National Student Walk Out sees over 100 UVic students join Indigenous youth at the B.C. Legislature

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Youth hold ceremony with pyre, meet with Minister Scott Fraser

Photo from Divest UVic on Instagram

On Wednesday morning, a crowd of students gathered in front of the Students Union Building, instead of going to class. The group then made their way down to the B.C. Legislature to stand in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. 

This was one of more than 30 walkouts from coast-to-coast — from Prince Edward Island to Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.

Indigenous youth and their allies have been on the legislature steps for over two weeks, demanding that the federal and provincial government act to remove the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory and stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline from proceeding on Indigneous land without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. 

The youth invited Premier John Horgan and Ministers Carole James, David Eby, and Scott Fraser to come out of the building and meet them on the lawn before 10 a.m. on Thursday. That night, Fraser met with seven Indigenous youth inside the legislature and five of those youth were arrested after staging a sit-in and refusing to leave the building after the meeting. 

At the legislature, Indigenous youth spoke of the need for meaningful government consultations. They said that meetings thus far have done little in regards to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but instead have focused on affirming rights that they already have. 

“Here we are, right in their face. Who has come out to meet us?” Kolin Sutherland-Wilson said on Wednesday morning. “Instead they’ve tried to vilify us, to make us [out] as dissidents, as aggressors, they’ve tried to make our actions seem violent.” 

The Speaker of the B.C. Legislature requested an injunction after the same group blockaded all of the doors of the Legislature on throne speech day, stopping people from getting to work and effectively cancelling the first session of the legislature. 

“We may have hurt their feelings by calling them out on genoicide, we may have made them a little late for work,” Sutherland-Wilson said, speaking of the actions on the day of the throne speech. “But that pales in comparison to what they are perpetuating in the north.” 

During the student walkout and rally, the crowd stayed completely clear of the main entrances to the building as to not break the injunction. Legislature security ensured people stayed within the centre of the staircase, giving ample room for staff to go through the doors undisturbed.

After speaking from the steps, Indigenous youth led the crowd onto the lawn and sung the Women’s Warrior Song. 

On the lawn, they held a ceremony and built a pyre with a red dress hanging from its centre. Indigenous youth circled around the pyre, which is modelled after one that stood at the Wedzin Kwa Bridge at Unist’ot’en. They spoke of their nations and relationship with the land, sometimes using their traditional language. 

The government consulted with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs last weekend, but it remains to be seen whether their proposed deal will be approved in a Wet’suwet’en feast hall. The government has said that the deal, notably, did not touch on the Coastal GasLink issue but focused on underlying issues of Aboriginal title.