- reprinted from Oh-Toh-Kin, Volume 1 Number 1, Winter/Spring 1992
The following interviews with Lyle Ironstand and Louis Cameron have been reprinted from Paper Tomahawks: From Red Tape to Red Power by James Burke, published in 1976 by Queenston House Publishing.
Ironstand, of the Ojibway nation, participated in the occupation of Anicinabe Park near Kenora, Ontario in August 1974 (Ironstand was eventually tried and acquitted of weapons charges arising from the occupation). The interview was conducted in 1974 in Winnipeg by James Burke.
Cameron, also of the Ojibway nation, participated in the 1974 Anicinabe occupation and the 1974 Native People’s Caravan. Cameron is originally of the Whitedog reserve north of Kenora. The interview was conducted in 1974 in Kenora by James Burke. Louis Cameron died on April 17, 2010
James Burke (JB): What other involvement did you have in the militant Indian movement prior to the takeover of Anicinabe Park?
Lyle Ironstand (LI): In the spring of `73 I went down to South Dakota, to Crowdog’s support camp for Wounded Knee, for two and a half weeks. It was sort of at the end of the occupation. In `73 I was involved in Ottawa — the occupation in Ottawa. Then I went to Kenora.
JB: You went to Kenora in `73? And what was the purpose of the occupation in Kenora in `73?
LI: Well, most of the people didn’t like the way Indian Affairs was handling the Indians at Kenora and just to show that they rejected it, they occupied Indian Affairs for about thirty-six hours.
JB: Do you feel anything positive or constructive resulted from the `73 occupation?
JB: So, in effect then, the conference that was held in Anicinabe Park on the weekend prior to the occupation was designed to deal with the same problems that came up in `73?
LI: Also, it was a sort of Ojibway unity conference, where they wanted the opinions of the old people. You know, let the old people speak out about what was happening in Kenora. They sort of wanted advice from the old people. And they also wanted the opinions of a lot of people that were in the park from the Kenora area.
JB: How about the elected leaders. Were they present at the conference?
LI: They were invited. There was a whole bunch of people that were invited but most of them didn’t make it. They only came for the pow-wow,but while the conference was on, none of them came.
JB: Why do you suppose that was the case?
LI: They didn’t give a shit. They were elected peoples but they didn’t give a shit about what was happening with the people in Kenora because they never even showed their damn ass in the park except for the pow-wow. Like, they didn’t give a fuck at all because they figured here was only reservation people all getting together and they don’t really have no say with the Department of Indian Affairs and the provincial government of Ontario and the federal government. It’s just one of those big get-togethers or something that’s not going to prove fuck-all.
JB: Did the people at the conference feel that the elected officials weren’t really doing a job for the people? Did they feel there was another way of doing it?
LI: The people figured: “Fuck the elected officials. Let’s try and do something. Not only for ourselves but concerning all people, young and old.”
JB: How come the people didn’t feel the elected officials were representing them? I mean, how do those people get elected if they’re not doing a job for the people?
LI: They got ways of fucking up reservation people when election time comes for chief and shit like that. They give `em more rations for voting. They give `em money. They give `em wine and booze and the people don’t really give a fuck as long as they have their wine or their kids are eating for a couple days.
JB: We know that there were some American Indians involved in the occupation. Did they plan it?
LI: No, most of the AIM people that were there in the park were mostly there for support. While I was in the park, there was no AIM person who came up in front of the people and said: “Well, we should do this, we should do that”. They just let the people that were there from around the Kenora area or from the surrounding reserves decide what to do. Like, they didn’t push their weight around because they were there from AIM. They were mostly there to support.
JB: In the press, Harvey Major (security chief) said: “When they (the police) come charging in here, we’ll be ready to circle back and the action will be in town. We’ll start blowing things up”. How do you feel about that? Did you know that he said this at the time?
