To look at us, you'd think we were just one more group of middle-class tourists chasing the Mediterranean sun. And we like it that way.
Tucked away on secret, sandy, shores, members of the Canadian Boat to Gaza blend seamlessly into the turquoise-blue backdrop. We intermingle with the breakfast buffet crowd, letting you be first in line, with a broad Canadian smile plastered to our face. No, after you!
We shop for Greek nick-knacks, wrestling to varying degrees of success with Greek pleasantries. Karisto! We sip local beer on the beach, whilst skipping rocks, with a drippy gyro in the other hand. We are young, old, men, women, gay, straight, Jew, Muslim, Christian, secular, French, English, and First Nations. We have been joined by Danes, Belgians, Aussies, Turks, Americans, and Germans. We're such good friends! And you'd never know it was us.
Behind closed doors, however, it is strictly business. For the past four days we have shaped ourselves into a peaceful force to be reckoned with. Those with experience have taught the rest about water cannons, and percussion grenades, and tear gas, and rubber tipped bullets, and jail solidarity, and about signing nothing without a lawyer. And we take it all in.
And if we are asked to speak about our feelings every couple of hours, and write our fears on a white board, so what? And if we have to make affinity groups to go off and discuss, and then present our findings to the group, and then go around the room giving out hugs, and even if some of us cry, who cares?
We are Canadian after all. We talk. Lots. In both official languages. And when we get a bit lost and ahead of ourselves, we acknowledge our colonial past, and turn to Bob Lovelace from the Algonquin First Nation for a few inspiring words. And then we re-ground and are ready again to talk about how to best position ourselves for when the commandos attack, and how to see violence being committed against our new friends and to not react. We prepare for the worst, but keep the vision of Gaza Port front and centre in our minds.
Members of the international media watch the spectacle of our training with what must assuredly be varying degrees of comprehension. The room is filled with cameras, recording our tutelage for posterity's sake, or in order to meet press deadlines on a story that for the moment remains on the dock. But what does the newswoman from Pravda, or the Turkish cameraman, think of this? Who are these people to care? These doctors, these engineers, these old ladies and old men who talk, talk, talk?
Perhaps we look too fragile to undertake a mission like this. Perhaps we wear our hearts too much on our sleeves. But make no mistake. We are ready to go the distance on this, and there is no finish line but one. We are your Canadian Boat to Gaza, which, in the best of Canadian traditions, has effortlessly incorporated flavours from around the world. For now, we sit in calm and wait for the right winds to blow. A French boat has left from Corsica. The Freedom Flotilla II has begun!
Bob Lovelace is a former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, with a strong history of anti-colonial activism. In 2007, he was sentenced to six months in jail for declaring his intention to defend Ardoch Algonquin territory against uranium mining. Lovelace now teaches Indigenous Studies at Queens University, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. After an intense day of training, Bob and I caught up under an umbrella, down on the boardwalk. Just like tourists do.
Miles Howe: We're both pretty far from home here. What are you praying for and asking for right now?
Bob Lovelace: Right now I'm just thankful. I'm really thankful that the group of people that has assembled to go on the Flotilla are a really great bunch of people. They're working hard together, they're cooperative, and they bring a lot of diversity of skills and knowledge.
MH: You are a former chief of the Algonquin. One criticism that surfaces from time to time is that we have enough to do back home in Canada in terms of righting our own colonial history. What makes you travel across the world to involve yourself in the plight of another colonized people?
BL: I've been involved in fighting against colonialism for a long time. It started when I was about 30 years old, when the government gave away our wild rice stands to a commercial harvester. And we fought and we saved those wild rice stands for ourselves.
I've really been focused on what was going on at home for a long time. But as I studied this and came to get involved in this, I came to understand that colonialism is a worldwide phenomenon that started maybe 500 years ago in a big way, and certainly affected our people 200 years ago. But the same sort of thing happens worldwide. When anyone is confronted with the devastation of colonialism, then it's everybody's problem.
MH: I understand that you are not coming on the Flotilla representing the Algonquin people. Is that purposeful?
BL: I talked about it with our chief, and people in our community know that I'm here. A lot of people support me. But I felt that it really is a people-to-people process, and that I had to do this as an individual. We do have alliances with a lot of other First Nations. Our band is a member of an organization called Defenders of the Land, which is a national defence organization. But I've felt strongly about what's happened to Palestine for a long time, and I felt it was important to make a personal stand.
I do hope that other Indian people in Canada, through this example, will see that we do need to get into international interests. We need to get involved with people in Latin America, we need to get involved with people around the world, in India, in Pakistan, in China, who are struggling with colonialism.
MH: Do you believe that the Algonquin First Nation is now in a state of strength where they can begin to share their own strength with other groups away from Canada?
BL: I think we need to build the knowledge. And we need to help people become knowledgeable. And that really starts around the kitchen table. I plan to go home and bring my friends to my home and tell them what happened, and talk to them about the issues. And as we meet with other people, with other Mi'gmaw or Mohawk or Cree people, we're going to talk about the international struggle against colonialism.
But I think there's been this unwritten rule that we need to keep it 'in house' to 'keep it in the family' so to speak. A lot of Indian people don't see themselves as involved in an international struggle and I hope that changes.
MH: How do you maintain a sense of dignity, a sense of self, a sense of purpose, away from anything that is familiar?
BL: I've been involved in a lot of conflicts. And that's something I thought I could bring to the group here too, some of the lessons that I've learned over the years. So I have something to offer. In fact everyone here seems to have something to offer. And that's one way of maintaining your strength. I'm not dependant here. I've got a good contribution to make and that really bolsters my spirit.
Miles will be reporting regularly to the Halifax Media Co-op from the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Visit Dispatches from the Tahrir for updates.
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