The Treaty 8 Justice for the Peace Caravan is not the first time Indigenous people seeking justice for their traditional territory and people have shown up on the steps of Parliament. Indigenous people have travelled by foot, on wheels and in the air over the years to seek out the ears and hearts of past prime ministers, cabinet ministers and MPs.
On September 13, the Justice for the Peace Caravan began the journey of over 4,000 km back home to the North Eastern corner of British Columbia, stopping in Ottawa along the way. The caravan had driven across Canada to bring awareness to the legal challenge against the Site C hydroelectric dam on Treaty 8 territory in B.C.—and its implications for the rights of treaty nations and the federal government’s relationship with First Nations—being heard by the federal court in Montreal on September 12.
For generations our Indigenous bodies have been travelling territories in search of justice, in search of the restoration of promises that were made at the time of signing of treaties. We as a people have made sacrifices to make these journeys across the country to fight for water, for home, for the children and ultimately fight for our lives. We have left children behind, explaining that they are the reason that we must go, we sacrifice comforts, time, energy and money.
This year, in 2016, it was supposed to be different. There was a new “father” in the big house on the Hill, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, one that seemed to be willing to step away from the colonial paternalism that was created with the Fathers of Confederation and has continued ever since. Trudeau spoke of new nation-to-nation relationships and his words gave countless Indigenous people cautious hope that things would change, including myself. I have personally made two trips to Ottawa this year regarding the gross violations of my traditional territory by the continued destruction caused by the Site C hydroelectric dam.
I am a 28-year-old Dane Zaa and Nehiyaw woman with an 8-year-old son. I am a social worker involved in support and advocacy in my territory because I believe in healing for our nations. I am shy by nature but have learned how to use my voice out of necessity. I believe in the land’s healing quality because it has helped heal me. Given my history with violence, addictions and sexual violence I should not be alive today, but I am and I am strong because I have been through that. It has allowed me to focus on what really matters; love, the people, ceremony, healing and the water. It is because I have been given the gift of life and healing that I must use my voice.
The process of continually fighting for things, like having our choices respected when it comes to mega-projects such as the Site C dam, has made me angry because the energy that is spent on fighting these projects is energy that could be spent on moving our people forward, on healing, on continuing to make strength-based changes to benefit future generations. However, having to do these difficult things does not break us. No, we have been broken and have healed ourselves throughout the process of colonization and our own decolonization. It does not make us feel defeated when we have to take up cause yet again. No, we understand our roles and responsibilities as Indigenous peoples and how we have to reclaim the “warrior” in order to give our people better lives. In fact these struggles, much like the hardships in life that many of our brothers and sisters have had to fight through, make us stronger.
We are still here. We are still saying no to projects that threaten who we are. We have carried the voices to your doorstep and we will only get louder.
Helen Knott is a social worker and writer from Prophet River First Nation living in Fort St. John B.C. She is one of many who travelled with the Treaty 8 Justice for the Peace Caravan on its recent journey across the country.