A fabulous report from our friends up in Grassy Narrows, Ontario comes from Christine. Thanks for the update and keep them coming!
On July 13 2006, 100 Grassy Narrows First Nation community members and supporters blockaded the TransCanada highway North of Kenora Ontario. Their action impeded the logging trucks carrying trees clearcut from Grassy Narrows’ territory to the Weyerhaeuser Trus Joist mill in Kenora. It also sent a clear message to Weyerhaeuser and the government that neglecting indigenous land rights is leading to a crisis of ecological devastation in Canada’s boreal forest. Home to over 300 indigenous communities, the boreal forest is one our planet’s last remaining old growth forest and contains more fresh water and more stored carbon than any other land ecosystem.
For over a decade government and industry officials have failed to meaningfully respond to a series of official complaints, environmental assessment requests, protests, and logging road blockades by the Grassy Narrows community. Weyerhaeuser and Abitibi continue to clearcut the boreal forest that sustains the Grassy Narrows people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Community members explain that “this logging threatens to annihilate our very existence as a people.”
When governments and industry refuse to listen to the voices of the people whose lives they are destroying; it becomes necessary to take bold action to put the power back in the hands of the people. You can help now by sending a letter to the CEO of Weyerhaeuser who is in part to blame for this devastation.
My wake up call on Wednesday sounded like this: “You will be leaving in two hours, make sure you have everything you need for the action, wear the clothes you want to climb in and don’t tell anyone you are leaving.” After a month of skills training and role playing, we were ready to take action to support our friends at Grassy Narrows to protect their rights and their forests I am willing to do almost anything to protect the rights of people and all creatures of the forest to live an autonomous existence.
We arrived to a motel in Kenora near dusk. Inside we made the final preparations for the next day, sewing together the banner, filling out legal support forms and reminding each other what to do if we get arrested. I wedged myself between the wall and one of the beds and settled into sleep, leaving the 10 other occupants of the room to fend for floor space themselves.
7am. Time to go. I pull my clothes on and grab my bags. We smudge. I am led to the van waiting around the corner. It is packed full of people. Some I know well, some I have just met. The van pulls away followed by two more vehicles full of friends and some police tails. We drive in circles for an hour until we shake all the tails and some of our friends too. Finally we pull to the side of the highway, the driver turns and says “Go!” I run into the forest beside the highway. “Stay low!” the guy in front says. I stay low and eventually catch up to the front. We are blocking the trans Canada highway! I am excited because this is going to be huge, even bigger than I had imagined. We reach the spot where the tripod is hidden in the bushes I put on my climbing gear and do a safety check with my friend. “We are ready!” I yell. “GO!” I hear from up ahead.
We go. As we carry the heavy metal poles onto the highway I eye the logging trucks waiting on both sides of us. I wonder what they think is happening, if we are just some unkempt construction crew or what. I hope they don’t try and make a run for it or get angry and become aggressive. The tripod goes up smoothly. I attach myself to the rope in the centre and begin climbing while half of the tripod team quietly steals away to get chained up to the logging truck.
I am just reaching the top and locking the chain over the top of the tripod and through my climbing harness, 10 meters above the asphalt as the first officer on the scene arrives. He has overheard my name already and uses it to call up to me. “You are blocking the highway. Come down from there or you will be arrested. Come on down from there now.” He looks up and waits for me to submit to his authority. I call back down to him “I’m sorry I have a few things I’d like to do before I come down” I say as I slide the tent poles into the banner and attach it to a carabineer on my rope. I drop the banner. “Save Grassy Narrows’ Boreal Forest” blows and flaps in the high winds.
“I am NOT coming down!” I yell down to my uniformed friend. He shrugs and walks back to his cruiser. My direct support calls up to me, “Do you have your snacks up there?” Before I can answer the police officer interjects: “Don’t worry you’ll get lunch in jail.” I laugh. He tells her to get me down from there and to clear the road. She says no, she needs to stay close to keep me safe. The officer grabs her arm and “helps” her to the side of the highway, not following through on threats of arrest. I am struck at how looking down on the police from above can sure make it easier to disregard their orders. Once the sign is in place I attach my seat and settle in to stay put. It is not long before Anishinabe and Six Nations activists arrive and take their place on the road or on cliffs flanking the highway. They smile and nod and shout their support to me. I can feel the warmth and excitement generated from this profound collaboration between nations and organizations. We are all reinforcing each other’s position for a common goal: to protect the earth.
The hours go by as I hang in the road. I do not get lunch in jail. Songs are sung, cheers are cheered, flags waved and drums drummed. Everything gives me strength. Women from Grassy arrive with their children who play and eat on the yellow line. We are all feeling our own power, our combined power to take a peaceful stand to build the world we want.
It has been 6 hours now and we are all amazed, not having expected to be able to hold the road for more than three. As negotiations continue with police I am sent updates by notes up my rope. “We’ll stay until dusk if we can” one note reads. I send down the thumbs up to my support and we smile at each other.
It’s about 5pm now, 8 hours since I first attached to the rope. Storm clouds are on the horizon and I express concern about being chained to a giant lightening rod. I keep my eyes on the horizon. Over the next hour the winds pick up and drops of rain start to hit me. A group of demonstrators have now gathered at the foot to the tripod and look up at me with concern. “There’s lightening!” a woman from Grassy yells up to me. “I’m coming down!” I yell. I quickly cut the sign down, unlock and climb to the ground. To my surprise the police do not advance to arrest me. Once I am free of the rope I link arms with my friend and the group of fifty protesters all link arms together in a protective group around me. We start walking to the van, past the logging truck where my other friend is locked underneath and past the line of about forty cops. The police make no effort to stop us or arrest me. As we walk we sing:
We are the rising of the moon
We are the shifting of the ground
We are the seeds that take root
When we bring the fortress down
I am put into the van with my support person beside me. I feel safe. We pull away from the site as the rain begins and the police don’t follow. For now, its over for me but my thoughts stay at the blockade with my friend under the truck and everyone who will remain on the road until dusk.