When worlds cooperate
On the last day of the Olympics, in the heart of downtown Vancouver, an honouring ceremony was held for Native elder and activist Harriet Nahanee, who died after serving jail time for her role in the Eagleridge Bluffs protest over the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion. Harriet passed away as a result of complications from pneumonia after being arrested and spending time in a cold cell at the Surrey Pre-trial Centre.
Surrounded by police on foot and riding bicycles, an assembled group of activists, aboriginal peoples, and friends and family of Harriet gathered at Main and Hastings to remember Harriet through singing and drumming. There was smudging and the Cree Red Shirt singers sang a grieving song. Then Big Fire Woman led the drummers in a Haida prayer song. Family members thanked everyone for coming.
Co-op Radio broadcaster, Gunargie, told me that while the ceremony was happening, two American bystanders jeered saying, “Canadian cops go too easy on protesters and we can’t get around.”
Gunargie said that two policewomen immediately went after them saying, “It doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to go around. You can’t interrupt the ceremony.”
When the hockey game ended, about 10 police at this ceremony raced in the other direction toward the hockey arena.
Those who had gathered to honour Harriet proceeded down Hastings drumming and chanting, flanked by police. Several helicopters were flying in the air. The people carried the Red Warrior’s Flag as well as flags and banners stating, “No 2010”, “Build Homes Now”, “We Don’t Want Your Truckin’ Freeways”, “Gateway Sucks”.
When I asked a participant about the march involving both First Nations peoples as well as political activists protesting the Olympics, she explained that Harriet had passed away protesting the Olympics. As this was an anti-Olympics awareness march that had begun earlier in the day, it was appropriate that the two groups were together now. As the people reached their destination, the Olympic Tent Village at 58 West Hastings Street, everyone looked up to see several eagles flying above.
There was more drumming, singing and chanting of “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Homes not Games!” The protest ended with police, activists, obvious tourists, homeless people and aboriginal people all chatting amiably.
A small group of mostly aboriginals marched back down Hastings to Main, drumming and singing the Women’s Warrior song. As they marched, cars honked and people cheered them.
Gunargie’s last comment was, “We have our memories of this that we carry in our bodies.”