Every year that Lionel Lepine has been involved in protesting tar sands development, in particular in his First Nation of Athabasca Chipeywan, the movement has grown. For Lepine personally, it grew one step further when he was arrested in Ottawa at the steps of the Parliament.
“This goes to show, this government, when people watch out for their rights and what they believe in, and try to stand up to fight for it, automatically they’re either arrested or they’re muzzled somehow,” said Lepine.
Lepine was one of 117 people arrested by RCMP when demonstrators crossed a barricade and sat at the steps of the Parliament building on Sept. 26. In total, 212 people crossed the fence-line in a six-hour period. Individuals were handcuffed, taken away one-by-one to a different part of the grounds and processed. They were fined $65 for trespassing and banned from the Parliament grounds for one year. Also arrested were former Mikisew Cree Chief George Poitras, ACFN member Gitz Deranger, and Fort McMurray First Nation Elder Roland Woodward.
Lepine said his arrest allowed him opportunity to speak to the media and shed more light on the cause that brought nearly 1,000 people to Parliament Hill. Speakers, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, joined forces to voice opposition to oil development in the country.
For Lepine, who is ACFN’s territorial environmental knowledge coordinator, tarsands development has had significant impact on his First Nation.
“Industry is doing a lot in Fort Chipewyan, and we’re trying to put a message out to the government that this disrespect they’re showing us, will happen no more and we’re not going to take it,” said Lepine.
“Our message was heard loud and clear… that the Harper government really needs to seriously take a look at … how a lot of First Nations communities in Alberta are being detrimentally impacted by tarsands development,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace spokesperson. The Ottawa rally was officially endorsed by Greenpeace, Council of Canadians and Indigenous Environmental Network.
There were two parts to the demonstration, said Laboucan-Massimo, the civil disobedience, which was expressed as a sit-in in front of the police line, and the rally on the rest of the Hill.
“I think it went great,” she said. “People I’ve spoken to, older than me, say they’ve never seen over 200 people willing to risk arrest through massive disobedience on Parliament Hill.”
About 1,000 people were on site at the height of the demonstration.
Laboucan-Massimo also participated in the two-week long protests that began in early September in Washington. Deranger and Poitras were also in Washington, as was Alberta Regional Chief George Stanley. The US protest focused on pressuring President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will run through both the US and Canada. The Ottawa demonstration, said Laboucan-Massimo, was on the larger picture of the impact of tar sands development and related infrastructure.
That Indigenous people from both sides of the border are joining forces to protest oil sands development speaks volumes, said Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation.
“It just shows the cause for concern, the severity of these projects and how widespread these issues are. The implications for these types of projects are dire and they need to actually be addressed,” she said.