On Day 3 of Climate Welcome, we doubled our numbers once again with over 120 people risking arrest outside the Prime Minister’s residence. These folks had come in from all over the country: from Vancouver to Calgary, Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Halifax. On this day, the focus was on Indigenous and grassroots struggles against pipelines and our gifts to the Prime Minister were samples of water from lakes, rivers and coastlines across Canada that are at risk because of tar sands pipelines.
We started the day off with a powerful opening water ceremony and prayer led by Judy Da Silva, an Elder from the Grassy Narrows First Nation. This water ceremony was conducted to capture the deep spiritual connection that Indigenous women have to the water as life givers and mothers. Judy combined fractions of the water samples from across the country in a 300 year old copper pale, mixing together the good intentions, prayers, and determination of the dozens of communities that had sent them in. She then poured the water into the Rideau Falls — at the junction where the Rideau River meets the Ottawa river, a sacred place for the Algonquin peoples.
Judy asked the women at the rally to form a closer circle around her and she spoke to them more deeply about the ways in which women are at the centre of the struggle against tar sands — leading the fight to protect the land, water and climate. The incredible women surrounding her were exemplary examples: Tantoo Cardinal who has been on the leading edge of the struggle against the tar sands which span across and poison her Nation’s traditional territories, Leah Gazan, Indigenous rights activist and educator from Winnipeg, Tori Cress, the national spokesperson for Idle No More, and Ellen Gabriel, who is a prominent Indigenous rights activist and leader in the fight against Energy East.
This group of Indigenous women led the ceremony, honouring the water samples mailed into us by dozens of people from coast to coast, and they were the ones that led the morning march to Justin Trudeau’s residence. As we marched over, the women in the group were the holding the bottles of water. Once we reached the traffic circle outside 24 Sussex Drive and Rideau Cottage, the entire group gathered around it, joined hands and did a round dance together to ground the sit-ins in unity.
Upon completing the round dance, the group divided into three, with one sitting in at the traffic circle blocking traffic, and the other groups taking both of the two entrances to 24 Sussex Drive, effectively blockading the official residence of the Prime Minister.
We sat in outside for over four hours, at one point, we collectively began to make calls to the Prime Minister’s office, asking him to come outside to collect his gifts of water that were being presented to him, The staff at the PMO forwarded us to the answering machine and we left hundreds of voicemails requesting that Prime Minister Trudeau come see us.
Many of us were surprised that once again, the Prime Minister that had promised to make his government the most open and collaborative one in the history of this country was refusing to listen to the people that had come in from all over the country to deliver him gifts. It was hard to believe that after telling us that while “governments grant permits, only communities grant permission,” he was refusing to respond to the voices of communities represented right at his door and publicly vocalizing support for tar sands pipelines opposed by grassroots groups and Indigenous peoples. We were giving a ‘Climate Welcome’ to the first Prime Minister in Canada’s history to appoint a Minister of Climate Change — but he evidently wasn’t interested in even listening to the voices of the people most concerned about the climate crisis in the weeks preceding the most important round of climate negotiations in a generation.
As people expecting real change after a decade of Prime Minister Harper’s refusal to so much as acknowledge the climate crisis and grassroots voices, we ended the day with overwhelming disappointment in Prime Minister Trudeau.
Ultimately, Day 3 ended without arrests, and while we were disappointed in Justin Trudeau, we were heartened and inspired by the leadership of the fearless Indigenous women that led us out of 24 Sussex Drive and back to Rideau Falls. Before leaving, we formed a human wall around the fence of 24 Sussex drive, blocking both entrances to the residence, and we left our messages and water samples for the Prime Minister on the sidewalk bordering the residence.
We reached Rideau Falls once again and ended the day with another water ceremony led by Judy Da Silva. At this point, it’s become clear to us that in accordance with the design and agreements for this action, sitting-in at the Prime Minister’s residence is not an arrestable action. So we’re returning for Day 4, with a crowd of people that won’t be risking arrest, but will instead deliver a gift of solar panels to Prime Minister Trudeau along with hope — hope that he’ll listen, hope that he’ll act and hope that he’ll prove he’s ready for real climate action by prioritizing people over tar sands.