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When I saw the picture of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations Chief Allan Adam, his face half swollen, his skin bruised purple, and blood dripping down onto his collar, I was gutted.

I was already feeling unsteady from the chaos unfolding in our world. For me that chaos includes the constant adversity faced by Indigenous Peoples that I report on.

But, seeing a revered First Nations leader in this condition via the hands of law enforcement was a new and higher level of distressing.

A picture of Chief Adam Allen's facial injuries suffered on March 10, 2020. Photo courtesy of the Athabasca Tribal Council Office.

Adam revealed through a Globe and Mail article published Friday he was beaten up and arrested by RCMP in Fort McMurray last March.

Video of RCMP arresting Chief Allan Adam from CTV

It all started with an expired license plate.

“It sure sounds to me like the $20 bill in Minneapolis. Over a $300 (expired license) fine?” Adam’s lawyer Brian Beresh said at a press conference on Saturday.

"When I watched Trudeau take a knee I wondered ‘could he really be sincere’?  How could he be kneeling in solidarity for racial injustice while Canada continues to oppress Indigenous Peoples?"

A video released by Beresh shows a chaotic scene unfolding in the dark, wee hours of the morning. Adam, his wife were leaving a Casino in Fort McMurray. They were in Adam’s parked truck waiting for a friend. Adam’s wife was in the driver’s seat. That’s when she saw the police car behind their vehicle.

Video courtesy of Athabasca Tribal Council Office.

The police approached their vehicle because of an expired license plate. On the surface, a simple enough traffic check. But that’s where the normal part ended.

There are red and blue lights flashing, screaming, and cursing heard on the video of that night.

Adam said he was “clothes lined,” beaten and arrested after trying to protect his wife Freda from what he perceived as a threat from the RCMP when an officer reached into the car to try to turn off the engine.

“I dropped to my knees and slowly I could feel like I was going unconscious. Blood was gushing out of my mouth. I remembered hearing ‘don’t pass out, don’t go unconscious,” recalled Adam.

Then he said someone was pounding on his back; he felt a knee on top of his body.

This is the kind of violence used on a First Nations leader, because the license plate on his truck had expired.

Adam was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting police in the execution of duty.

Video courtesy of Athabasca Tribal Council Office.

(This video contains language that may be offensive to some.)

A case of systemic racism

Adam and his ancestors have called the area north of Fort McMurray home since the beginning of time. The K’ai Taile Dene meaning “people of the land of the willow,” have endured centuries of threats to their traditions and their territory.

Adam lived through his own personal abuse from the Colonial system. He is a residential school survivor. The evils of that system is something thousands of Indigenous Peoples are still healing from.

Despite the odds, many still practice a traditional way of life colonization tried to rip from them. And still, the traditional people, even the Chief, are treated like trespassers in their own territories. The March incident reflects, both real and symbolic, how Canada is beating up and disrespecting the First Peoples of this land.

It is not a story about one territory. It is not a story about one community. At the press conference on Saturday Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey’s voice broke when he said he doubted the incident would have happened if Adam was a white leader. “If it were different, a town mayor or an MLA on a Friday night, they (police) would say ‘OK sir, so we’ll renew your registration on Monday?”

His words are true. There’s an embedded culture of racism within the justice system, especially to Indigenous men and women. Chief Adam was undoubtedly treated this way because he is First Nations.

The systemic racism here runs deep-it’s in every facet of society. In case you need a brief history lesson, Canada is a colonial state, it was designed to conquer and oppress Indigenous Peoples from the get go. The justice system, educational, institutional, industrial, corporate, healthcare, child welfare, employment systems are so deeply engrained with racism that it’s become the norm for mainstream. Most people don’t even know it's there. Unless they pay attention.

Prime Minister Trudeau took a knee in Ottawa on Friday at a demonstration in response to the death of George Floyd who was murdered by police in Minneapolis, MN. Floyd’s death sparked unrelenting protests, in the United States and around the world, of people decrying racism and injustice.

When I watched Trudeau take a knee I wondered, could he really be sincere? How could he be kneeling in solidarity for racial injustice while Canada continues to oppress Indigenous Peoples?

Trudeau has said countless times how the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples is his number one priority.

I think his number one priority is buying a multi-billion dollar pipeline then leaving First Nations, Inuit and Metis with scraps to maintain their survival. Actions prove intentions, not just words of redundant promises.

His government could have used some of those billions of dollars to remedy countless Indigenous inequities. He could have made significant compensation for and recognition of the land and resources Canada stole from the First Peoples. The innumerable stolen resources that made this nation rich broke the spirits, but not the resilience of Indigenous Peoples. And yet Canada now blames Indigenous people for the poverty caused by those stolen riches.

There seems to be a new headline every other day of either an Indigenous woman going missing or murdered, Indigenous People killed by law enforcement, death from racism, dead from suicide, discrimination, lack of clean water, children being stolen in mass numbers from their parents and made wards of the government, living in poverty, and struggling with every kind of adversity statistics keep track of.

I see the solidarity of people showing up for the Black Lives Matter movement. It's inspiring.

But where are those same people who are swarming in the thousands at protests across the country when it comes to equal rights for Indigenous Peoples? Do Canadians understand the severity of the crisis of racism here and how it’s killing our people at higher rates than any other ethnicity?

Is this the moment Canada will finally notice what’s happening with the oppression of Indigenous here?

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations Chief Allan Adam. Photo from YouTube.

