Group says unauthorized tree planting aimed at holding police accountable for actions that "endangers the lives and well-being of Indigenous people in this city."
THUNDER BAY -- A group calling itself Not One More Death plans to plant a tree in prostest of police violence against Indigenous people on Tuesday morning outside the Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters on Balmoral Street.
"Police in Thunder Bay continue to operate with impunity when it comes to violence against Indigenous people. In response, a new group is planting a tree at the Service's headquarters in protest. The unauthorized planting is intended to be a constant reminder to the city's police that citizens are watching and will accept no further police violence, racism or lack of transparency and accountability," the group wrote in an email sent to local media.
Both Thunder Bay Police and the Thunder Bay Police Services Board have come under fire in recent years for their treatment of Indigenous peoples, with systemic racism being found to be a root cause of the problem in a pair of reports issued in the past two years.
The group promised more plantings every time there is another act of violence by police against Indigenous people. Tuesday's ceremony is set to begin at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
Their statement, which they plan to read out following the tree planting, follows:
"We gather here today to send a message to the Thunder Bay police service: we, residents of Thunder Bay, will no longer accept actions that endanger the lives and wellbeing of Indigenous people in this city. We will no longer accept the impunity of police officers and the police establishment that perpetuate racism. Every time such acts are perpetrated, and every time these acts are not punished by the service, we will return and plant a new tree.
"We gather here today in light of news that the officer who abused an Indigenous teenager restrained to a stretcher in December of 2018 will not be charged, and in light of an ongoing lack of transparency surrounding the disciplining of that officer. This news is the latest in a long line of failures by the TBPS and its oversight bodies who continue not to hold officers to account for violence and abuses.
"But while we demand that this officer be held accountable, we echo the conclusions of the reports of Senator Murray Sinclair and Gerry McNeilly of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director that found that acts such as these reflect a culture of systemic racism.
"We are not singling out the police: many institutions in Thunder Bay, from city hall to many of the city's businesses, exhibit systemic racism against Indigenous people. Together, this racism leads to the premature death of Indigenous people at rates much higher than the population as a whole. In other words: on average, Indigenous people die sooner than non-Indigenous people. We say: not one more death. We will continue to protest, here and at other institutions in this city, until the rate of premature death for Indigenous peoples decreases to the level of the population as a whole.
"We refuse to accept the racist story that Indigenous people are to blame for premature death. Instead, we will identify and name settler colonialism as the reason for higher rates of premature death. Canada and Thunder Bay are founded on attempted genocide against Anishninaabe and other Indigenous people. This genocidal campaign, which included forced adoption, residential schools, second-class citizenship, forced sterilization and other forms of violence was executed by politicians, churches and civil society in Canada. It was enforced by police forces throughout the country. This genocidal campaign continues today, even in an era of so-called "reconciliation." Thunder Bay, which has become a beacon across the country for anti-Indigenous racism, represents the failure of "reconciliation" when it is based on business-as-usual.
"Our demand for fundamental change here in Thunder Bay is taken in solidarity with Indigenous people and their allies across the country who are standing up to settler colonialism, against racist abuses, and against pipelines. We stand in solidarity with the movement for Black lives both here in Thunder Bay and around the world and join them in the call to abolish the institution of police and come together to create new ways of working together to peacefully keep our communities safe, healthy and diverse.
"We are also here to say that the position taken by the city's politicians and the Police board is wrong. We should not be increasing funding to the police. This is not a problem of bad apples or a lack of resources. Police are not the solution to the problems our city faces.
"The planting of this tree represents our hope for a different future. For thousands of years, the Anishinaabe people protected and cared for this land and produced safety, community and abundance without police. Police are a recent, colonial imposition on this land. This tree represents the memory of what settler colonialism has sought to destroy, but which still survives. It honours all those who have survived police abuses and the spirits of those who did not.
"We stand together for the sacredness of all lives but especially Indigenous lives here in Thunder Bay where those lives are so often cut short by racism. In planting this tree we say: "not one more death." We will celebrate life and resistance and the building of new relationships."