“When People Are Calling, You Go” – The first hand account of Eetsah, an Indigenous woman who took part in the Native Peoples Caravan (1974)

From The Arrow, Nov./Dec. 1974, republished in Vern Harper’s book, The Red Path (1979)

“When people are calling, you go,” Eetsah said, “and so I joined the Caravan. I have to struggle along with my people — their struggles are my struggles.”

Eetsah is an Indian woman, an Albertan resident, who traveled with the Native Peoples Caravan to Ottawa. “When I joined the Caravan in Edmonton,” she said, “my oldest child – she’s eight – begged me to take her along with me. She knows what our struggle is all about – I’ve explained things to her.”

“When I was going to school they always told us the government looks after you. They are there to help you. When I grew up I found out what they are doing is eliminating our people. They use different policies to get our people off the land, out of the reserves so they can get at the riches — the minerals, other natural resources — instead of letting people develop the land themselves and become economically independent.”

“People are capable of solving their own problems,” she said. “We don’t need the government to tell us what to do.”

She spoke of her people dying from mercury poisoning in Kenora. “The government,” she said, “has no interest in whether the needs of our people are met or not. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development spends $53 million just on administrative costs alone.”

“In Kenora our people are dying of mercury poisoning. A lot of people died in Japan from mercury poisoning and they had exactly the same symptoms. You start quivering, trembling, you get depressed and lose weight. The same things that happen with alcohol poisoning so the doctors and the government blame it on alcohol. They don’t care whether we live or die.”

“That’s why I went on the Caravan,” she said. “Because our people are suffering and the government isn’t doing anything about it.”

Eetsah talked of her trip across the country.

“The trip to Ottawa was a wonderful experience,” she said. “Everywhere along the way people welcomed us. We stayed in all different kinds of places — schools, churches, Indian Friendship Centres, a Quaker camp. All different kinds of people and organizations supported us and gave us money. Both old and young — a tremendous response, warm and friendly.”

“Everywhere along the way there were press conferences and pow wows, rallies and benefit dances. It was a tremendous experience to feel the unity among our people and hear of the support of many different organizations like trade unions and church groups, etc.”

“The government has tried to divide us, but we will not be divided any longer. We will decide our own destiny; we can make our own contributions to a better world for everyone. We have done so in the past and can do so again.”

“When we got to the Hill we saw soldiers with bayonet guns — some kind of honour guard — and RCMP lined up in ranks of tour in front of the Parliament Buildings. First Louis Cameron spoke presenting our demands and asking Trudeau or an Indian Affairs official to come and talk to us. They are elected to serve the heeds of Native people too — they should respond to what we have to say. We stood and waited for some government representatives to show up and talk to us. No one came. We said we would give them 25 minutes to send someone out. Two hours later we were still standing there waiting. We got there at 1:30 pm and at 4:00 we still stood waiting…”

“We were unarmed men, women and children. And their riot squad came and started beating us. We fell down on our backs, our hands and knees and they kept on smashing at us with their sticks. Didn’t matter if we were retreating — they were trampling and smashing up…”

“There were soldiers there, and tanks and bayonets to back up the police. There to protect Trudeau and his likes, I guess. And they obey even if people are unarmed. Then the riot squad came on over the loudspeakers and started telling us to move, and we were driven onto the street. Lots of people could hardly walk — their brothers and sisters walked beside them, holding them up. The drums were beating.”

“Later that night back at the Embassy one young brother collapsed. He had been badly injured and had been coughing and spitting blood, but he didn’t tell anyone. He collapsed later that night. We took him to the hospital. I don’t know how many of our people went to hospital. They put in the paper a list of how many RCMP were injured, but not how many Indians.”

“My daughter wanted to go with me. She laughs now and talks about how scared Trudeau was, hiding behind the walls. She has no fear of the police and says she feels brave to be fighting for her rights. I heard her yelling there on the Hill: ‘Give us our brothers back; I may be small but I’m willing to fight you.'”

“What did I learn from going to Ottawa with the Caravan?” she said. “I learned people have to fight for their rights.”

Interview with Eetsah, The Arrow, Nov./Dec. 1974

RCMP attack the Native Peoples Caravan, Ottawa 1974

More on the Caravan:

Maria Campbell’s speech to the Native Peoples Caravan in Toronto (1974)

The Red Path and Socialism – ᐊᓯᓂ Vern Harper (1979)

See also:

No More! On the blockade at Grassy Narrows – Chrissy Swain (2004)

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