CapU Indigenous students emphasize action over words when advocating for Indigenous causes
Maia Lomelino // Contributor
As the Canadian government continues conversations started on Feb. 27 with Wet’suwet’en peoples, Indigenous peoples, allies and youth across the nation continue to rally to voice their support. Recently the demonstrations and blockades held by the hereditary chiefs and supporters have received a great deal of attention as they shut down streets, railway and trade routes, with both sides of the debate having a lot to say on the matter.
On Feb. 10, the RCMP forcefully entered the Unist’ot’en camp with dogs and automatic rifles to evict and make arrests in what they called an “unlawful” exclusion zone. The next day Indigenous land defenders, youth and allies occupied the B.C. Legislature in solidarity until a court injunction on Feb. 13 granted the Victoria Police Department (VicPD) the power to arrest protesters. This was tested on Feb. 24 when the legislature was reoccupied and five Indigenous youths were arrested by the VicPD on Mar. 4.
The Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) declared their support to the Wet’suwet’en cause on Feb. 12 and Mar. 4 along with students from various institutions including UBC, SFU, Langara and Capilano University (CapU). Students joined the nationwide student walkout in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. In an unheard-of action in North Vancouver, roughly 80 students, led by First Nation students, left their classes around 2 PM for a rally starting in the Cedar courtyard, marched through the library and went down the road to blockade the intersection between Mountain Highway and Keith Road.
Megan Helin, Tsimshian, Lax Kw’alaams and Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking Diploma student, described the situation as “an extremely emotional time not only for Indigenous peoples but for all land protectors that have been fighting for the land, water and future of civilization.” The walkout from Capilano University was Helin’s first opportunity to take part in the Wet’suwet’en initiatives in which she called “eye-opening.”
“Social-media has been posting from both the land protectors’ and the media point of view, and having the first-hand account was extremely informative both emotionally and intellectually,” Helin said. “There was all-around discrimination towards the walkout because it was an inconvenience, many of the commuters said things like ‘you are not even Indigenous’, ‘why are you here’ and ‘this is not your problem.’ I was also quite surprised by the disrespect shown by Capilano students. When we entered the library there was laughter and snarky comments.”
Helin also points out that there is some separation among Indigenous communities, with elected chiefs and hereditary chiefs not always agreeing. She added that it is not something that should cloud the fight for a better future for everyone.
Tristin Greyeyes (wapan acahk iskwew), CSU Indigenous Students Liaison and one of the main organizers of the walkout, said that many of the students participating in the blockade had never done something like it before. One of the major issues was keeping the students safe in the midst of angry commuters, some who tried to pass through the blockade with their cars.
“Everything was so quiet on campus and we are a small campus. We needed to make more noise, to wake people up,” Greyeyes said in regards to the rally held in the Cedar Courtyard. “Everybody benefits directly or indirectly by Indigenous displacement. People like to do land acknowledgments but they don’t actually do anything about it. So, we decided to go to the library before going to the intersection. The Indigenous students were leading the march.”
Greyeyes is a land-back Skoden-fighter, basic human rights activist and an intersectional feminist. She stated that many believe that the blockades are making people angry with the Indigenous cause, rather than creating allies, but she states that is not the case. “Our culture is totally linked with the land. We have Indigenous women and girls disappearing and being killed. We are thinking of the long run about climatic changes and the importance of water—how the pipelines influence all of that,” Greyeyes added. “People voice solidarity but unless I see them really doing something and participating, we don’t need empty support.”
There are several ways to get involved and support the Wet’suwet’en including donations, fundraisers, solidarity statements or even following activists’ social media accounts like @redbraidalliance on Instagram and Unist’ot’en Facebook page or website for their supporter toolkit: at http://unistoten.camp.
*Correction: An earlier published version of this article contained multiple inaccuracies. Lax Kw’alaams and Tristin Greyeyes Cree name wapan acahk iskwew were both spelled incorrectly, and there was missing capitalization on First Nations. Megan Helin’s program was also misrepresented as the Digital Filmmaking Program instead of the Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking Program. It was falsely reported that Indigenous youths were arrested on February 24th by the RCMP when they were arrested on March 4th by the Victoria Police Department. We regret these errors and offer our sincerest apologies. 02/04/2020