Members of Madawaska First Nation have lit a sacred fire for Chantel Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman from British Columbia who was killed by Edmundston police on June 4 during a ‘wellness check.’ Moore had recently moved to Edmundston to be closer to her five-year-old daughter and mother.
Since April, police in Canada have killed at least five Indigenous people: 26-year-old Chantel Moore, 16-year-old Eishia Hudson, 36-year-old Jason Collins, 22-year-old Stewart Kevin Andrews and 42-year-old Everett Patrick.
According to Russ Letica from Madawaska First Nation, a sacred fire has been lit for Chantel Moore and will be burning until Sunday. He expects Moore’s mother and grandparents to visit the fire on the Main Road of Madawaska First Nation and invites members of the public to visit, provide an offering to the fire and say a prayer.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, representing 14 First Nations on Vancouver Island, have issued a statement demanding answers as to why the woman was shot and killed: “Justice must not wait and every power must be exerted to ensure that justice is served in an appropriate, immediate, and respectful way.”
In a letter to Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard and Edmundston Chief of Police Alain Lang, Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay said: “I am writing this letter to express my inner most hurt and disgust in relation to the wrongful killing of Chantel Moore of Tofino, BC. She was a mother and young Indigenous woman who is now another statistic to the long list of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.”
Tremblay is calling for an out-of-province inquiry on Moore’s murder. He wants the investigation team to be led by Indigenous, Black and People of Colour. “We have witnessed both in America and Canada the violent attacks on People of Colour,” said Tremblay.
Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer from Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick and Professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Writing in Canadian Dimension, Palmater says that Canadians can no longer say they are unaware that their governments and police forces are racist against Indigenous and Black peoples.
“We learned through testimony, facts, research and statistics, that yes, Canadian police forces are racist. The media also exposed countless examples of police officers who targeted Indigenous and Black peoples with racist and sexist acts of brutality, sexualized violence and death. When politicians, journalists and commentators continued to deny that racism exists in Canada, it became apparent that white privilege and supremacy are well rooted in Canadian society,” writes Palmater.
Moore’s death comes as Black and Indigenous activists call for the disarming and defunding of the police, and as Black Lives Matter actions are being held across New Brunswick and beyond following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black father of a six-year-old.
“If we truly want to effect change that could stop police killings of Black people, we must have a conversation about defunding the police,” argues Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“When victims are not the right kinds of victims, police have utterly failed. When the queer community in Toronto told police there was a serial killer targeting racialized queer men in the Church Street village, the police openly denied there was a serial killer and did not take the threat seriously. This allowed serial killer Bruce MacArthur to get away with murdering at least eight men over at least seven years,” writes Hudson. Hudson lists other examples of how the police failed to protect Indigenous women from a serial killer in British Columbia and Black trans woman Sumaya Dalmar in 2015.
Hudson is a proponent for defunding the police: “Instead of relying on police, we could rely on well-trained social workers, sociologists, forensic scientists, doctors, researchers and other well-trained individuals to fulfill our needs when violent crimes take place. In the event that intervention is required while a violent crime is ongoing, a service that provides expert specialized rapid response does not need to be connected to an institution of policing that fails in every other respect. Such a specific tactical service does not require the billions of dollars we waste in ineffective policing from year to year.”
Instead of funding police forces, Hudson calls for funding social services that provide effective public safety and for a public-health approach to drug use instead of one that criminalizes drug users.
According to Hudson, “Across Canada, policing accounts for some of the largest municipal budget expenditures. Let’s defund the police and create budgets that truly reflect our priorities. Perhaps then we could fund guaranteed access to housing, increased adult support for children in schools, and other services that create true safety and security.”
About showing up to the Black Lives Matter actions, spoken word artist and university professor El Jones recently wrote in The Halifax Examiner, “Today, young Black people will wake up in cells, in shelters, without jobs, without access to education. Today, Indigenous people fill up our prisons as girls like Eishia Hudson are gunned down by Winnipeg police. One day in the streets doesn’t change that.”
Justice looks like tenants organizing to fight their landlords. It looks like mothers taking over abandoned buildings to raise their children in. It looks like taking resources from the police and giving it to community for housing, for treatment, to live a full life. It looks like stopping spending money on prisons and jails and investing it in communities instead. It doesn’t look like bailouts and subsidies to corporations, bloated police budgets, money for surveillance, and putting money into punishment and never into healing.
Justice also looks like Black and Indigenous people organizing together, and white people holding the line for hours in the street to protect Black and brown and Indigenous people from police.
It is young people and elders speaking together. It is communities arguing about strategy, and those who choose to use their energy to work for community in other ways. It is the people who do the work of organizing unseen: the banner makers, the crowd marshals, the people bringing water. It is the man walking the crowd for hours with hand sanitizer, tirelessly offering it to people. It is fighting and dancing. It is kneeling and protesting. This is how we practice. This is how we learn what justice feels like. This is how our lives matter.
In Fredericton, hundreds of people are expected to attend the Take a Knee, Take a Stand action in solidarity with Black Lives Matter at the New Brunswick Legislature on Friday, June 5 at 5:00pm.
Healing Walks for Chantel Moore have been planned for Saturday, June 14 at 1:00pm in Edmundston, Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax.
Tracy Glynn is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.