E N D P I E C E
Mischief and the Trojan truck
NATO jets may be able to fly low over Innu hunting grounds in northeastern Canada,
but they’re ill-prepared for limp sedition. Kari Reynolds catches them out.
photo by KARI REYNOLDS
Elizabeth Penashue sat me down at her kitchen table and said: ‘We’re having a protest at the military base tomorrow. Are you coming?’
Funny how things just seem to come right out of the blue like that around here. One of the misconceptions about ‘Indian Time’ is that First Nations people (such as Elizabeth) do things at a slower pace than white people (such as myself). I hestitated.
‘Do you support the Innu people?’ she asked.
‘Of course!’ I replied. Satisfied, Elizabeth got up and started skinning a beaver.
Did I really think it was that simple? No, I did not. My big-city notions about ‘process’, which strive vainly to ensure comfort and predictability, suddenly seemed outlandish.
There was no doubt that Innu would be arrested, as they had been many times at the Goose Bay base, ever since its encroachment politicized them. Despite the stress of being jailed, often far from their homes and families, they were prepared to risk it again. On this occasion it was to protest a visit by the Dutch Minister of ‘Defence’, whose mission was to negotiate a second ten-year military contract with Canada.
Most Canadians are unaware how much their membership of the NATO military alliance costs the peaceful Innu. Nitassinan, the land that gave life to these traditionally nomadic hunters and gatherers – and to the wildlife they depend on – was usurped by Canada a generation ago, and offered to NATO allies for war games.
The following day the Innu Nation office was affable mayhem. Outside, people gathered on the porch, leaned against their trucks, talked, laughed and smoked. Inside, the phones rang, the fax machine buzzed, adults made protest signs and kids ran around, eating snacks and making last-minute trips to the washroom.
I asked how so many people would fit into so few trucks. The response was a standard one; a shrug and ‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’ Then the village garbage truck pulled up, empty. Some kind soul had the foresight to clean it thoroughly beforehand, and we all climbed into its box-like sanctum.
Once settled in, a young woman named Bernadine introduced herself and told me the names of our garbage-truck mates, including the babies. The drive was a 45-minute bump and grind over the road from the village to Goose Bay. As we drew nearer the faces of the elders revealed anxiety and grim determination.
When our truck approached the main gate at the base we hid ourselves under a large orange tarpaulin. The guard must have waved us through, seeing nothing amiss. The threat to international security, disguised as a mound of giggling garbage, pressed on. The truck wound its way through the base until it reached a locked gate by the Dutch jet hangar. The driver broke the chain on the lock with bolt-cutters, then inched the truck forward into the open gate to prevent its closing.
One of the last to leap out, I watched as everybody ran across the tarmac towards a formation of nasty-looking F16 fighter-bomber jets. What were once berry-picking grounds had been paved into oblivion. I grabbed some signs and followed.
Innu gathered around the nearest jet and unfurled a banner. I took photos, then looked around to see if the Dutch military cops were coming. Uniformed men, a short distance away, just stood and watched us. Perhaps, being military types, they couldn’t move a muscle without orders from the brass upstairs.
The Innu Nation President climbed into the cockpit of an F16 and made gestures. I’m sure I felt a shudder from the soldiers on the sidelines. After posing for me in front of the jet, everyone suddenly turned and dived underneath it. With a glance over my shoulder I saw the soldiers moving in, so I ran and nestled under the jet with the others. A film I’d removed from my camera was passed around until it ended up safely hidden in a child’s pants.
‘Excuse me, but would you like to give me your camera?’ said a polite voice with a thick Dutch accent behind me.
Still struggling to insert a new film, I thanked the voice and said I’d rather hang onto it.
After a pause the voice asked if I would kindly come with him. I declined the offer, stating my preference to stay with my friends.
One by one we were dragged, our bodies seditiously limp, into buses and jeeps. We cheered as some children broke loose and frolicked in the distance, a portly cop in sweaty pursuit. Finally assembled, we were driven to the Goose Bay jail, greeted by Innu relatives and filmed by media cameras as we were dragged inside.
The jail consisted of two small cells, or ‘drunk tanks’. Fifteen men were dumped into one of them, while the other was filled to the brim with 21 women, including myself, plus children who refused to be parted from their mothers and aunties.
It was immoderately cosy in the windowless lock-up. When the only seat – a toilet – was needed for its intended purpose a merry shuffle around the cell ensued.
One at a time we were questioned and photographed for ‘mug shots’. Charged with ‘criminal mischief’, we signed notices for future court dates. In time we paid our debt to society, serving the sentences that are meted out to the criminally mischievous.
In the name of peace, I would do it all again.
Kari Reynolds is an unrepentant peacenik in Toronto, Canada.