The gates rattled as we clenched the bars in our fists, singing the warrior song that united us Indigenous youth. The sound of drums rang in my ears and reached into my soul. As warmth radiated through my body, from my toes to the top of my head, I knew that being connected to this historical event would be a moment forever talked about.
I was studying at Pearson College the week before, even while aware of everything that was happening regarding Wet’suwet’en. My friends and I had discussed going to the solidarity action, choosing to skip classes for the day. The morning of, we walked to the bus stop and made the two-hour commute into downtown ‘Victoria,’ Lekwungen territory. People crowded into Centennial Square, a canvas banner with the words ‘WE STAND WITH WET’SUWET’EN #NOTRESPASS’ and ‘STOP THE COLONIAL INJUNCTION PIPELINE’ in black and red paint. A chain of people, linked by arms, arrived at the Legislative Assembly and surrounded the steps of the entry gate. As we climbed the staircase to join the land defenders, I could feel their eyes on my back. At first, I felt like I didn’t belong. I’m not Coast Salish and I didn’t feel any relation to those trying to keep the Coastal GasLink Pipeline from cutting through their lands.
A year ago, I did not think I was worthy of being involved as it’s not my homelands being threatened. But I know my involvement was important. I was standing there in the ceremonial entrance to the seat of colonial power, surrounded by Indigenous youth with our fists in the air, singing the warrior song and chanting while looking through the gates into the eyes of the security guards. Even though I wasn’t a direct relation, it showed the unity of Indigenous people. Ever since the settlers came onto our homelands they have brought havoc to the way we lived. The government they created brought destruction that continues to this day and this solidarity action was proof of it.
Just a week ago, several Inuit hunters started a blockade at Baffinland over the expansion of the Mary River Iron Mine. Through representatives they spoke about their concerns regarding the mine’s impact on local wildlife and their traditional way of life. Though the blockade at Baffinland only lasted a few days, it's significant that it came a year after Wet’suwet’en. In solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en is to be united in defending and protecting the land, Mother Earth—from the lands of the Coast Salish to Denendeh to the Inuit homelands further east. We all share the same ground under our feet.
On February 11, 2020, while the throne speech was set to happen inside, we gathered at the ceremonial gates and clenched the bars, singing and yelling. For the first time in history, British Columbia’s throne speech was cancelled, replaced outside with a roar of people cheering, chanting, singing.
It’s important to understand the exhaustion that follows. To be involved in a blockade takes a lot of emotional, mental and spiritual labour. I know the labour involved. It requires a perseverance I didn’t know I had in order to be on those steps for days on end, not knowing what would happen and the anxiety that comes with it. It’s unlike any workout I’ve ever done. My whole body ached, from my feet to my heart to my throat. The recovery process afterward is where a lot of the reflection and acceptance comes into play—acceptance in understanding the involvement of being part of a solidarity movement, and the amount of backlash and mistreatment and misunderstanding that comes with it. No doubt, there will be people who question and will not understand why I or others take part in these solidarity actions. They’re simply not curious, or perhaps they’re so embodied into the system that’s created for them they can’t hear what we’re saying.
Being a part of the movement fighting for the homelands of Indigenous people is something that runs deep in my core. I knew as a little girl, while picking berries and harvesting spruce gum, that I’d protect the land of my people for as long as I live, as long as the river flows, the grass grows and the sun shines.
The homesickness I felt studying outside of the NWT dissipated because of my participation in the solidarity action. It made me feel connected to those around me, and to my home far away. To be in that environment of laughter and love, to hear the sound of the drums and singing, warmed my whole being. Hearing a Native woman’s laugh is something that always makes my ears perk up and makes me grin ear-to-ear. I cherish those good times when they come. If you are ever in the presence of a Native woman and get to be involved in those laughs, I suggest you cherish those moments, too. For me, I didn’t realize how much I missed that stomach-aching laughter down south until I was conversing and laughing with a friend I had made there. She brought tea for all of us to soothe our throats, raw from singing and yelling. She always had a smile on her face, which put a smile on mine.
The fight in protecting our homelands is what connects us all. From the Berger Inquiry to the Oka Crisis to the Wet’suwet’en to Baffinland. We are from different lands but connected in our fight. We may speak different languages, but we sing the same warrior song.
Anonda Canadien is a digital intern with Up Here and a member of the Deh Gah Got’ie First Nation of Denendeh.