LI: Yeah, we knew he said that. The first few days between AIM and the people that were in the park, strategy was being planned. Like, we didn’t want another fire-fight like what happened in South Dakota, so if they came down and injured a couple of our people or shot `em — shot a couple of our people — then we were going to head back into town. There was a squad of about fifteen guys who were headed by three veterans from Wounded Knee and we planned out the strategy of hitting back into town if anything else happened, or burning down buildings and blowing up shit like this.
JB: There was some talk that there were a lot of home-made bombs. Do you know that this was, in fact, the case? Were there bombs there?
LI: Oh yeah, there was lots.
JB: Who was making the bombs? The America Indians or the people from Kenora?
LI: Some of the guys who knew how to make Molotov cocktails were showing us how.
JB: So there was a plan being considered to go into town and use demolition tactics, to bomb some buildings or to fire them?
LI: Yes. There were a few suggestions, like power plants, sawmills…
JB: Were the people occupying the park really prepared to fight to the death as the press reports indicated?
LI: It was a core of people — about forty. These people were, at the same time, talking to other people, sort of teaching them. Like, I’d talk to people and tell them why I was going to shoot out right to the end. And there was a core of about forty of us who were into that.
JB: And, as the occupation went on, were there more people who felt the same way and joined?
LI: Most of the people that joined in after all the road blocks were set up were from the Kenora area. They said: “These guys in the park are doing something good. Why don’t we go and support them. Like, they’re bringing up issues of what the fuck’s happening to me on the street in Kenora so I might as well go in there and get it on and try and fight for something too”.
JB: How about the women? Did they feel that way too?
LI: Well, most of the women were like that. Yeah, most of the women said: “Why don’t you guys go out there and fight? Like, you can’t come here in the park while you got all the AIM dudes from all over fighting for you. You’re from Kenora. You live here. Now get out there and fight”.
JB: As a member of the warriors’ security force, what was your role?
LI: I was doing about fifteen hours of patrol every night as soon as the sun went down till the sun came up…I went visiting from post to post. It was a walking patrol. Our group kept communication going all over.
JB: What kinds of guns did you have?
LI: I had a high-powered rifle and there was these three other guys I was with. One had a big shotgun, the other had a .410 shotgun — sawed-off shotgun — along with a 40-round automatic .22 rifle and the other one had a rifle.
JB: Well, about the heaviest armament then was high-powered rifles. There were no sub-machine guns or anything like that? No mortars?
JB: The chiefs at that time came out as saying they were against the occupation. What was the feeling of the people in the park about this?
LI: When the people in the park heard about that, they said: “Well fuck the chiefs. We don’t have to give a fuck about what they say because they don’t give a fuck about what’s happening to the man who’s suffering from mercury poisoning or has got an alcohol problem, the kids that are starving at home. They don’t give a fuck about that as long as their bellies are full and they’re driving their cars.”
JB: Well, why do the chiefs feel that way? Is it because they’re afraid of, or getting paid off by, Indian Affairs? You think that all they’re concerned about is getting a handout from Indian Affairs?
LI: Right. Most of them were probably afraid of losing their salaries and their big cars.
JB: During the occupation, Louis Cameron called on the people from the Kenora area to come and support the movement but he didn’t seem to get much of a response. Why do you suppose the majority of the native people in the Kenora area didn’t come out and stand with the people in the park?
LI: I think it was a shock to most of the people…
JB: They weren’t ready?
JB: Was anyone getting them ready — was there anybody educating them to what was going on?
LI: Well, weeks ahead, Louis and members of the Ojibway Warriors Society did go to the reservation and talk to the people, telling them to come to the park, to the convention, and there was a lot of people who came to that convention from around Kenora.
JB: But a lot of people left when it was decided that the park would be occupied?
JB: During the occupation, Jean Chretien (former Minister of Indian Affairs) was quoted as saying that the proper way for Indian grievances to be settled was to follow the normal channels and negotiate with the government. What do you think about the “normal channels” that Indians have been following for the last 100 years?
LI: I think they’re a bunch of shit. Because they’re still not getting anywhere. They’re still bringing up the problems that they have on the reserve. And each year, the government seems to develop new channels for the Indians to work through.
