Wiky drug issues prompt grandmothers’ protest, lead to resignation of band chief – Tough talk about troublesome non-band members

by Alicia McCutcheon

Last Tuesday, June 12, The Expositor received a call from Marjorie Beaudry, whose son-in-law, a black man living on the reserve and father to Ms. Beaudry’s five grandchildren, had been removed from the community by Wikwemikong Tribal Police the night before.

Ms. Beaudry accused the chief and council of racism and, Tuesday night, protested the move to kick her son-in-law off the reserve by dressing in Klu Klux Klan dress and marching along Wikwemikong Way to the band office, where chief and council were again meeting. She said she was refused entry to the council chambers and instead was arrested by police, spending nine hours in a cell and later released with the charge of public enticement of hatred.

“The charge is so lame, because it doesn’t even pertain to me—my daughter has black children—I was just trying to make a radical political statement,” Ms. Beaudry said. “The chief says she’s all about healing and wellness. How does that have anything to do with kicking people off of the reserve?”

“As aboriginal women, we are the most discriminated against people in Canada—we should know better,” she continued. “The war against drugs will never be won and kicking black people off the reserve won’t help—it’s here.” Ms. Beaudry acknowledged that her son-in-law had a troubling past, but she said he had left it behind him.

The protest by Ms. Beaudry sparked rumours that swirled throughout the community that every black man was a target for forcible removal. At the same time, beginning early Tuesday morning, a group of six grandmothers sick with grief over the happenings in their community, decided to make a stand, setting up shop at the Wikwemikong/Assiginack border. Sitting around a fire and blanketed by darkness, the ‘grandmothers’ border patrol,’ as they came to be called, sat and talked, sharing stories and ideas of what is needed to be done to clean up the community. One such idea is the removal of all non-band members who have faced drug charges or are known participants in the drug trade—no matter what their colour.

“The grandmothers of Wikwemikong are concerned about the youth and non-band members who are coming into our community and harming our youth,” Norma Peltier, one of the grandmothers, explained. “This is Anishinabek territory, and we need to protect our young.”

The Expositor spoke to the grandmothers and their supporters on Thursday, three days into their protest.

“Wikwemikong is a First Nations community—an unceded territory,” Ms. Peltier continued. “We are taking back the community and we need to heal the youth.”

The grandmothers spoke alongside the only highway entranceway to Wikwemikong—symbolic of their protest to keep the bad out. As they waved their banners, horns blared in support of the protestors, people stopping by to drop off food and drinks and to sign the grandmothers’ petition.

“These grandmothers are taking care of their grandchildren,” Alison Manitowabi said, pointing to the elders. When asked how many were currently raising their grandchildren, four of them raised their hands.

“It’s not racial—it’s not geared toward coloured people, but there are concerns with some of them,” Ms. Peltier noted. “Those who are causing trouble need to go.”

They reiterated that they were staked out on the border in a show of peace.

“It’s not in Wikwemikong’s band policy to escort non-band members off the community, but if you’re here just to feed on the epidemic, you’ve worn out your welcome,” said grandmother Marilyn Roy. “We’re asking them to kindly leave.”

“We’re going to protest until we get an answer,” Stella Trudeau added.

A twelve-year-old boy, who was protesting alongside his mother and grandmother on Thursday, said he was at the Junior School during the altercation that led to numerous arrests.

“Most of my classmates were scared and hid under their desks,” he said.

Rosemary Enosse shared how she gets frightened at night at the amount of drug activity surrounding her home. “My grandchildren are into it (drugs) and I see my children struggling,” she said. “There’s no food in their house on account of the drugs. We weren’t brought up like that.”

“I try to help, but when it comes to drug dealers, no!” she exclaimed.

The grandmothers began to tell stories about the stealing they’ve witnessed and family connections.

“I called 911 every weekend when I lived next door to a black drug dealer before he got busted,” another grandmother shared.

“I sleep with a phone every night,” Doris Recollet added. “My grandson would stay awake every night and fall asleep at school. It’s non-stop traffic to the drug houses, even at 4 am.”

The grandmothers said they have heard there are as many as 35 drug houses on the reserve. A phone call to Wikwemikong Tribal Police Chief Gary Reid to confirm this number left The Expositor empty handed. Police Chief Reid refused to comment on the current situation.

The boy added that he too gets scared at night, and never stays at home alone.

“He has a safe place to go, but not everyone’s that way,” one of the grandmothers added.

Marian Peltier is the lead grandmother in the protest. “I’m into politics and support my chief, councillors and police, but the way things were going something had to be done,” she said. “Chief and council would make good motions, but nobody’s following them.”

She referenced motion 375-2011 made at a December 19, 2011 council meeting which acknowledged a presentation by Wikwemikong Tribal Police Chief Gary Reid “concerning rights and freedoms and the constitution, legalities and the social issues in our community which are related to policing matters” and the establishment of signage to promote drug free community zones.

This motion, Ms. Peltier explained, was in direct reference to the questions of the removal of non-band members from the community.

After the 2011 meeting, Ms. Peltier said she set up a meeting with federal Crown Attorney Joe Chapman, who told her the community could indeed remove unwanted non-band members and encouraged her to keep trying, she said.

After the incident at the school, Ms. Peltier drafted the first petition, which she later destroyed in front of chief and council at the Tuesday meeting after learning that alleged drug dealers who were previously escorted from the reserve were back in the community.

“I asked council, ‘now what’?” she said. “They didn’t say anything.”

The second draft, which was garnering more and more signatures each day, states: “1. We would like to see a billboard at the border of our community, outlining zero tolerance for the drug industry; 2. Stiffer criminal code penalties for infractions; and 3. All drug bust money stays within the reserve to help our band membership.”

“We’re not racist—we’re only targeting drug dealers that come on reserve. If a band member is living quietly with a white or black person, that’s fine.”

“The grandmothers are suffering,” Ms. Peltier continued. “I told these ladies we are strong, not scared, we’re brave.”

Dorothy Shigwadja shared that late last Tuesday night she received a text message from her daughter, telling her how brave she was and calling her ‘braveheart.’

That afternoon, the protestors marched down Wikwemikong Way to the band office, some residents stopping to watch the grandmothers and their supporters, the beat of the drum keeping them going. Perhaps symbolically, as the group circled the empty band office, an eagle feather dropped from a staff. The feather must then be passed on to a new owner and was given with a hug to Ms. Peltier.

In a prayer made before the entrance of the band office, Evelyn Roy said, “We are crying for our children, we are sad. Every day we are seeing our children destroyed by this bad medicine.” The elder began to cry and could not finish. They group reassured her with a “miigwetch.”

The group circled the band office, drumming and smudging the building.

“The leadership failed to follow through with this motion, so we stand proud and tall and say, ‘this is not your turf’ to the drug dealers,” Ms. Peltier affirmed.