By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief
Students gathered in Convocation Mall on the afternoon of March 4 to listen to Indigenous speakers, singers, and drummers during a Student Walkout in support of the Wet’suwet’en nation.
As the Walkout’s media advisory described, “The nation-wide student walkout is a peaceful, decentralized action of solidarity. Students across the country stand firmly in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and will continue to do so until their demands have been fully met. Our academic institutions are complicit in this violent violation of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty. Many institutions have declined to make a statement, and maintain Foundation and pension investments in TC Energy and the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline.”
Baby Lee-Young, one of the event organizers, who identified as a second-generation Korean settler, started off the event by acknowledging the territories on which the event was held and which commuters had most likely crossed en route to campus. They emphasized the importance of Indigenous voices and stories in today’s event, asking media inquiries to the event’s media coordinator.
Diverse speakers spoke about a range of issues to a crowd whose size waned from 50 to 100 students throughout the afternoon.
Terrence shared his experience as a near-lifelong land defender before sharing Cree songs. He also spoke about the ongoing violence faced by his Indigenous friends and family. Saskia, a Heiltsuk Nation student, spoke of the importance of preserving land for future generations and respecting Indigenous laws and sovereignty on Indigenous land.
Matt considered himself privileged to be able to attend SFU and of his hopes to use his education and Indigenous heritage to work in public policy. He also made the crowd aware of the risks that protestors were exposing themselves to and encouraged activists to look after one another — and Indigenous elders, women, and youth as well. Isaiah played a few songs on the drum he brought, which was shared with protestors.
Edgard, of Tahitian, Kaska, and Nahua heritage, spoke about the discrimination faced by urban Indigenous peoples and the ongoing effects of genocide and discrimination. Kayah, an SFU student of the Tulalip and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, spoke about her own nation and family’s long-lasting fight against a pipeline in their own land.
SFSS President Giovanni HoSang, a Jamaican settler with Canadian citizenship, was the only non-Indigenous speaker. He positioned himself as a stolen person on stolen land, as someone descended from enslaved peoples, before leading the crowd in chants and song.
The Peak spoke with SFU Indigenous Studies and Health Sciences student April Kornitsky, who was a media spokesperson for the student walkout.
“Support from students has been outstanding,” said media spokesperson and SFU Indigenous Studies student April, in an interview with The Peak. She added that her professor sent an email to the entire class, encouraging them to attend the walkout. “I have to do a write up on Indigenous events that I’ve attended and do it’s encouraged to do the first walkout that was done at SMU as one of the events that you can report on,” she said.
April also said that she has come across instances of ignorance on campus about Indigenous issues, and the Wet’suwet’en protest specifically. “I find that there is a lot of misinformation, people are taking out of context bits from the media. [ . . . ] They don’t understand the difference between the hereditary and appointed chiefs.
People believe it’s solely about the coastal gas pipeline, but there’s so many more issues at hand regarding the laws and human rights, RCMP violence, and people don’t understand the full story of what’s going on,” she said.
April added, “I would like to add that this is not a protest. This is a demand of human rights to be respected.”
Throughout the event, a table by the front stage was installed where attendees could purchase jewellery and art made by Indigenous youth by donations, which would go to support the ongoing protests and the Unist’ot’en Camp.
The event ended with an invitation by event organizers to join them in marching down to Gaglardi way for a temporary partial road blockade, covered in a separate article.
Read The Peak’s coverage of the road blockade here.