JB: What’s your opinion of the Department of Indian Affairs? Are they doing a worthwhile job or should they just pack it in?
LI: I think they should pack it in.
JB: Do you think there should be any agency in its place to ensure that Indians get the return of the lands to which they’re rightfully entitled and that treaty rights are safeguarded?
LI: The Indians should get the land back.
JB: There was some talk that the occupation of the park was provoked by “outside agitators”. Do you think that the people who came from the US and other parts of Canada are “agitators”?
LI: I think we’re all trying to fight the same problem.
JB: So you don’t consider them outside agitators?
LI: That would be just like the militants turning around to the elected representatives of native people and saying: “Well, we don’t like outside agitators coming in to talk to you. Why don’t you just take care of the business with the people instead of having all these white bureaucrats and all these government people talking and telling you what to do”. It’s the government that should be called the agitators of native people.
JB: Do you think that the leaders of the provincial Indian association draft their own policies, make their own decisions, and chart the course of native people in their respective provinces or do you think that the government and/or white consultants do this?
LI: All they (provincial native leaders) are doing is trying to identify with the white man — with his money. Always knocking their ass off for money…for money, for money.
JB: On July 25th, Louis Cameron stated that the warriors were dispensing with the services of their negotiators who were members of the Grand Council Treaty Number Three. Was there anything in particular that led to this decision?
LI: Well, the first thing that Grand Council Treaty Number Three wanted us to do was what the mayor of the town and the whole town people wanted us to do, and what the pigs, and federal and provincial government wanted us to do. They wanted us to lay down our arms first.
JB: What conditions were met that led to your finally laying down your arms?
LI: They met all the demands. All three levels of government met all the demands… There were about nine of them.
JB: One of the demands was for the removal of judge Nottingham from the bench in Kenora court. Did they meet that?
LI: I think Nottingham was transferred to Thunder Bay.
JB: Weren’t the bulk of the demands a long-term thing calling for further negotiations?
LI: We were asking to sit down right away and get the demands done instead of sitting down again for the next five years.
JB: Were you there when Louis Cameron supposedly fired two shots in the direction of an overhead plane?
LI: There was shots fired at about five planes. They (the persons firing) weren’t out in the open — they were shot at from the bush.
JB: As far as you’re concerned, was the occupation a success? If it were to happen tomorrow, knowing what you know about the occupation now, would you jump in on it again?
LI: With the same people? No. I’d jump in if the same people were there if they had much cooler heads and they knew what the fuck they were doing. Like, if they knew what the hell an occupation was all about, that it was as serious as that.
JB: Do you think that militant tactics such as occupations will continue to be useful in the future? Or have they run their course?
LI: Well, in the past few years, ever since Washington (occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) and South Dakota, it’s opened a lot of eyes in white North America. It’s brought a lot of problems that are happening on the reservation out into the open. and white people are beginning to see how an Indian lives.
JB: Do you think white people care how an Indian lives?
LI: Well, I don’t think they really give a shit but they never know how the hell an Indian lived before on the reservation… And I’m sure there’s quite a lot of white people out there who supported the occupation that say: “Well fuck, look at that blanket-ass Indian. He’s starting to figure out where his head’s at and he’s starting to know what the fuck’s going on”.
JB: Do you think that the so-called establishment press accurately reflects what’s going on in the Indian movement?
LI: No, it doesn’t.
JB: Do you see any remedy for this distortion by the media?
LI: We have to establish a paper of our own — a newsletter. Let’s say something happened in Vancouver where Indians took over a federal building or something like that, and they were heavily armed. Naturally, the Vancouver Sun would print an article of what’s happening and everything. And this Indian press thing could have reporters there in that occupation and send out information to the Indian press and tell the real truth and compare what the establishment press says and what the Indian side is — opposite the page of what the white newspapers said.
JB: Wouldn’t it be a good idea for white society to get some idea of what really goes on as opposed to what the press wants to print?
James Burke (JB): What was the purpose of the convention held at Anicinabe Park on the weekend preceding the occupation?
