INAC Occupiers and activists exit the building to traditional drumming and singing | Image source: Erica Commanda
“We’re here for the youth, that’s what it’s always been about,” said Idle No More activist, Carrie Lester (Mohawk). “So many times [Indigenous youth] voices have been swept under the carpet and with each generation another group stands up and says, enough is enough. How many times do we have to do that?” Lester was one of the many activists who spoke at the closing ceremony of the nationwide occupation of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) offices that sustained international attention on the suicide epidemic in Attawapiskat and demanded government action.
Since Attawapiskat first declared a state of emergency, many grassroots organizations, supporters and activists have stepped up to show their love and solidarity for Indigenous youth- one of them being Tristan Martell.
Martell is a Toronto Indigenous street artist and dancer, who has used his connections with the local community to put together care packages, which include love letters, art, hygiene products and baby diapers to be sent to Attawapiskat. “I wanted stuff to be unique, fresh, gender neutral, hip hop, punk rocker,” said Martell. “High end graffiti and street artists contributed posters and love letters, and gave the legal rights to their art for the project. I printed them, made personal notes and sent the packages off.”
Years ago, Martell spent some time in Moose Factory ON, teaching dance to First Nations youth. While teaching, he built a connection with the community and travelled around to other northern First Nations and learned about the struggles they face, including Attawapiskat’s struggles. As soon as he heard about the suicide epidemic, he started to put the wheels into motion to send care packages to the First Nations community.
In the future, Martell hopes to stay involved with outreach projects for Attawapiskat. One potential project involves going to the community with a hip hop group to provide dance lessons. He also wants to bring in graffiti art workshops and organize cultural exchange activities, but make it on a consistent basis. “That’s the vision,” he said. “There has to be a consistency with your offering. People usually will respond to a state of emergency, but won’t come back and disappear.”
The nationwide occupation, and organization of love letters and care packages are just some of the many examples of what individual Canadians are doing on a grassroots level until more permanent solutions are found. Larger organizations, like Idle No More, are calling on the government to keep campaign promises of renewing nation to nation relationships and reconciliation that will improve lives for Indigenous people. “These social problems are more than just mental health issues,” said Idle No More organizer Russell Diabo (Mohawk); “They are tied to the Indian Act and the government’s policies which are based on colonialism: lack of self government, self-determination, and access to resources which would help our economy, and land claims.”