From New­found­land to B.C.

Ral­lies show sup­port for ar­rested Indige­nous ac­tivists

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - BY BARB SWEET

It started with two MUN stu­dents, then a third and soon enough — de­spite the cut­ting wind freez­ing Ban­ner­man Park in St. John’s on Sun­day — the bun­dled-up rally-go­ers strolling in a few at a time formed a united crowd.

They were there to peace­fully protest the re­cent ar­rest of 14 Indige­nous land de­fend­ers and el­ders in We’suwet’en ter­ri­tory in the in­te­rior of British Columbia at the Gidimt’en check­point on Morice River Road at a block­ade to pro­tect their ter­ri­tory against the de­vel­op­ment of a pro­posed pipe­line by Tran­sCanada Corp.’s sub­sidiary Coastal GasLink.

This protest in St. John’s aimed to put pres­sure on provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to cease armed in­ter­ven­tion in peace­ful Indige­nous protests and for the ac­tivists to be re­leased from the charges.

But there was an­other in­ci­dent weigh­ing on the groups and with a red dress sway­ing in the wind after be­ing hung

care­fully from the Gazebo, pro­test­ers grew silent for Chantel John of Conne River, who was 28 when she was mur­dered last week.

The dress was sym­bolic of peo­ple be­ing asked Fri­day to wear red in John’s mem­ory, and all miss­ing or mur­dered Indige­nous women and girls.

So­bia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coali­tion of NL and a Me­mo­rial Univer­sity School of So­cial Work pro­fes­sor noted the tragedy as “an­other among the mur­dered indige­nous woman in New­found­land and Labrador.”

Sarah Mae Ra­hal, a Me­mo­rial Univer­sity stu­dent from Orangeville, Ont., and Katelin King of St. Lewis, Labrador, were the first to ar­rive in the park Sun­day. They said it was im­por­tant for groups across the coun­try no mat­ter how big or small to show sol­i­dar­ity for indige­nous is­sues, and said it’s uni­fy­ing when non­indige­nous peo­ple at­tend.

St. John’s, said Ra­hal, who has lived in Ot­tawa and Toronto, is a nice city to unite peo­ple.

“It’s di­verse for its size,” she said. “I love it here ... There’s this big heart. It’s dif­fer­ent. I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced it in any other city.”

King said she’s con­nected to the mes­sage the land pro­tec­tors in B.C. are try­ing to send, just as she is to the is­sues that sur­round the Muskrat Falls project in her Labrador home.

“So much has al­ready been lost,” she said.

The Indige­nous stu­dents were soon joined by Lind­see Clark of Baie Verte, who is work­ing on a bi­ol­ogy de­gree. She has Indige­nous her­itage on her fa­ther’s side of the fam­ily.

Clark is upset over the at­tempt to re­press the B.C. ac­tivists’ voices as well as the cor­po­rate world’s “au­dac­ity to do this to the Indige­nous lands.

“We have a voice and we are stronger to­gether. Why not band to­gether?” she said.

As the crowd grew, Shelly Pardy of St. John’s said the pro­posed pipe­line is a dis­as­ter wait­ing to hap­pen and driven by cor­po­rate mo­ti­va­tion that “cares noth­ing about the land.”

“It’s im­por­tant to know they have sup­port ev­ery­where,” said Peter West, also of St. John’s, in ex­plain­ing why he turned up Sun­day to sup­port the ar­rested B.C. ac­tivists.

Os­car Parslow, orig­i­nally from Dart­mouth, N.S., said he hopes such gath­er­ings in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion and re­sult in a shift in po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion and pol­icy.

“2019 and still col­o­niz­ing” was the sign Parslow held.

“Ob­vi­ously the ar­rests are clearly not right. They are an act of vi­o­lence,” he said.

West coast, New­found­land and Labrador Mi’kmaq land pro­tec­tor Robert Lea­mon spoke of gen­er­a­tions of Indige­nous re­pres­sion and said he was ex­cited to see new faces among the sup­port­ers.

“We’re start­ing a move­ment. We are get­ting stronger,” he said.

Speak­ers called both gov­ern­ments to up­hold United Na­tions re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the rights of Indige­nous peo­ples.

There were also ref­er­ences to rev­e­la­tions at the Muskrat Falls in­quiry.

So­cial Jus­tice Co-op cam­paign co-or­di­na­tor Kerri Claire Neil spoke of the oc­cu­pa­tion of the Muskrat Falls site three years ago, and con­cerns for the ef­fect of the project on Labrador’s abun­dant re­sources.

“We have to fight for what is ours,” said two-spirit ac­tivist and land pro­tec­tor Jude Benoit.

Anti-racism Coali­tion mem­ber Meghan Hol­lett read a state­ment from Cor­ner Brook rally or­ga­nizer Conor Cur­tis and Denise Cole spoke to the crowd via cell­phone video from Labrador.

Cole said she was in­spired by the turnout, and said the ef­fort con­trib­utes to the “big cir­cle of life.”

The crowd at times chanted, in­clud­ing the re­frain “No jus­tice. No Peace. No racist po­lice.”

“Peo­ple over pipe­lines,” they also sang, while hold­ing signs such as “wa­ter is life” or con­tain­ing mes­sages against cor­po­rate greed.

The sol­i­dar­ity ral­lies have been oc­cur­ring across the coun­try.

The RCMP lifted an ex­clu­sion zone Fri­day that cut off pub­lic ac­cess to a for­est ser­vice road in north­ern British Columbia at the site of a con­fronta­tion be­tween Moun­ties and op­po­nents of the nat­u­ral gas pipe­line.

On Thurs­day, hered­i­tary chiefs struck a deal with the RCMP to abide with an in­terim court in­junc­tion by not block­ing ac­cess to the B.C. work site.

In ex­change, the chiefs said mem­bers of the First Na­tion would not be ar­rested and the Unist’ot’en camp would be al­lowed to re­main in­tact.

They said they made the tem­po­rary agree­ment to pro­tect Wet’suwet’en mem­bers, some of whom were al­ready trau­ma­tized after an­other check­point was dis­man­tled and the 14 peo­ple were ar­rested a week ago.

The Unist’ot’en is a house group within the five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en First Na­tion.

Some mem­bers of the Wet’ suwet’en say the com­pany does not have au­thor­ity to work on their ter­ri­tory with­out con­sent from the na­tion’s hered­i­tary clan chiefs.

Tran­sCanada Corp. says it has signed ben­e­fit shar­ing agree­ments with the elected coun­cils of all 20 First Na­tions along the pipe­line route. Its Coastal GasLink pipe­line would run from north­ern B.C. though the Wet’suwet’en ter­ri­tory to LNG Canada’s $40-bil­lion ex­port ter­mi­nal in Kiti­mat.

BARB SWEET/THE TELE­GRAM

A pro­tester among the crowd of 60 to 70 peo­ple at a rally Sun­day in Ban­ner­man Park, St. John’s, to show sol­i­dar­ity for Indige­nous peo­ple ar­rested re­cently at a pipe­line block­ade in B.C.

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