Louis Cameron (LC): The purpose of the convention was to start the initial organizing of the occupation, which in turn was instrumental for larger community organizing. We started planning the conference about three months before July… At the same time through the organizing of the conference, we were organizing the people throughout northwestern Ontario to participate and also to come and learn. We were concerned in promoting a new era in native peoples affairs in northwestern Ontario because for a long time there was a drastic misunderstanding in the activities of our people and the ways of our people. We were left in the dark for a long time although there were a lot of other things that were getting organized like the Grand Council and other native people — chiefs and other leaders of the community — were actually doing a lot of work within the communities but it only went to a certain extent because the people did not understand the development of what they were promoting or there was a limitation to what they were doing because the people weren’t involved with it.
JB: I understand there were specific problems in the areas of health and police harassment that you hoped to remedy. Just what shape did this harassment take and what is the situation with regard to medical and dental facilities with regard to Indians in Kenora?
LC: While we were planning the conference we started bringing out the issues; the total lack of dental care and health facilities in northwestern Ontario in the native communities. They arrest about 5,000 native people in one year and they really brutalize the people. The town police and the Ontario Provincial Police have been immune to human ways. They’ve just mechanically operated their law and order on the people while the people don’t even understand what the police were doing, and especially throwing them in jails and beating them up or handcuffing them and parading them up and down the street in police cars. This is degradation of Indians by the police. So these were the issues: dental, housing — the houses were death-traps. And when we started bringing out the issues a little more and started talking about the reservation systems and the Indian organization systems and Indian Affairs system, this is when we started getting deeper into issues of what was happening and the police and town council and the government started attacking the members of the conference.
JB: There was a certain number of American Indians present during the occupation, members of AIM. Now, some people have said that this indicates the occupation was planned by “outside agitators”.
LC: Well, we — myself and some other people right from Kenora, lived our entire lives here in Kenora — with some older people — men and women of this area — started talking about the violent deaths of native people in this area. It is he highest in the whole of North America. Our people are dying in really tragic ways and something definitely had to be done by ourselves, by the people… So we started talking about the conference just to look at various ways where we could work to have our people live a little bit longer. We ourselves in the Kenora are were the ones who planned the conference and we invited people from across Canada — from Newfoundland, Quebec, BC. Also we invited people from the US and I’m sure that the American people that were here learned a helluva lot…concerning the political situation and the aggressive forces of the police and government in Canada.
JB: During the occupation, the press quoted Harvey Major as saying “When they (meaning the police) come charging in here, we’ll be ready to circle back and the action will be in town. We’ll start blowing things up…”. Were you aware of this plan and did you advocate it?
LC: Well, first of all, we have to talk about the violent deaths of our people. Our people die, our children die, our families die from fires or drown or something of that violent nature because there is obviously a program or system that is killing our people. And when we have been driven back in a corner we will retaliate in the same fashion. So to burn the town of Kenora as a retaliation for the deaths of thousands of native people that have died on the grounds of northwestern Ontario, you know, to burn a couple of houses in Kenora was hardly any justice at all. What we were saying is that our losses have been greater, greater and deeper; that it is time, not only this summer or last summer but throughout the course of the entire history of native people, there is a time when we will do everything so that our people will live. Then, Harvey Major is a great man, probably one of the greatest men that has set foot in Kenora for a long time. He was born in the Kenora area… He is an Ojibway. He’s a very proud and honourable man and he had a very great deal of sympathy for the lack of understanding of the white population in Kenora. he was very sympathetic towards them because they were very limited in their knowledge or in their dealings and sometimes you had to yell at them in order to get the spark of communication from these people.
JB: It was reported that the elected representatives of native people in the Kenora area did not favour the militant approach to negotiating with the government. Do you feel that the chiefs supported you sufficiently in this occupation or do you feel that they were a stumbling block?
