Mak­ing waves in Indige­nous rights

Look­ing back on two New Brunswick bas­ket­ball play­ers’ protest

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Han­nah Mur­ray Sports Writer

In Novem­ber of 2016, Quentin Sock and Jeremy Speller, two Indige­nousstu­dent ath­letes at St. Thomas Univer­sity (STU), used an ex­hi­bi­tion bas­ket­ball game as a plat­form for so­cial jus­tice. Sock and Speller knelt dur­ing the sing­ing of ‘O Canada’ while hold­ing a red shawl, the sym­bol of the Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women (MMIW) move­ment.

The ef­fects of such a protest, at first con­tro­ver­sial, are still be­ing felt on the St. Thomas cam­pus. The protest has also in­flu­enced the Univer­sity’s town of Fred­er­ic­ton, New Brunswick.

The Na­tional En­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women was of­fi­cially en­acted on Septem­ber 1, 2016. De­spite this, in the fall of 2016, Sock and Speller felt that this cri­sis was not re­ceiv­ing enough at­ten­tion. They de­cided to plan a peace­ful protest for their sea­son opener that would shed light on the is­sues at hand, and bring more aware­ness to the move­ment for jus­tice, as young Indige­nous women are five times more likely to die un­der vi­o­lent cir­cum­stances than other Cana­dian women.

At the same time, the world of sports was be­ing swept by the “kneel­ing move­ment” that had been made fa­mous by San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick, who knelt to protest racial in­equal­ity and po­lice bru­tal­ity in the U.S.. A con­tro­ver­sial topic in the states, where many fans and team own­ers spoke out against Kaeper­nick, this caused some ini­tial hes­i­tance to­wards Sock and Speller’s idea. How­ever, as de­scribed by Jef­frey Car­leton, the Vice-pres­i­dent of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at STU, in a meet­ing about a week be­fore the protest, the school fac­ulty was “so im­pressed with their thought process” that it was “al­lowed and sup­ported 100 per cent.”

Hav­ing spo­ken with their own team and the King’s Col­lege Blue Devils, the game day op­po­nent, the ath­letes were met with wide­spread sup­port. Sock and Speller in­vited friends and fam­ily from their re­spec­tive na­tions, the El­si­pog­tog and Ges­gape­giag First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties. Cov­ered by lo­cal me­dia and at­tended by school fac­ulty, in­clud­ing STU pres­i­dent Dawn Rus­sell, Sock and Speller’s protest be­came a pow­er­ful com­mu­nity event.

By protest­ing on an ath­letic plat­form, in­stead of an aca­demic one, the protest was made ac­ces- sible to mem­bers of both the STU com­mu­nity and Fred­er­ic­ton res­i­dents who at­tended the game.

With such over­whelm­ing sup­port, the protest was cov­ered by the CBC and be­came the front page of both STU’S stu­dent news­pa­per and the Daily Gleaner, a lo­cal Fred­er­ic­ton pa­per.

Al­though not di­rectly af­fected by the MMIW cri­sis, Sock and Speller rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of such a protest in their com­mu­nity. The St. Mary’s First Na­tion’s re­serve com­prises a large por­tion of Fred­er­ic­ton; also, of St. Thomas’ 2000 stu­dents, over 170 are Indige­nous. As a small lib­eral arts school, St. Thomas of­fers an Indige­nous stu­dents com­mit­tee, an Elder Res­i­dence, and a Na­tive Stud­ies pro­gram.

Rais­ing aware­ness both on cam­pus and in Fred­er­ic­ton, the protest kicked off a se­ries of events high­light­ing the MMIW cri­sis.

In the year since the protest, a height­ened aware­ness and em­pha­sis has been placed on Indige­nous is­sues within St. Thomas Univer­sity. Shortly af­ter the protest took place, a se­nate was formed in Fred­er­ic­ton to ad­dress the rec­om­men­da­tions made by the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Coun­cil. In Fe­bru­ary 2017, there was an on-cam­pus read­ing of the Coun­cil’s 94 rec­om­men­da­tions, at­tended by over 300 peo­ple. Ad­di­tion­ally, in the 2017 school year, STU has sup­ported the Indige­nous com­mu­nity to a fur­ther ex­tent than in the past, with an Indige­nous stu­dent wel­come cen­tre and a pow­wow held dur­ing STU’S “Wel­come Week.”

Due to their thun­der­ous suc­cess, these com­mu­nity events and the MMIW move­ment it­self have gained mo­men­tum in Fred­er­ic­ton and on the St. Thomas Univer­sity cam­pus.

Un­prece­dented in the St. Thomas com­mu­nity, a protest such as this has not been re­peated at STU, nor on a large scale at other Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties.

Quentin Sock and Jeremy Speller are no longer play­ing bas­ket­ball for St. Thomas: Speller has re­cently grad­u­ated and is now in Bri­tish Columbia work­ing to­wards a Masters in Gov­er­nance, while Sock is in his fourth year at STU, hop­ing to grad­u­ate with an honours in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence at the end of the school year. Nev­er­the­less, Sock and Speller’s peace­ful protest in 2016 on the bas­ket­ball court con­tin­ues to be a source of in­spi­ra­tion and pride for St. Thomas and Fred­er­ic­ton.

Cov­ered by lo­cal me­dia, [...] Sock and Speller’s protest be­came a pow­er­ful com­mu­nity event.

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