Four months ago I was at McGill University fighting to change the name of the University varsity men’s team from the Redmen to something less racist. Three months ago I was at the Gidumt’en checkpoint being raided by the RCMP because Wet’suwet’en people reasserted sovereignty and jurisdiction over territories which have never been ceded.
This past week McGill finally changed the varsity men’s name, but I still haven’t really felt any joy. I’m happy they have done it, for the sake of those that I supported to organize the campaign to change the name. But it’s hard to celebrate a university becoming less racist. Especially after what I’ve seen in the past few months.
For me, [UVic declining to take a stance in support of Unist’ot’en] is a testament to the limits of reconciliation.
The ability of Canada and Canadian institutions to co-opt Indigenous people into mascots is indicative of how the views and lives of Indigenous peoples are discounted in this country. The ability of Canadians to normalize the violation of the human and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples is the basis of this country. The invasion of unceded territory through violence to further the interests of a corporation should not be a contentious issue.
I am writing about the battles that Indigenous people need to face no matter what space they enter, within the territory Canada claims, or on their own unceded lands. These battles are impossible to ignore for us. In the case of the Redmen name, it is only a small gesture towards ending the prevailing feeling of Indigenous students not belonging at institutions. Should we decide to return to our territory and try to reclaim lifeways which have been interrupted, it is only a matter of time before they are infringed upon or made impossible by the Canadian state and/or corporations permitted by them.
We have to fight for every inch, but that does not mean it is not worthwhile.
So now I am visiting UVic. I haven’t been following much of the ways in which allies have been supporting us from down here, on account of being in the bush. What I have learned is that UVic has decided to decline taking a stance of support Unist’ot’en. For me, this is a testament to the limits of reconciliation. For universities and many Canadian institutions, even the best ones are still unwilling to show true support, even symbolically. Reconciliation does not have space for sovereign Indigenous nations. Reconciliation has never been about us, it has always been about Canada.
Bringing it back to my own time at university: I’m incredibly proud of those Indigenous students that put the immense amount of pressure on the university that they did. If we did not do that, the Redmen name would not have been changed. All it took was a putting them in a situation where it would be impossible for McGill to decline changing the name. We have to fight for every inch, but that does not mean it is not worthwhile. I ask that every student who cares about the ongoing situation and violation of Wet’suwet’en nationhood takes action to pressure the institutions they are a part of. Change is coming and you must decide your role in it.