LC: I think they themselves had to go through a lot of exercise of their own responsibilities. I think, first of all, the initial impact of what the community of native people in northwestern Ontario were doing, I think the chiefs were caught to ask themselves: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?” They didn’t know how to react because first of all, they didn’t know their own responsibility, the weight of their responsibility toward their communities. I think that was the initial step that they took backward. It was a lack of understanding of their own affair into the whole of the community involvement. So, slowly the chiefs themselves came out individually, in small groups. They came to the front and supported us 100%. And also, they started to see what the government was offering for not supporting us and I think some chiefs started to go on the side of the government. So that was the nature of the choice that was given to the chiefs and I think they made a valid choice when the majority of the chiefs came on the side of Anicinabe Park and their own people, where they had to make a choice whether their people were going to live or die. Through negotiations they haven’t really exercised any kind of confrontation throughout the course of their elected system. I’m not only talking about certain individual chiefs in the area. I’m talking about all the chiefs in Canada. In that whole category of band; reservation; the chief has hardly any or no responsibility toward his community if it functions under the reservation system. The chiefs have to go outside of that controlled and totalitarian establishment in order to represent their people fully and this is what they were doing throughout the negotiations and confrontations that took place. They left their established roads and came to meet the true destiny of their people; their own people.
JB: I understand there was an occupation that occurred in Kenora which resulted in the takeover of a government building in the fall of 1973. did you have any involvement in that occupation?
LC: Well, it was the same people who organized the occupation of the federal offices in Kenora. I think that what we realized during the course of the occupation was that the Kenora community as a whole is economically backward in terms of having no economic base and all the economy is controlled from the outside. The pulp and paper mill, the larger businesses, they are controlled from either Toronto or the US. So, whatever small businesses that these people have, they hang onto them with their entire life. So this is a backward economical thing where they are not independent. They are a satellite, an outpost of Toronto or the US. So these people here have no material foundation. They have no base other than they’ve lived here all the time… So when we took over the federal offices in Kenora, it really shook them up. What shook them up mainly was their feelings. They felt threatened by native people in the social economical scale. It really shook this little town, this small activity by the native people. We pointed out again the issues that have to be settled concerning the native people of Kenora and the reservations, that this outpost, this fort out in northwestern Ontario, the Town of Kenora, had to start communicating and living equally with the rightful owners of this land and they had to start giving and sharing with the rest of the people that are on this land and that this little paranoid group of people in the Town of Kenora could not secure themselves in this economical fort indefinitely. The people — the masses out in the reserves — would inevitably come into town; at night, during the day. This is when the federal building occupation occurred — when native people came into town. There was about 500 people that came into town at once… We just pointed out some issues. In fact, those issues did not concern the individual white person, the citizen of Kenora. That was none of this affair. Our fight is with the larger system, with the larger establishment. What they (the citizens of Kenora) have in their own hearts, in their own minds, we do not want. Through the occupation, we were confronting people in Ottawa and Toronto in government. This is what the confrontation between native people and the government was all about — nothing with the people here. So we pointed out the issues to the government and the government turned around and used the white population of the town to try to put the occupation down. The progressive ideas which would benefit everybody, all people in Kenora, were being put down by the government by using divisions — ethnic divisions — of the people right in this small town.
JB: During the occupation of Anicinabe Park, then Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, stated that Indians, if they hoped to achieve any progress, should follow normal channels to settle grievances. What is your opinion of these “normal channels”?
LC: I think these normal channels mean being a slave. What Chretien is really trying to say to native people is that the only way you’re going to succeed is by being a slave. The Department of Indian Affairs dates back about a hundred years. In 1976, it’ll be a hundred years since the reign of terror over the Indian people began. They established a certain system of dictatorship and totalitarian activities in the reservations and even the reservation itself is an instrument of that dictatorship. And there is a whole system throughout Canada of the Indian Act; of the Department of Indian Affairs administration — a certain system of oppression against native people — and this is the system that the native people must follow if they are going to come to the liking of the Minister of Indian Affairs. So what we are saying is that we must obliterate the Indian Affairs system, the reservation system, the band system and this whole system of dictatorship over native people must be stopped and people start establishing their own system, their own categories of government and economy. This is what we’re aiming for. I think the Department is still trying to perpetuate their dictatorial set-up. They have Judd Buchanan know. They had Chretien before. They’re just sitting on top of the machine trying to tell people to shut up and get involved in this depressive situation and some people in the Indian organizations tell people to get involved in the band systems and the reservation system but they are in fact also part of that system of the Department of Indian Affairs where they are a liaison, where they soften the blow of the Department of Indian Affairs on the community. Before Indian Affairs implements a certain program it filters through the Indian associations. Then, it is being implemented on the reserve and it does not come out differently at the end. So, if Indian people are to get organized, they must have their own independence to determine their own organization, their own activities n their own communities; not predetermined by the government.
