At 12 p.m. on January 18, a group of SFU students and other community members participated in a walkout in support of the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation in light of recent protests against the Trans Mountain Pipeline System.
The details for the Facebook event notes “UNIST’OT’EN WET’SUWET’EN peoples are being arrested on their own land as corporations use RCMP to protect their old world interests in oil, gas and fracking. Resource extraction is dirty and affects us all. Lets [sic] stand for our future and today.”
Once a small crowd assembled, Sundance Chief Ruben George addressed the audience. He started off noting, “I am happy to say that we’re winning [ . . . ] we’ve won over 250 legal victories.” He noted that “Burnaby residents understand the true facts of the destruction that [the pipeline] causes and that’s what we have to educate people on, what’s going on up North.”
“We have a gun to our head, and we’re about to pull the trigger, and we don’t even care. We have to get people to care.”
Chief George finished off by saying “the spirit of the people have spoken and we’re winning. I’m proud of each and every one of you [ . . . ] don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s impossible.”
He then passed the microphone off to his son, Cedar George, whom he explained has been actively involved in opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline, including convincing the World Bank to divest $800 million in tar sands.
Cedar George emphasized the importance of Canadians using our freedom of speech. “Here we have freedom of speech. We have rights. Let’s use those rights [ . . . ] we have the right to be here and talk without being murdered.”
“We’re here to stand up for those young ones, in other countries who don’t have what we have.” He urged the crowd to “get SFU to divest.”
Raven Marsten, the organizer of the event, then announced that it was open mic and anybody could come up to speak.
A number of people used this opportunity, including SFU student and president of the Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) Giovanni Hosang, who announced that SOCA supports the movement, and that “people united will never be divided.”
Following Hosang, an unnamed man who introduced himself as a climate activist and an Indigenous activist explained that “in order for us to actually do something about the climate you have to work with the people who are the most affected by climate change […] I’m very grateful for everybody here, together we can stop this pipeline.”
Marsten then mobilized the group to walk through the AQ with posters while verbally demonstrating their opposition to the pipeline. The march ended at President Andrew Petter’s office, where the group stood outside chanting, eventually entering the office. After inquiring with members in the office, the group discovered that Petter was not present.
According to Hosang in an email to The Peak, the group stayed between 1–2 hours in Petter’s office and were not able to get him on the phone as he was in meetings. However, Dugan O’Neil associate vice-president, research, came to speak to the group.
“The spirit of the people have spoken and we’re winning” -Sundance Chief Ruben George
A video sent by Hosang to The Peak shows O’Neil explaining that “Andrew Petter is off-campus and in a meeting right now, so I am here to hear your concerns.” After receiving an explanation of the protest from both Marsten and Hosang, he responded, “I’m not authorized today to suddenly make a statement on the spot about our position on the things you raised. What I can do is take that request back.”
“We got a commitment that he will reach out to one of the rally organizers,” Hosang wrote in his email.
After The Peak reached out to O’Neil to ask about his interaction with the protest group, O’Neil said that he “pledged to pass along certain key messages from the group to President Petter and to also pass along the contact information (email and phone number) of one of the organizers.”
“I have done those things,” O’Neil concluded.
Kristin Linklater, SFU’s executive director of communications and marketing, made the following statement in an email to The Peak:
“This information was brought to the attention of the president, who has asked for further information to understand the concerns of the group. Once he receives that information, his office will respond accordingly.
“Because the university is a complex organization with a diversity of views, the SFU administration does not take positions on issues of public policy unless they directly relate to the operations of the university.
However, we encourage faculty, staff and students to express their views publicly.”
SFU student Marina Gathright, who was present at the walkout, wrote to The Peak: “While I am incredibly disappointed in the lack of initiative the school has shown on this issue and in their response today, it was great to see many students showing their support.”
“Before leaving, the ralliers decided that if there aren’t any decisive actions taken, they are [sic] committed to coming back repeatedly,” Hosang said in his email. “Some of the ralliers stayed behind and collected the information of everyone from the university that was present.”