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