JB: There were certain terms of agreement which led to the warriors laying down their arms and evacuating the park. Now what were those terms in a general way?
LC: In laying down our arms and leaving the Anicinabe Park grounds, the terms were secondary. I think the absolute thing that happened was that native people for the first time since maybe a hundred years back had taken up armed struggle to liberate themselves and direct confrontation to solve their problems and to meet the situation head-on. I think this was the absolute and this has to be understood and slowly, throughout the occupation, we met various Indian people, for example, who saved the Town of Kenora from burning. Native people talked to each other and solved the situation for the town and the terms of the agreement that were indicated in the negotiations for us to leave the park was only…to put down our guns… So that is all we did. We gave them some broken-down guns and some toys and they were satisfied. And they agreed to a lot of programs which they would implement. The park — Anicinabe Park — would be going to court for settlement. The charges, various charges that were consequential to the occupation were dropped. There was a promise of lots of new housing and different things like that for the area but I think the reason the people left the park wasn’t because of the agreement we signed with the government… I think the native people themselves had formed an agreement and they they left and I think it was totally irrelevant what the agreement was between the native people and the government because we can sign that agreement — renew it — tomorrow, you know.
JB: I want to ask you one specific question regarding the clash that occurred on Parliament Hill in September of 1974. Now, was that demonstration meant as a political gesture — a public relations gesture — or were there specific goals that you hoped to achieve by the appearance on the Hill?
LC: I think the way we planned it while we were in Anicinabe Park was to have a demonstration on Parliament Hill to illustrate the oppression and dictatorship against native people to the rest of the world; what Canada was doing to native people; what Canada was doing to the native communities. I think our objective was to illustrate the serious contradictions in the democratic system of Canada, to show that, in reality, it commits death on the native people. This was our purpose: to show it to other people, to show it to the United Nations and the rest of North America. So what we wanted to do was have a large number of people on Parliament Hill at the opening of the House of Commons, the opening of parliament, to demonstrate the oppression. So we tried to figure out a way to bring the people to Ottawa September 30th and we organized the Native People’s Caravan. I went to sixteen cities throughout Canada, organizing the caravan and also the demonstration. I went to different support groups, formed and organized support groups throughout Canada, and got financial assistance from various sources so that we could bring and feed a lot of people in Ottawa… And we did get approximately 800 to 900 native people on Parliament Hill that day. As we were going up Parliament Hill, we saw trucks passing by, big army trucks loaded with soldiers. There was police lining the street, protecting the US Consulate and other obscure places as we were going towards Parliament Hill. So before we got to the gate, there was a line of about 100 RCMP with a barricade. I was at the front and there were other people there with a drum. And I asked the people if they wanted to go through and go up to the Hill. The people said: “We want to go through”, so we rushed the first line of police. We defeated the RCMP, the first line of RCMP, about 100 of them. We ran through the barricade until we got to the second barricade. There was another barricade by the steps. We went walking up there. We got to the top of the stairs. There was a double line this time of RCMP including the national guard with bayonets and everything. So we sang some songs and we made various comments and talked to each other. We talked to the police. We talked to the government although they were behind closed doors. We read the demands of the Native People’s Caravan and then we asked the people if they wanted to go a little bit further — to step into the open — because we were caught between gates there. They people said: “Yeah”, so we started advancing again. I was at the front at that time and we started breaking down a barricade. We started driving two lines of police back — about 250 police there started going back. We were trying to get to that open area where we could relax a little bit more but the police kept trying to stop us… So we pushed a little farther and started beating the police back. We didn’t have no clubs or anything, just fists, hands, and pushed them just a little, not necessarily trying to hit them but just trying to make our way through the place. And, while we were defeating two lines of those RCMP, the national guard with their bayonets started coming