Indigenous

Copper broken on Parliament Hill in First Nations shaming ceremony

A traditional shaming ceremony held today on the steps of Parliament Hill is meant to challenge the federal government to renew its troubled relationship with First Nations, says a prominent West Coast artist.

Western Canada First Nations representatives want government to address troubled relationship

Beau Dick (centre) and Guujaaw, who is holding the copper shield, meet with community members in Wawa, Ont., on their way from Vancouver to Ottawa. (Jess Sabourin/Facebook)

A traditional shaming ceremony held today on the steps of Parliament Hill is meant to challenge the federal government to renew its troubled relationship with First Nations, says a prominent West Coast artist.

Beau Dick, 59, a master carver and hereditary chief from the Namgis First Nation, says the ceremony involves cutting or breaking a large copper shield.

“Breaking copper is a challenge, it is also a shaming, and it is also about banishment,” Dick explained.

“There are a lot of layers to this. Some people have described this as a protest and that is valid ... [But] it's beyond that. What it is, is about waking up the consciousness.”

Once practised throughout the Pacific Northwest, when copper shields were a measure of wealth and power, the shaming rite had all but disappeared until Dick revived it with a ceremony in front of the B.C. legislature in 2013. 

Beau Dick, carver and hereditary chief from Namgis First Nation, B.C., will be performing a copper cutting shaming ceremony at Parliament Hill on Sunday, July 27. (Youtube.com)

Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, a master carver who served as president of the Council of the Haida Nation for 13 yearsprovided the copper for the shield. Guujaaw has been a high-profile figure since the '70s, when he led efforts to protect Haida Gwaii from logging and other resource development.

“[The] copper that is being provided is brought forth by the Haida Nation who have suffered atrocities over the last 150 years, almost totally alienated through genocide," said Dick.

Dick and other supporters from B.C. First Nations began their journey to Ottawa earlier this month, leaving Vancouver on July 2. They travelled over 5,000 kilometres and made several stops along the way to meet with various communities.

By the time the group arrived in Ottawa on Saturday, they were 20 strong and included members of the Blackfoot Nation in Alberta.

Sunday's event took place on the front lawn of Parliament Hill atop a banner with text from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2008 apology for Canada's residential schools.

After taking more than 10 minutes to break the shield, organizers took the broken shield to the front steps of Centre Block.

Although the ceremony is meant to shame the federal government, Dick says it also symbolizes an opportunity for the country's leaders to renew what is seen as a deeply fractured relationship with First Nations.

And he hopes it's a wake up call for all Canadians.

“Hopefully we can touch the conscience so people will start caring more and work towards creating a world of well-being for all of our children and our mankind," he said. "People need to be aware of the situation that we’re in in regards to our environment.”

About the Author

Originally from Obishikokaang (Lac Seul First Nation) located in northwestern Ontario, Martha Troian is an investigative journalist who frequently contributes to CBC News, including work on the multiple award-winning and ongoing Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Follow her @ozhibiiige

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