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First Nations copper cutting ceremony in Ottawa will be “challenge” to all Canadians

by Stephen Hui

When Haida copper is smashed on Parliament Hill on July 27, the ancient shaming ceremony won’t just be sending a message to the federal government.

On the first day of the Awalaskenis II journey from Vancouver to Ottawa, Namgis hereditary chief and carver Beau Dick told the Georgia Straight that he sees performing the copper cutting ritual as a “challenge” to all Canadians as well.

“It’s about consciousness and about waking up to realize that, as human beings, we have a lot of things to sort out,” Dick said on Wednesday (July 2), as he marched with about 40 people on West Broadway.

Dick and the others had just come from the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus, where a send-off ceremony for the journey saw copper shields transferred from the Haida to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Led by three men carrying the coppers, the marchers paused at Granville Street to sing, drum, and dance, before continuing on toward Commercial Drive.

According to Dick, after a stop in Chilliwack on Saturday (July 5), the coppers will be driven across the country to the national capital.

The artist remarked that breaking copper in Ottawa will be historic and “very special”. Last year, he revived the ritual—not practised for decades—when he shattered a Kwakwaka’wakw copper shield in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

“Our concerns are to draw attention to the distress of the ocean and the waterways, and social justice,” Dick said. “We want to address that. There’s many layers to it. But it’s people coming together to share truth and unity, and that’s what the movement is about.”

Dick credited Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, a carver and former president of the Council of the Haida Nation, with bringing forward the coppers.

As marchers passed the waving staff of the Salmon n’ Bannock bistro (1128 West Broadway), Guujaaw explained to the Straight how he views the upcoming copper cutting ceremony.

“What we’re doing here is not against Canada or Canadians,” Guujaaw said. “It’s about governments of Canada and their lack of responsiveness to deal with our issues, their lack of care for the Earth. This thing that we’re doing, our expectation is not so much getting one over on anybody, but rather to get, from ourselves, this part of it done. We’re finished with crying. We’re done with that. All the hurt, all those things, we don’t want to keep bothering with that. We’ve got to get on and work these things out. So that’s where we hope it will go from there.”

Guujaaw added that First Nations are “calling baloney” on the federal government’s actions.

“We’re not going to let them wreck this Earth,” Guujaaw said. “We’re not going to let them keep pretending that it’s their land and that they can do with it as they please. There’s got to be more respect shown to the Earth than what we’ve seen over the last 100 years.”

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