It took more than 20 years of individuals allegedly stealing or tampering with her people’s lobster equipment before Jolene Marr, a Mi’kmaq fisher from Shubenacadie, N.S., found the best defence tool: a cellphone with a good data package.
This fall, whenever Ms. Marr has felt scared or nervous, angry or threatened, she’s whipped out her cellphone and started recording. Her videos, initially intended for the consumption of her Facebook friends, soon attracted a global audience as Mi’kmaq fishers collecting off-season moderate livelihood catches were met with violent attacks by non-Indigenous commercial fishers.
A video she took of a 200-strong group of non-Indigenous commercial fishers surrounding a lobster pound and threatening her and other Mi’kmaq fishers after their lobster tanks had been damaged racked up more than 24,000 views. “Let’s show Canada their reconciliation,” she says at the start of the video, the camera turned on herself. Police, for the most part, are captured standing idly by; one officer says to Ms. Marr, "Get out of the way. Because if they come in, you’re gonna get hurt.” To the many viewers who posted their outraged comments, this was evidence of anti-Indigenous discrimination and police inaction.
In a country where Indigenous people experience daily discrimination from businesses, the police, social workers and hospital staff but are often not believed, video livestreams have become a line of defence against abuse – or, at the very least, a means of proving the abuse occurred in the first place.
“These racist acts … whether it be in health care, on the streets, here in communities or in homes, it’s always been happening,” says Selena Mills, who is Cree and French-Canadian and is the lead of health transformation and strategic communications of Women’s College Hospital’s Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health. “Now it’s more visible, it’s at our fingertips, and these videos are going viral.”
Ms. Marr said the threats and racist remarks she’s caught on film, along with the seeming indifference of police, have made non-Indigenous observers take complaints of racism seriously, rather than dismissing them as “he said, she said” situations.
“In the past, we’ve been done wrong by the media,” she said. “The whole truth not being told, only pieces of the story being told. [These videos] let the light shine on the actual truth. Social media has been a godsend for that.”
Some of her videos are being used by local RCMP to potentially press charges against individuals who attacked her brother, Ms. Marr said. A public information officer for Nova Scotia RCMP said he could not comment.
The force has been under heightened scrutiny for their treatment of Indigenous people, not just in Nova Scotia. Last year, a document obtained by The Globe and Mail revealed one-third of the people shot and killed by the RCMP from 2007 to 2017 were Indigenous.
A few months after those findings were publicized, RCMP in Nunavut shot and killed Abraham Natanine. This fall, Mr. Natanine’s father, Jerry, offered a piece of advice for Indigenous people coming into contact with police: “I just want to encourage people to film what they can,” he told The Globe in an interview.
Mr. Natanine’s directive spoke to a desire to capture evidence of police misconduct, but we may never know what Joyce Echaquan sought when she filmed the abuse she received shortly before her death.
In late September, Ms. Echaquan, a member of the Atikamekw Nation of Manawan, was in agony in a Joliette, Que., hospital room when she turned on her phone and began a video livestream on Facebook. When she cries out in pain, one health care worker calls her “stupid as hell.” At another point during the seven-minute video, one says of Ms. Echaquan, a mother of seven, “She’s good at screwing, more than anything else. And we’re paying for this.”
Ms. Echaquan, who had sought treatment for stomach pain, later died in that hospital. The video of the abuse she endured before her death was widely covered in the news media, prompting the dismissal of a nurse, announcements of an inquest by the coroner’s office and an investigation by the local health board.
At a press conference, a sobbing Carol Dubé, Ms. Echaquan’s widower, told reporters his wife died because of systemic racism. “She spent her final days in agony, surrounded by people who held her in contempt, people who were supposed to protect her,” he said.
Ms. Mills said her team is petitioning federal and provincial governments for massive change to health care systems in the country, including the creation of more ombudsmen and patient navigators to manage reports of discrimination and mandatory training for staff so they can bring cultural sensitivity to their practices.
“It’s shameful that a person on their deathbed is recording their own death and the racist experiences they’re having that are blatantly contributing to their death,” she said.
Before Cora Morgan took on her role as First Nations Family Advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, she had no idea that the child and family services agencies in the province were sending “birth alerts” to hospitals to identify mothers who were “high risk” and later apprehending hundreds of babies a year, some just hours old. About 90 per cent of children in care in the province are Indigenous.
Last year, Ms. Morgan was called to the hospital room of Carol Harper, an Oji-Cree woman who had just delivered a baby. Ms. Harper had informed social workers months earlier that she had substance-abuse issues and would be seeking treatment for them after her daughter was born, and that she had made arrangements for her aunt to care for the infant for a year. Yet social workers, along with police, arrived days after the birth to apprehend the newborn, ignoring the family’s pleas.
“It was a lot of anger and confusion. Things didn’t line up, didn’t add up,” Ms. Harper said. And so her uncle pulled out his phone in the hospital room and began streaming to Facebook Live.
In the video, which generated almost half a million views, Ms. Harper helplessly sobs as her child is placed in a car seat and carried out by a police officer.
“Our elders always say the most violent act you can commit to a woman is to take a child,” Ms. Morgan said. “As much as we’ve done to shed light on the issue of newborn apprehension, it is nothing in comparison to what attention the video brought."
This year, Manitoba announced the cessation of birth alerts, though Ms. Morgan says apprehensions still continue.
Ms. Harper’s child was placed in the aunt’s care as originally planned a few months later, but Ms. Morgan is hesitant to recommend livestreaming to others in the same position.
Child and family services did not look favourably on the video, she said, although had it not gone viral and attracted political attention, “[they] would’ve probably further punished her and made it really difficult and a long time for her to get her baby back."
“It could help you or it could really hinder you.”
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