This stops now

Our ancestors signed Treaties with the colonial founders of Canada, Treaties that were made in friendship, to care for and share the lands together for as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow. But Canada broke its part of the Treaties long ago. Now it’s beating our Peoples in thanks.

My inboxes are flooded with stories and notes from families and loved ones of Indigenous Peoples killed or abused by law enforcement or racism. When I read some of their desperate pleas to help them, it feels like I can’t breathe. It’s overwhelming. It’s not something one person can do alone.

Chief Adam said he shared his story to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. Not having a voice is the norm for Indigenous Peoples.

Chief Adam said “this stops now”. I wonder who will march with Indigenous Peoples? I wonder if there will be the solidarity for this injustice that we are seeing for another.

The answers don’t all lie within governments and it’s institutions. Much of the power to make change is within the hearts and will of the people in this country. I hope this is a turning point for Canadians to look within for ways to change. And I hope they do something about it.

One thing that stays constant-our people are forgiving. Our people are strong. Our people are resilient. Stand with Indigenous or not, we will rise up and above. We already have.

This is the time to be heard. This is the time for justice.

“Be aware that you’re being put on notice (stated Adam to police)”

But to his fellow Indigenous brothers and sisters he said, “Stay strong... Be vigilant, be peaceful, be mindful- but this can’t continue going on and it has to stop.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include an embed of the video of the RCMP arresting Chief Allan Adam. The recording has now become a public record that promises to intensify the debate.

Keep reading

Most societies don't want to think about marginalized peoples. Capitalist society values "success," which it equates with material prosperity, and Canadians see the poverty and dysfunction of indigenous people. We're distressed by their distress, so at best we avert our eyes (if we see them at all) and at worst we blame them for their problems. We need more than the vaunted "education" about the root causes of the dysfunction--we need to reject the capitalist agenda and its polarities of winners and losers.

> Most societies don't want to think about marginalized peoples.

I'm pretty sure that's a tautology.

The interesting question is, "Do all societies marginalize somebody? Are there any that don't? What's their secret?"

Brandi, thanks much for your article!

I for one would march with you & other First Nations people against systemic racism, and to protect lands, waters & life.

I remember my childhood in Ft. McMurray, when the community on the Snye was commonly called 'Moccasin Flats'. Canada's MMIW & reconciliation efforts have been a essential but insufficient start - we need deep, comprehensive change. I too suspect this will require large, peaceful and sustained actions - in the streets & in daily life - by people of all races & backgrounds. Count me in.

Why do we try to build so much on the National Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, while ignoring twice as many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men? I was on the 7,000 generations walk, and am ready to go again, as long as men are still welcome as equals.

This is a problem. When it is stated that black lives matter, this is put down with all lives matter. When it is stated, "me too", men who have been sexually abused need to be heard as well. And this is true. We need a better world for everyone. At the same time there is a huge issue in our society with marginalizing because of sex, race, and social status and economic status. This too is true. And if we "what about" to death, we never can get to the deal with these very real issues. So Bob Stuart, you are welcome as a man to support these issues. Because I want to be equal does not make you less equal.

The support for the rail blockades should be your answer. I'm under the impression that a lot of Canadian BLM marchers see themselves as marching for the First Nations as well.

Police and justice-system reforms will benefit everybody whom the police interact with, including a not-insignificant number of white people who also get beaten into the ground for the crime of not being immediately submissive.

I would march with Indigenous Peoples, if I could. I am Caucasian. I can't say I will, as an aging senior, but I am pretty sure many in my community would. Perhaps even most would. I have supported Amnesty International for many years, and also, with my vote and with letters to politicians, have supported years of reforms and studies or commissions in government that were supposed to address the problem of systemic racism, but have to a large extent failed, perhaps because we have failed to truly recognize it and call it out. I truly hope the protests and self-education that is currently happening lead to significant changes: legislative changes, policing changes, and changes in the hearts and minds of Canadians. I find it difficult to fathom that the RCMP have only just admitted to systemic racism, in 2020, since to me and many others it has been in-your-face obvious forever.
A footnote: As a woman, I am well aware of how prejudices are carried through generations. Maybe as people shine lights into the darkness, the systemic misogyny in our nation will also be seen for what it is.

Are you sure you would want to use this incident as the launching incident for the Indigenious rights campaign? This "revered" Chief obviously escalated this situation. He is apparently a passenger in the vehicle and fully inserts himself very aggresively into the interaction that should be happening between the driver and the officer. There was never an opportunity for the officer to deal directly with driver. This officer dealt with the situation appropriately. Outnumbered and dealing with an aggressive individual means calling for backup.
Why is a "revered" Chief who is supposed to be a responsible citizen swearing, yelling and challenging the Police officer who is dealing with a legitimate traffic infraction? One has to wonder how the Chief can manage a community when he can't even keep vehicle registration up to date.
Make sure you have the whole story correct before promoting a movement on someone who you might not want to be associated with. Like using the Floyd death as a launching point for BLM. We find out after he is a repeat offender of violent crimes, including an armed robbery of a pregnant woman with a gun held to her unborn baby! The initial call for his incident involves him trying to pass off a fake 20 dollar bill (which the article fails to mention. Very significant miss for a " professional" journalist unless their is a hidden agenda) and is high. Confirmed with 2 autopsies.
Not denying the issues claimed but these are not the people to be using as the basis for these movements.

Gord Downie trusted Justin Trudeau to do right by our First Peoples. Justin Trudeau lied to Gord. I wish Gord was here to call Trudeau out. Instead all he can do, is roll in his grave. And roll, and roll, and roll...