From Newfoundland to B.C.
Rallies show support for arrested Indigenous activists
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.
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.