One of the many signs held up during a Black Lives Matter protest in Calgary on June 1, 2020. PHOTO: CONNOR BALSILLIE

Indigenous Peoples in Canada have consistently used protesting as a way to raise awareness for many different issues. Before the Canadian government made amendments to the Indian Act in 1951, they did not even have the right to gather in groups larger than three. 

Vicki Bouvier, an Indigenous Studies professor at Mount Royal University, Lawrence Gervais, regional president of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3 and Michelle Robinson, a Calgarian Indigenous activist and political organizer were all asked about why protest is so important for raising awareness for Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Do you mind giving me your thoughts on why protest is a consistent choice for indigenous people?  

Vicki Bouvier: I think there’s a variety of not even protests per se, but campaigns that draw attention to settler colonialism and the implications of the systematic processes to subjugate indigenous people. I think all of it is really so important for indigenous visibility, in the sense of settler colonialism. One of their processes is to erase people from the land and if you are constantly making yourself visible, that tells people that colonialism has not succeeded.   

Lawrence Gervais: For the Metis community, it’s been about 156 years. And even prior to that, of really protesting, you can go all the way back to even the fur trade with Hudson’s Bay Company, North West Company. And with us, we’ve been protesting probably since about 1816. Every time we’re left out of current agreements, or engagements or process. We have that wherewithal to really stand up and say, no, this is not proper. You guys haven’t done this right and in that mindset, it’s in our genes, genetically we kind of continue that fight to this day. 

Michelle Robinson: So obviously, you’re in the middle of colonialism. You don’t have a lot of other routes. Legally, we’ve tried to do a lot of legal work as well. And ultimately, when the courts rule in our favour, as politicians claiming to care about reconciliation but we don’t do the action, what other choice do we have? Let’s do protests.  

I’m wondering if you would mind giving me your perspective on how the government treats indigenous peoples’ protests compared to other protests that have happened?  

Lawrence Gervais: We’re keeping a watchful eye on it. We’re a little bit concerned because of the emergency act being put in effect by the government because we know that might set a baseline for the government and how they treat indigenous protests later on.    

Michelle Robinson: Absolutely, so as we’ve just seen for three weeks [with the trucker convoy], that would not hurt a white person at all, they not only wiped off the snow that was on the handcuffs, but they put their mitts on afterwards. This is not the type of behaviour that we are afforded in any capacity. 

This is the first time [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] ever implemented an emergency act, is this a worry for indigenous people protesting?   

Vicki Bouvier: I can’t speak to it because I don’t know that conversation. I haven’t been part of any conversation that has talked about the threat of an emergency act. I think what it does reveal is the mentality of the agenda’s of the government. If people are actually listening and being critical of their government and who is being targeted, they will understand that the laws are to hinder people’s movements and mobility. They allowed the truckers to be mobile, they allowed them to be there, but yet they don’t want indigenous people to be mobilizing. If you look at the Indian Act, way before 1951 and maybe a little later, they could not raise money for lawyers, they couldn’t gather in groups more than three because of the rebellions.

Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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