forward. There was about fifty or seventy-five of them… They lowered their guns with the bayonets pointing towards us and started marching towards us. That was at the same time that the riot police advanced from the right of the demonstration and started hitting people with the clubs and their guns. They had tear-gas guns and they were hitting the people with that. The people were caught in that stairway. It was very hard to move around physically and I think the riot police didn’t surprise the people. The people at the time were not armed…you know, the men were still fighting the RCMP but they (the police) started hitting the women and kids. The kids started crying and everyone started running back and the women fell to the ground and we had to pick them up. Some women were fighting back. There was a lot of policemen that were crying too. A lot of them went to the hospital. So we went down the stairs and the riot police was at the front of the line this time and they brought in their guns and they aimed at us for a long time…they they charged again. Then the people went to the streets. From there, we organized back to what we called the Native People’s Embassy. So, I think that the riot police attacking the demonstration was a retaliation of the federal justice department of Canada and also particularly the Province of Ontario to retaliate on the native people for their armed insurrection at Anicinabe Park. This is why the riot police attacked on Parliament Hill because it was the first time for a long time that native people defied the government of Canada… We took up arms and freed ourselves…but in return the government came running down with guns and clubs.
JB: I understand you subscribe to the principles of Midewin which Heather Robertson has described as “a mystical communion with the spirits”. Now, can you tell me what advantage you see spiritualism having for organizing native people? And what progress do you think native people will make on the basis of participating in more spiritually-based organizations?
LC: I think, first of all, that spiritualism is a term commonly used by white people and I think it describes a mental image of somebody practising shenanigans in the air. Midewin is the ceremonies of the entire community of native people, of Anicinabe people. There is pow-wows, there is different kinds of ceremonies, the belief in the community way — the life of the community. There is no idealism or spiritualism as used by other people. I think it is just a full and material understanding of the ways of Anicinabe people, the traditions of the Ojibway people. The ceremonies, the culture, they have to go through the ways in order to fully understand the Midewin. They have to spend an entire lifetime of practise. So that’s why I say that is not the same kind of spiritualism that’s used by backward, cowardly people who call themselves militants. That’s just an escape from the political or from confrontation they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s an escape route. A lot of contemporary militant people have taken spiritualism as an escape, to run away from the confrontations and the great deal of commitment and courage that is needed to get involved in community organizing. So that is not what I’m talking about, what we have taken up in our area in the movement of native people. What we mean by spiritualism is a totally different sense. It has nothing to do with spirits or ghosts or anything like that, or a mystery. It’s nothing like that. It’s just going home, going home and working at home with your people and going through deep ceremonies, learning about our families and the traditions or history — not going backward but going forward — to practise the ceremony. For example, I went to a Midewin ceremony to get married. I gave my life towards my people…when somebody else looks at the native community, they call these things spiritual, but to us they’re material, lifeline connections. So this is what I mean when we organize native people. We have to remain where we are, based soundly on the ground within the roots of our own community, within the roots of our own family… Some people have no idea of what kind of commitment it takes to be involved in the ways of your people. You have to sacrifice a lot of the dreams and aspirations which were totally false and perpetuated in the hearts and minds of the young people throughout Canada and the US from the propaganda, from the press, from the books, from the comics, from movies, from advertisements: the kind of dreams that are instituted on people. You can’t base a movement or organization on a superficial scale… People have to sacrifice their entire life, to step into it with their whole body, with their whole mind and everything. You have to make a lifetime commitment. I think, politically, this is the only way you can start off. You have to be soundly on the ground with the rest of the people and organize from there. If you go outside of the community, you put yourself on the limb and then you have to look for escapes and try to get back some place, you know.