Remembrance and Resistance
10 years is a long time. It’s amazing what you remember.
I remember coming into my office at Deer Park United Church on Monday, June 4, 2001, to find colleagues frantically trying to determine the whereabouts of Kimy Pernia Domico, a Colombian Indigenous leader and human rights partner of the Canadian churches. On June 2, they had received word that Kimy, one of the leaders of the resistance movement against a Canadian-funded dam project on the traditional territory of the Embera Katio, had been disappeared. I will never forget the drained look on one of my colleague’s faces as she paused and looked up from the fax machine that had broken down from the sheer volume of letters it was receiving, copies of letters that Canadians were sending to the Colombian and Canadian governments, urging them to find Kimy and stop the attacks on his community.
I also remember riding a train into Moncton, New Brunswick, on Wednesday June 20, 2001. On the platform stood members of the local church community, and members of the Indigenous community of Big Cove. In the middle of them, holding a bowl of strawberries in the bright summer sun, was Rev. Steve Berube. They had collected boxes and boxes of blankets bearing individual and community messages of hope that Canada would honour the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples to respect treaty rights and build a new relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the principles of mutuality and respect. I was there to collect those blankets and help spread them out –we had over 1000 from all across Canada– on the lawn of the Supreme Court the next day as a way of telling the Canadian government that Canadians believed in the rights of Indigenous Peoples. As I took the blankets, a woman from Big Cove looked me straight in the eye and said, “Now you take care of our blanket.” I nodded my assent and hopped back on the train, hundreds of miles and hundreds of blankets ahead of me.
10 years is a long time. It’s amazing what remains undone.
No one was ever held responsible for Kimy Pernia’s disappearance, although we know that he was assassinated by paramilitaries backed by the Colombian army. Attacks on Indigenous groups in Colombia and elsewhere who struggle to protect their land continue.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples remain just that: recommendations. But Canada has finally issued an apology to the victims and survivors of residential schools, it has launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the wrongdoing of that school system, and it has, after a long time holding out, endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But universal access to clean water, equal and adequate funding for education, and a place at decision-making tables for mining or other industrial projects that impact traditional territories – basic components of peoples’ rights– these things continue to elude Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
10 years is a long time. It’s amazing what people remain committed to.
On June 2, people across Canada and around the world will remember Kimy and what he stood for. They too will stand, and light candles in his memory, and sign petitions calling for justice for Kimy and protection for the Embera and other Indigenous Peoples threatened with extinction. Between June 14 and 20, KAIROS will once again be riding the rails across Canada, this time picking up banners with individual and community messages of support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. KAIROS urges you to join us in both these activities. Find out more about remembering and seeking justice for Kimy and how you can participate in our Roll with the Declaration train action.
10 years is a long time. I wonder what –and how– I will remember in June, 2021.
Sara Stratton is the interim manager for the Sustainability team at KAIROS. Her usual position is Sustainability Education and Campaigns Coordinator, though she’s also often found gazing through binoculars at birds.