. The Rotinonhseshá:ka people have been excluded.
As we witness the outrage in the U.S. and internationally of black lives matter and the murder of George Floyd, we see once again the heavy toll that institutionalized racism has taken.
Canada has had plenty of opportunities to make the sorely needed changes. Now it's time for reconciliation and reparations, pandemic or not. Economic self-interest has been the root of colonialization, free-market capitalists and the global economy.
As the first peoples of Turtle Island, we are never given respect for our rights on a daily basis, and more so in a pandemic. The protests and blockades will continue. The teachings of our ancestors tell us that there can be no peace in an atmosphere of fear; there can be no justice when we fight every day for respect for our fundamental human rights.
Thank you very much for listening to me.