The People’s Social Forum was held this past weekend in at the University of Ottawa on unceded Onkwehon:we land. The four-day gathering was billed as a space for activists and organizers of all stripes to meet in order to develop a coherent and unified strategy to confront the policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Forum organizers worked diligently to ensure that the voices of Indigenous peoples were not only present but also prominent.
The Forum opened on Thursday with a march of over 5,000 people that culminated in a mass rally on Parliament Hill. The rally featured a greeting by Anishinabe elders in their language, as well as songs from local social singers. It also counted on the presence of elders from the Algonquin Nation of the Ottawa River Watershed (ANORW), who are currently in the midst of a struggle against logging in their territory. Many of those present carried banners and flags demanding action on the issue of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, meanwhile both Native and non-Native people alike waved Idle No More signs with great enthusiasm.
The Forum featured a space that described itself as an Indigenous Friendship Centre, where Indigenous people could gather and meet, instead the space became a site for organizing. The Two Row Times spoke with Toghestiy of the Unist’ot’en camp, who said, “When we first got here there were people that talked about other people who were fighting pipelines, but there weren’t actually people who were on the frontline struggling to stop these pipelines.” They found they weren’t alone in their frustration, and with some even contemplating leaving the Forum all together, they decided to take action. “We seized opportunities, we seized moments, we started networking with other individuals, and a movement started growing within the People’s Social Forum,” said Toghestiy.
Grassroots organizers at the Forum created formal and informal networks for cooperation and collaboration. “In the next few weeks… in the next few days, you’re going to start seeing some major stuff, the networking that we did, spawned a lot of inspiration,” stated Toghestiy. Grassroots organizers even took direct action at the Forum itself, as a group of from ANORW travelled, singing and playing hand drums, to half a dozen of the assemblies that took place on the penultimate day to inform participants of their struggle and invited them to take part in a strategizing session.
Steps were taken to build unity amongst Indigenous people across Canada and beyond. A cooperation agreement was struck between the activists at the Unist’ot’en camp and organizers with Chevron’s Dirty Hand – a campaign to expose and denounce Chevron’s crimes in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
In a press release the organizers of the People’s Social Forum stated that, “This forum has given us hope in our capacity to surpass our limits and to, together, overcome. We are politically united and shall be active in every corner of the territory where we are present.” Forum participants all expressed a desire to see a fundamental shift in the policies being implemented in Canada. The challenge they now face is how to strike a balance between the need to challenge the Harper government through elections scheduled to take place in late 2015, while also engaging in the ongoing political struggles that go beyond the ballot box.