Thousands gather in a call for justice against race-based police violence in P.E.I. Indigenous healing walk
'We have reached such horrendous violence against the first peoples of the country'
Thousands walked through the streets of downtown Charlottetown to take part in a healing walk for justice following the recent deaths of Indigenous Canadians Rodney Levi of the Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation and Chantel Moore. Levi and Moore died within eight days of each other. Both were shot and killed by police in New Brunswick.
Quebec's independent police investigation agency, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, is investigating the shootings.
"It keeps happening, so in my mind I thought that we need to come together to show solidarity with our Mi'kmaq brothers and sisters that are in New Brunswick," said Sarah Bernard, a Mi'kmaq woman from Scotchfort, Abegweit First Nation on P.E.I., and one of the event's organizers.
"Race-based police violence is here. It's not just an American issue, it is in Canada as well. We want to raise that issue, that it is here and it is happening."
Bernard emphasized the daily experience of racism Black, Indigenous and people of colour experience.
"It's time that Canada opens its eyes and does something about it," she said.
Bernard, like other activists in the Atlantic region, including family members of Moore, suggests an inquiry into police practices and protocols.
"Police officers need to be trained on how to handle people with mental health issues or trauma," she said.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PEIWalkOfHealing?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PEIWalkOfHealing</a> <a href="https://t.co/moS4AEaLuD">pic.twitter.com/moS4AEaLuD</a>—@CBCPEI
The walk is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, Bernard said. Two weeks ago, thousands marched through the streets of Charlottetown in solidarity with demonstrators across Canada and the U.S., demanding justice and racial equality following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
The demonstration remained peaceful even as some protests in Canada and the U.S. have become violent in recent days.
As participants of the healing walk poured into Connaught Square, red dresses symbolizing murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls hung from a tree as a reminder. Organizers addressed a crowd of about 2,000 people in the square.
A red dress hangs in front of the drumming circle as people flow into Connought square <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/peiwalkofhealing?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#peiwalkofhealing</a> <a href="https://t.co/qlnK5H7rqu">pic.twitter.com/qlnK5H7rqu</a>—@NicoleatCBC
"I cried multiple times walking down here and I'm trying to keep my composure. I am so thankful for each and every one of you today," said Richard Lush, one of the event's organizers.
The organizer continued, yelling into the crowd, "When I say silence, you say, 'No more.'"
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PEIWalkOfHealing?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PEIWalkOfHealing</a> <a href="https://t.co/1TLQrbGamU">pic.twitter.com/1TLQrbGamU</a>—@CBCPEI
"What happened in Metepenagiag hit me close to home. I have family up that way and it affected us here and the people need healing," said Stephenson Joe, a participant of the walk.
"I'd like to see systematic racism addressed and dealt with," he said.
"It's been heartbreaking, sad, very sad," said Stella Shepard, who took part in the healing walk.
Shepard said she's concerned that a 25-year-old white man, who was in an armed standoff with police in Souris, P.E.I., managed to leave the incident unharmed, while Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman died during a wellness check involving police in New Brunswick.
"Where is the justice?" Shepard asked.
For some participants, like Phillip Callaghan, the healing walk was just one step toward the process of decolonization in Canada.
"We have reached such horrendous violence against the first peoples of the country that in order to undo this we have to deconstruct all the institutions that govern us," he said.
"Racism is an institutionalized part of who we are, and we have to undo it for our own sake but especially for our Indigenous brothers and sisters who have suffered such wrong."
"This was something that was close to my heart so I felt like I needed to say it," Bernard said, as the crowd began to disperse.
"It's not that I don't trust the RCMP, I just feel that something needs to be done in the way of how they handle people when they're coming up to them with a mental health issue or if they've been traumatized. How do they identify that? Have they been trained in these things?"
While Bernard said the healing walk was everything she could have hoped for, she said the solidarity and the momentum can't stop there.
"Keep having conversations with your friends," she said.
"Indigenous lives matter and we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement."
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With files from Nicole Williams, Jessica Doria-Brown and Cody MacKay