Lessons from teepee protest are ours to learn

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - MUR­RAY MANDRYK Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal colum­nist for the Regina Leader-Post. mmandryk@post­media.com

One sup­poses the teepees had to come down some time.

If for no other rea­son than the safety of those in­volved in the Jus­tice for Our Stolen Chil­dren camp, this was some­thing that had to hap­pen sooner or later.

Win­ter is com­ing and the con­se­quences of pro­test­ers tough­ing it out in 40-be­low tem­per­a­tures for their po­lit­i­cal be­liefs is dis­con­cert­ing.

Even more wor­ri­some has been the ever-grow­ing prospect of peace­ful pro­test­ers fall­ing vic­tim to ya­hoos em­bold­ened by booze and/ or their barely-be­low-thesur­face-racism made ac­cept­able by jack­asses on so­cial me­dia and else­where. Why any tiny mind would take it upon him­self to con­front pro­test­ers with Nazi sa­lutes or bot­tle rock­ets is be­yond com­pre­hen­sion.

Yes, the pro­test­ers were in vi­o­la­tion of by­laws. They never did seek out a per­mit, as ob­served by Court of Queen’s Bench Jus­tice Ysanne Wilkinson in her or­der that the camp be dis­man­tled. But let us put such mat­ters in the con­text of real crim­i­nal­ity, like ut­ter­ing threats or en­dan­ger­ment.

Some pro­test­ers may have been tem­po­rar­ily de­tained by po­lice af­ter the June 18 po­lice in­ter­ven­tion re­quested by the Pro­vin­cial Cap­i­tal Com­mis­sion. But what was the real crim­i­nal­ity at the protest camp?

Nev­er­the­less, the rule of law is im­por­tant. Whether we com­pletely agree with ev­ery as­pect of the law or whether you may be­lieve the by­law in ques­tion is of less con­se­quence than the prin­ci­ples the protest rep­re­sented, law needs to be obeyed. Our world can­not oth­er­wise func­tion.

And First Na­tion pro­test­ers did obey the law this week when they ended their 197-day protest camp — one that, as Leader-Post re­porter Arthur White-Crummey noted, “en­dured 133 mil­lime­tres of snow and rain, win­ter tem­per­a­tures be­low -25 C and sum­mer tem­per­a­tures above 40 C.”

Surely, one of the pos­i­tives to emerge is respect and ad­mi­ra­tion for Prescott De­mas and oth­ers who stuck it out be­cause they wanted some­thing bet­ter for their peo­ple.

“I’ve been here ev­ery day for a lit­tle over six months,” De­mas said. “I need a rest, a lit­tle down­time, I’m go­ing to go sit out in the coun­try and en­joy the quiet­ness. I want to be alone, just quiet, peace.”

Their mes­sage wasn’t al­ways fo­cused or co­her­ent. Much their core con­cern was di­rected at a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment that can do lit­tle to change mat­ters crit­i­cal to First Na­tions peo­ple, such as in­equities in the fed­eral jus­tice sys­tem that many sug­gest were ev­i­dent in the Ger­ald Stan­ley not-guilty ver­dict in the death of 23-year-old Red Pheas­ant First Na­tion res­i­dent Colten Boushie.

Oth­ers will ques­tion the strate­gic ef­fec­tive­ness of a pro­longed protest at a time when there is pub­lic fa­tigue in deal­ing with First Na­tions is­sues that can­not be easily solved.

But a bit of added per­spec­tive is needed here.

First, there were some very spe­cific con­cerns and is­sues raised by the cam­pers, in­volv­ing se­ri­ous cur­rent prob­lems with the child wel­fare sys­tem that would not have oth­er­wise re­ceived pub­lic at­ten­tion. That Pre­mier Scott Moe chose not to sit down and dis­cuss such is­sues with the pro­test­ers, and that those in his gov­ern­ment who did meet with the cam­pers gave them short shrift, says much about why First Na­tions peo­ple are le­git­i­mately frus­trated.

If you are still of the sim­plis­tic view that the pro­test­ers were there be­cause they had noth­ing bet­ter to do, you haven’t ac­tu­ally read this far in the col­umn or you are mar­ried to views of the pre­vi­ous mil­len­nium. But let us hope that that’s not where our lead­er­ship is at.

Protests, by na­ture, are de­signed to make us un­com­fort­able. We can ei­ther be mad about that or we can take a ma­ture re­sponse and learn.

Let us hope that other lead­ers take their cue from the pa­tiently bril­liant han­dling of the protest by Regina Chief of Po­lice Evan Bray and his of­fi­cers. Sadly, it was of­ten the po­lice pro­vid­ing the pa­tience, un­der­stand­ing and lis­ten­ing that should have been pro­vided by gov­ern­ment and other com­mu­nity lead­ers.

If the gov­ern­ment — and the rest of us — didn’t learn from the teepee protest, it wasn’t the pro­test­ers’ fault.

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