Yesterday I went to the Wet’suwet’en blockade that is set up on the front steps of the BC Legislature. I went in large part (enormous part) because a friend of mine was travelling from Vancouver. I offered to be her chauffeur because I figured if she can get on the ferry with a walker and travel most of the day because she believes it is her duty to stand with them, then I can give her a lift.
Yesterday was anticipated to be a very big day for all the wrong reasons. It was rumoured that the soldiers of odin would be there to clash with the teens on the front steps. My friend, a matriarch of the truest kind, was going to stand with the teens. Her plan? She’d hit the sons of odin with her umbrella if necessary. As a ferocious senior citizen, it was a reasonable plan. Even a white supremacist group would likely draw the line at hitting a grandmother who was leaning on a walker. I jokingly said I was more worried about the hate group than I was about her. She had no compunctions about wacking them if needed.
The blockade has personally bothered me deeply because of its complexity. It’s a clash of colonial law and traditional law. The prize will be a pipeline or a pristine land. There won’t be a winner. There will only be losers on every side. My role as an activist and a member of this society is not to interfere with the rights and rules of aboriginal self-governance. But my role is to support the rights of individual safety. The blockade bothers my sense of personal safety to the point that my emotions blur as I try and envision what it would be like to be part of the Wet’suwet’en people. For now, I have been classified as an observer.
Until yesterday, when my friend rolled off the ferry armed with an umbrella and a walker.
I’m not clear on what the soldiers of odin had in mind. They planned to show up at noon, but for what purpose? It wasn’t to have a peaceful resolution and a clearing of the legislature blockade. It was a planned and targeted threat against the teens who have been gathered there. I went because my friend was going, but I also went to witness. (You should have seen how much camera gear I was carrying.)
I was pretty cavalier when I went. I’ll confess that despite the fall from grace that admission will likely land me. I don’t have anything on the line. I don’t have any skin in the game. I wanted to take some photos and some video so I could be a witness. That was where my own personal self-interest started and stopped. But then things changed.
At one point I was standing near the back of the protest, close to the fountain (if you know where that is). I was shooting video footage when I saw a crowd of people edge to the side of the protest. To be clear, I have no idea what white supremacists look like. I assume… white? But after that, I have no idea. Do they have a flag? An outfit? A sticker on their evil thug jackets? I’m not even clear on what gender they are. But when I saw a small group in black looking like they did not fit in, I began to wonder what I was looking at.
And then the fear set in.
I was possibly standing in the middle of a scene of planned violence. Violence. Not just a little pushing and shoving and posturing, but actual violence. There could be a group just a few feet away from me who intended to cause significant amounts of harm. Suddenly I got why my friend was there. Some of the people on the steps were younger than my own child. The people who looked like they didn’t fit were grown men. If something started, the children – YES, children (nearly adult children, I’ll admit, but still CHILDREN) – were going to be hurt. My friend wasn’t there to add her face to the crowd. She was there to protect the youth who were standing in protection of their lands and rights. She was going to use every fibre in her body to do whatever it took to keep those children safe from violence, retribution, and racism.
Images of Birmingham filled my head. I was looking at the beautiful young faces of so many indigenous youth. I was looking at people who were willing to sacrifice their personal safety so that future generations would not have to do this. I was still fearful of what would happen next, but I got it. I finally got it. History has sent our children into protest before. They have the most on the line. They have the most to lose in Every. Possible. Sense.
In the end, if you have read the news from yesterday, you already know that there was no riot and no presence of violent protest. Perhaps I saw an actual group of white supremacists and maybe it was just a group of people who dressed differently. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. There was no attack on the youth.
After a few hours, I loaded my friend’s walker back into the car and drove her back to the ferry after a stop for strudel from my favourite bakery. She didn’t hit anyone with her umbrella.
As for me, I’m glad I went. For a few hours, I caught a glimpse into what is happening in a protest that is going to change the course of history in my province.