Walk­out for In­dige­nous jus­tice

Mcgill’s In­dige­nous Stu­dent Al­liance holds demon­stra­tion and walk­out

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Vic­tor De­pois The Mcgill Daily

On March 14, the In­dige­nous Stu­dent Al­liance (ISA) held a demon­stra­tion at the Y-in­ter­sec­tion on the down­town cam­pus to protest the on­go­ing in­jus­tices against In­dige­nous peo­ples in Canada. The demon­stra­tion was or­ga­nized in the wake of the ac­quit­tals of Ger­ald Stan­ley and Ray­mond Cormier, who mur­dered Colten Boushie, 22, and Tina Fon­taine, 15, re­spec­tively. Brady Fran­cis, 22, was also re­cently killed in a hi­tand-run. The event was in­spired by sim­i­lar walk­outs which took place at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria and the Univer­sity of Toronto. In­dige­nous speak­ers were in­vited to share their per­spec­tives on the Cana­dian govern­ment’s fail­ures against In­dige­nous peo­ple. The speak­ers also en­cour­aged In­dige­nous stu­dents and al­lies to take ac­tion. Speeches were fol­lowed by drum per­for­mances by the Buf­falo Hat Singers, a group based in Mon­treal, and the Medicine Bear Singers, an In­dige­nous group from Mcgill.

Con­tin­ued In­jus­tices

Car­lee Kaw­ine­hta Loft, the In­dige­nous Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner at SSMU, spoke first. She started off by read­ing the land ac­knowl­edg­ment, then pointed to the fact that re­cent cases are not unique, and that in­jus­tices against In­dige­nous peo­ple are a na­tion­wide prob­lem.

“The in­jus­tices they faced hap­pened far from here, in ter­ri­to­ries you maybe haven’t even been to, but re­mem­ber that in­jus­tices and colo­nial vi­o­lence hap­pen here too, in this ter­ri­tory, here on the un­ceded, stolen land of the Kanien’kehá:ka.”

Loft ex­plained how Cana­dian in­sti­tu­tions are re­spon­si­ble for per­pet­u­at­ing th­ese in­jus­tices on a na­tional and lo­cal scale. “Th­ese in­jus­tices oc­cur due to the na­tion-wide im­ple­men­ta­tion of var­i­ous Cana­dian sys­tems which sys­tem­at­i­cally de­value In­dige­nous lives,” she ex­plained. “Th­ese [sys­tems] in­clude the child wel­fare sys­tem, the so- called jus­tice sys­tem, the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem, and many oth­ers.”

At the end of her in­tro­duc­tory speech, Loft ex­panded on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of univer­sity stu­dents to use their ed­u­ca­tional priv­i­lege to learn and care about In­dige­nous is­sues, in or­der to en­act change. More than just a com­mem­o­ra­tive event, the demon­stra­tion aimed to en­cour­age al­lies (i.e. nonIndige­nous folks who wish to sup­port) to take ac­tion.

“I’m happy you came to­day but re­mem­ber that your ac­tion doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t stop to­day and there are many ways that you can reach out. You go and be­come in­volved with dif­fer­ent ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tions, you can look into where to to do­nate.”

This point was em­pha­sized by the next speaker, Nakuset, who is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tive Women’s Shel­ter in Mon­treal. “Look into the or­ga­ni­za­tions that are do­ing the work, ei­ther join them, model them, use them as role mod­els and help us, be­cause when you all came to this land, we helped you, and we would like it if you re­turned the fa­vor.”

She high­lighted the re­silience of In­dige­nous peo­ple, who, against all odds, are still alive to­day, and are push­ing for their rights to be re­spected. “After all the things that the govern­ment has done to us we should all be dead, but we’re still here, and we are just try­ing to have a fight­ing chance.”

Nakuset is a sur­vivor of the Six­ties Scoop, a state- sanc­tioned as­sim­i­la­tion process which took place dur­ing the 1960s, and which saw In­dige­nous chil­dren be­ing taken from their fam­i­lies to be placed in fos­ter homes or put up for adop­tion.

“Most of us were brought up to be ashamed of our cul­tures,” she ex­plained. “I ended up get­ting my ed­u­ca­tion right. By work­ing at the Na­tive Women’s Shel­ter, I cre­ate projects to help In­dige­nous women, be­cause we see here in Mon­treal that there is a lack of ser­vices for In­dige­nous peo­ple, and there is in­jus­tice on so many lev­els.”

Re­fer­ring to the Brady Fran­cis’s case, for which no one has been ar­rested yet, and which fur­ther ex­em­pli­fies in­jus­tices in the Cana­dian le­gal sys­tem, she stated: “Our peo­ple keep dy­ing and [...] no one is held ac­count­able. And this is to­day so what is go­ing to hap­pen to­mor­row? What are we go­ing to do as a com­mu­nity to make sure that things change?”

Dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences

Talia, a stu­dent at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, spoke next, shar­ing her lived ex­pe­ri­ence and per­sonal his­tory. She re­cited a poem, which can be found in The Daily’s com­men­tary sec­tion this week.

“I grew up ex­actly like Colten, Tina, and Brady, in poverty, in fos­ter care with drunk, young par­ents who con­stantly fought in front of us. I have a lot of those mem­o­ries, that I am not try­ing to for­get, but that I’m try­ing to let go, as I try not to let them di­rect my path.”

Orig­i­nally from Saskatchewan, she high­lighted the im­por­tance of be­ing aware that even if In­dige­nous racism and prej­u­dice may not be as vis­i­ble in Mon­treal, “they’re very fuck­ing real out in the prairies. I re­mem­ber be­ing in grade [school] and re­al­iz­ing that no mat­ter what I did with my life, they would see noth­ing more than my brown skin, and not even con­sider me hu­man.”

The Fight is Hap­pen­ing

Ben Ge­boe, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can In­dian Com­mu­nity House in New York City, put forth some num­bers, and fur­ther high­lighted the re­silience of the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity and the ne­ces­sity of tak­ing ac­tion. “Right now there are 95 cases against the Cana­dian crown for the rivers, the moun­tains, the lakes. It’s not an ide­o­log­i­cal or pas­sive bat­tle, it is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. We are lan­guish­ing, but yet we are sur­viv­ing with the help of great ac­tivism.”

Den­zel, one of the drum­mers, ex­pressed his thoughts on the event and on ally­ship. “I am happy with the turnout, happy to see how many peo­ple came out to sup­port us. It’s im­por­tant to have ap­peal from all and to have them join us be­cause we all need to call for jus­tice for In­dige­nous peo­ple, not just [from] In­dige­nous peo­ple.”

Sim­i­larly, Talia claimed that “non- In­dige­nous and ev­ery mi­nor­ity in Canada needs to learn the his­tory, and fight with us.” She fin­ished her speech by re­count­ing a prophecy an el­der told her.

“It’s a prophecy that we had seven gen­er­a­tions ago that we were go­ing to lose and suf­fer for seven gen­er­a­tions. Then for an­other seven gen­er­a­tions we are go­ing to start to heal, and re­claim our lan­guage, our names, and our clans. I am that eighth gen­er­a­tion that will help spark the fire. If I had known my cul­ture when I was a weak kid, I’d prob­a­bly be a lot fur­ther in life, and would prob­a­bly love my­self a lot more.”

“Look into the or­ga­ni­za­tions that are do­ing the work [...] be­cause when you all came to this land, we helped you, and we would like it if you re­turned the fa­vor.”

— Car­lee Kaw­ine­hta Loft SSMU In­dige­nous Af­fairs Comis­sioner

Vic­tor De­pois | The Mcgill Daily

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