Earlier this year, the encroachment of Starbucks onto the stolen lands currently occupied by UVic sparked anger into the hearts of students. Not only were these students upset that an international coffee empire was invading their sacred espresso space, they were angry because they were not consulted at all.
As an Indigenous person, I felt very sympathetic towards this issue. It must be hard, you know, for some industry to just come in out of nowhere and announce they’re setting up shop, no matter how the locals feel about it. Especially if that industry is as ominous as a coffee shop, surely hellbent on extracting money from the unsuspecting hands of UVic students. I’m positive that generations from now, students will speak about a time in which their coffee wasn’t poisonous to drink.
The public outcry from UVic students in response to Starbucks was quite surprising to any outside observers. Although it was absent when the Gidim’ten checkpoint on Wet’suwet’en territory was raided by RCMP, there was clear passion in the hearts of students protesting the invasion of Starbucks. I’m glad that passion was there, though — it’s incredible to see what happens when students actually care about something. They are indeed capable of assembling, protesting, and working hard to change minds.
I’d always assumed that Canadians didn’t support Indigenous peoples in their protests because they were simply ignorant. My time at UVic showed me that Canadians are aware of what’s going on, they just don’t do anything about it. Our professors talked about Unist’ot’en, used the encroachments on the camp as examples of injustice, and even gave us a few minutes to be sad about it. Yet, even after learning about these injustices against Wet’suwet’en people, I was surprised to see there was no outpour of student action and solidarity work. Whereas I saw many “STOP STARBUCKS” signs, I could never find a sign that said, “STOP COLONIZING.” I guess aboriginal extremists, with their crazy, radical plans to ensure clean drinking water for future generations, will have to continue operating without the support of students.
I should have said this earlier, but I guarantee that I am an ally to Starbucks protestors. I totally disagree with the destruction of sacred espresso spaces, and international coffee corporations are so uncool. I was super busy with university, so I couldn’t spend much time on the frontlines of the Starbucks resistance, and I’ve never contributed my time or money, but I took a few photos to show I was there. That’s the great thing about being an ally — I learned that I don’t have to do anything, other than say I’m an ally! Just like many of the Canadians who declare themselves to be allies to Indigenous peoples, I too learned to take advantage of other people’s emotional labour and look woke while doing so.
I can’t help but wonder what might change if students were as passionate about UNDRIP as they are about drip coffee.
This is the latest instalment of the Native Students Union regular column, “News Unsettled.”