Over the last few months, on street corners, on highways, in the city or in small towns—we saw the robust presence of the “freedom” convoy.
This moment was poignant given how the country was disrupted in so many ways before the demands of these protesters were eventually met—which is starkly different from the response from police, government, media and even the general public, when it comes to protests for Indigenous causes.
What would it be like for this country to come to a complete and utter halt until we address the many long-term boil water advisories, the continual resource extraction on unceded Indigenous territory, the thousands of unmarked graves of residential school victims, the child welfare system, the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous folks in Canada, and until the many more calls to action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report are met?
I can’t imagine it, because it’s never happened.
In a country built on settler-colonialism, certain groups of people face little to no consequences for their disruptive actions, while Indigenous people are simultaneously policed and violated for trying to protect their land and livelihood.
What is even more jarring, was the way that so many settlers—uninvited guests in this country—mobilized to protest for “freedom,” without reflecting on what their so-called freedom was built upon.
Despite the dream that is sold to immigrants and settlers—Canada is not a benevolent country based on equal opportunity for all.
This is why our allyship and solidarity is more important now than ever.
Here in B.C., Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan land defenders have had to continually defend their land against the threat of resource extraction, despite proving that they still hold collective title to 58,000 square kilometers of territory. Their land was never surrendered.
To this day, Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan and people face violence and persecution at the hands of the RCMP and the government, solely for trying to protect their territory against the unwanted intrusion of private companies and police.
The government’s commitment to protecting capital over protecting Indigenous peoples was once again shown during the B.C. floods, when resources were directed towards policing land defenders instead of aiding those who were stranded.
A month later, while many were distracted by the convoy, police continued to persecute Indigenous land defenders, who are in opposition to the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline on their territories.
“The actions on the ground are that we've been suffering invasions by the RCMP three years in a row,” said Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chief Na'moks in an interview with 5XPress.
“In a country that is supposed to be as democratic as Canada, why are we being invaded? Why are their armed forces on our lands, and why would we want to support a project such as [the] Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which is poisoning our rivers, our salmon?”
All of this attention for the convoy highlighted the lack of sustained mobilization and attention for Indigenous causes, which often only ever get media attention when communities are being invaded and policed.
It wasn’t until recently that conversations around the Coastal Gaslink pipeline started once again, with the help of big Hollywood celebrities like Mark Ruffalo & Leonardo Dicaprio who called on Canadian banks to stop funding the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.
Chief Na'moks shared that this is why the notion of a “free and democratic” Canada is quite offensive to Indigenous communities.
He shared his experience speaking at the United Nations on the Committee to Eradicate Racial Discrimination when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was going for a seat on the Security Council.
“We spoke against that, [because] where's our security? Why is the world thinking that this is such a safe haven, when the peoples of this country aren't safe?” he said.
“The last raid that we had this past winter, they took our people and put them in dog kennels and hauled them up to jail in dog kennels. Where is the humanity in that humiliation?”
Chief Na'moks added that allyship is crucial to continue to raise awareness for the lived experiences of Indigenous people.
“Allyship is so critical because the humanity is being left out of the equation here,” he said.
Community solidarity in the face of ongoing injustice
While the convoy went on, and often in the absence of government support, different community groups were doing their own relationship and community building—continuing work that started long before the “freedom” protesters arrived, and will continue long after they leave.
Groups such as Khalsa Aid have continually shown the importance of intra-community solidarity, through providing support, resources and even just helping raise awareness.
“What we've tried to do is to avoid what I call, what most people call, the white savior mentality. We approach the First Nations who we work with as partners, and try to respect their protocols in how they do things,” said Jindi Singh, National Director for Khalsa Aid Canada.
The work of groups such as Khalsa Aid has showcased the importance in immigrant settlers making an effort to build reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples, and to lend their support as an act of seva, or “selfless service.”
“Some of the seva we did was to open the eyes of our own community to realize the history that's here” said Jindi. “For us, Canada is a beautiful country—we can come and be successful, but we don't realize that it is on the back of this genocidal history that's occurred.”
