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Spirit Story

'Getting arrested is not what I do’

By Donna Sinclair

Last September, my husband, Jim, and I expected to be arrested when we travelled to Ottawa. And we were. We made the trip to take part in a planned demonstration to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and protest the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. The pipeline is set to push oil underground from Alberta through 500 kilometres of Canadian prairie, and even further southward to Nebraska’s existing pipeline.

Getting arrested is not what I do. I obey the law. I am not rebellious. And I don’t like uncertainty. For me, this action carried a nerve-racking range of possibilities — perhaps a strip search, or jail for 24 hours, or onerous charges and future difficulties travelling by plane. But

Jim and I deeply believe in mending the world. As treaty people, we want to honour Aboriginal rights and live with respect in Creation.

Our journey to Ottawa was undertaken quietly and nervously. But the nervousness vanished when we saw over 200 demonstrators ready to climb over the low police fence in front of the Parliament Buildings — a forbidden gesture of protest. The pounding of drums slowed my heartbeat as First Nations drummers sweated out a rhythm under the glaring sun. A woman in the crowd touched my shoulder and said, “Thank you for doing this.” I almost burst into tears. I wanted to tell her that I am privileged to be a retired elder, able to afford the cost of a potential fine and court trips to Ottawa, but she was already gone.

Someone placed a footstool on the ground to help us old ones climb over the fence. On the other side, I was met by a polite Mountie, who asked if I might like to turn back now to avoid arrest. “No, thank you,” I said, and so he invited me to sit down on the grass at the end of a very long line of potential arrestees.

We sat there for hours with no shade. Jim kept raising his jacket behind me as a makeshift umbrella to block the sun. I didn’t dare drink much water because finding a bathroom would mean leaving the protest. I knew I was competing with dehydration, and so did the RCMP officers, who watched us elders carefully, an ambulance parked nearby. I haven’t sat so long in the hot sun since I was a 16-year-old lifeguard.

Inside the House, Tory MP David Anderson was calling us extremists. Outside, from the other side of the fence, sympathizers were pelting us with sunscreen, cookies, water and apples. One young man shouted, “You guys are so cool! My parents would never do this. I wish you were my parents — and my dad’s an MP!”

Finally, Jim and I were each approached by two RCMP officers. An officer read me my rights. By then I was feeling loopy from the sun, and when she asked if I understood, I almost said, “I do, God being my helper.” Everything was weirdly ritualized. My hands were cuffed loosely behind my back, and I was led away and processed. I promised to pay a $65 trespassing fine and not return to Parliament Hill for one year.

Jim and I felt both exhausted and energized afterwards. Even though the arrest turned out to be surprisingly amicable, the anxiety was physically demanding. But we are filled with purpose. Old folks can do this. We can assist these hopeful young people, many of them First Nations, who will have to live with the fallout of an unfriendly climate after we are gone. We can try to mend the world. We can live with respect in Creation.  

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