This year, they expanded their “solidarity seva” by replenishing supplies that were destroyed during arrests of land and water protectors at camps in Northern B.C.
Baljit Lally, Lower Mainland Regional Coordinator for Khalsa Aid, discussed how seva with Indigenous communities is about more than just providing supplies.
“It's not just about giving supplies, jackets, or whatever, it's about talking and listening and learning stories and sharing it with not just our community, but with others as well,” said Lally.
In a time where it has felt so easy to be disconnected from our communities and from one another, Khalsa Aid’s mission of seeing the human race as one is of the utmost importance, as it explains why this intra-community solidarity is so essential.
“Khalsa Aid is based on two key principles: we're non-denominational, and we're apolitical. We see the human race as one,” she said.
“Seva has no color or race or creed or religion.”
On how we define “community”
Activist and author Harsha Walia has been a vocal ally and advocate for members of the Indigenous community throughout her career.
She said that her window into her activism began when she came to Canada and realized that the knowledge she had of Indigenous people “was largely mediated through the white supremacy and colonial lens of the Canadian state.”
She noted that solidarity can be built between racialized and Indigenous communities, but it is important to recognize each group’s experiences are still markedly different in many ways.
“Our communities have faced a lot of racism and white supremacy, but we are not subjected to settler colonization and annihilation in the same way,” said Walia in an interview with 5XPress.
“Those specifics matter, I think, in terms of how we understand what colonization means, as distinct from racism,” said Walia.
For this reason, it is important for us to engage in meaningful allyship, and as South Asian settlers in Canada, perhaps to expand the parameters of how we define “our community.”
“I used to get asked a lot why I worked in the Downtown Eastside, why I did a lot of work with sex workers, why did a lot of work with Indigenous communities, why I was at land blockades,” she said.
“[But] how do we define our communities? Is our community just defined through cultural, linguistic and religious lines? I would respond by also challenging who we consider our own.”
As Walia says, it is important to recognize how fighting for equality for Indigenous peoples is a part of our communities, because they are a part of our communities—including the land on which we live, work and play.
Because of this, we have a responsibility to take our allyship and actions towards reconciliation a step further.
“We're in an era right now of reconciliation, which is wholly inadequate and largely performative,” said Walia.
We can choose to look away, or we can choose where we give our attention and support, and whether or not we call people in our community into this conversation.
This means speaking to your family members about the history of this country, and bringing acts of allyship and reconciliation into the spaces you occupy.
“I remember being at a wedding, a Punjabi Sikh wedding, and someone did a land acknowledgement in Punjabi,” said Walia.
“It's in spaces where it's unexpected, where we're talking to people who maybe don't have access to this reconciliation language. I think being an ally means different things in different places and spaces.”
Walia also discussed the importance of creating intentional relationships.
“It is shocking how few people connect with Indigenous peoples in our cities. So I think initiatives like the Guru Nanak free kitchen in the Downtown Eastside is so important, because it actually brings people from the Sikh community into the Downtown Eastside and not just in a voyeuristic way— but to actually serve the community,” she said.
“To me, that is a beautiful kind of allyship. In a lot of the work that Khalsa Aid does, I think those are actually important, because they're relational in ways that school actually doesn't teach us. We learn about people, but we never actually meet them.”
For immigrant communities in Canada, stereotypes of Indigenous people still run rampant, and some of the awareness that is lacking, often has to do with where we give our attention.
“A lot of times the assumption is that oh, this is just learned in university. [But] it's not, it's actually all around us. It's whether we choose to see it or not,” said Walia.
Part of the challenge in taking meaningful steps towards creating intra-community solidarity is just this: that sometimes, settlers choose to not “see” the issues impacting Indigenous people, despite them being in plain sight.
Donate to Unist’ot’en Camp Legal Fund here.
Donate to Gitxsan Land Defenders' Legal Fund here.
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