Approximately 50 people gathered for a Black Lives Matter solidarity protest on June 14 in Daajing Giids.
The Haida Gwaii Teachers Association (HGTA) organized the event, which began at 2 p.m. at the baseball field, to show solidarity in combatting racism.
Several community leaders made speeches at the solidarity protest, including HGTA social justice chair Jenny Parser, Village of Queen Charlotte Mayor Kris Olsen, Skidegate resource worker Willie Russ and Haida Nation president Gaagwiis Jason Alsop.
Speaking from home base to the crowd that gathered in the field, masked and socially distanced per health protocols, Parser touched on the colonial beginnings of Canada, the history of slavery, and the over-representation of Black and Indigenous people in police killings.
“While the experiences of the Black community are unique, many Indigenous people in Canada too face the challenges of systemic racism every day,” she said, citing the cancellation of bus routes along Highway 16 a.k.a the Highway of Tears, as well as lack of equal access to clean drinking water and health care on reserves.
“We should stand in solidarity with this movement because systemic racism affects the lives of Indigenous, Black and people of colour in Canada every day.”
Parser also reiterated what she had written in the Facebook event for the solidarity protest, that “George Floyd’s recent death has sparked outrage against systematic racism.”
Floyd died on May 25 in Minnesota while being restrained by Minneapolis police. Video showed former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, despite the unarmed Black man pleading that he could not breathe.
Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and the three other fired officers who were present during Floyd’s arrest, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
“It is important that we show solidarity with the Black community in challenging systems of oppression, especially in light of Canada’s own dark history of systematic racism with not only people in the Black community, but with the Indigenous population as well,” Parser said in the post. “This is tragically highlighted by the death of Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, last Thursday in New Brunswick at the hands of a police officer.”
Moore died on June 4 in Edmundston after being shot by police during a well-being check.
“Her life was lost unnecessarily,” Parser said. “This should remind us of the fact that in Canada, Indigenous people, especially women and girls, face the threat of racism on a daily basis. Often, this threat results in death.”
Olsen was next to speak at the solidarity protest.
“I live on a street where the RCMP are my neighbours, I get to see them every day and I understand that I have a different association based on my neighbourhood and also the colour of my skin, and this is wrong,” Olsen said. “We have to start looking at society and we have to start asking these tough questions, and we have to start looking for change.
“It’s all of us together that can make that change as we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Olsen also noted he was standing on an old village site that had been covered with the baseball field.
“We’re in Daajing Gidds, this is the village,” he said. “And yet here we are living in Queen Charlotte. We have to start recognizing that we need to change.”
Russ was then called up and he was visibly emotional while making his speech, which included some of his own experiences with racism as a Haida person.
“I’ve grown up with it and it was normal for me to be in a racist structure that told me that I wasn’t smart enough, I was too dark,” Russ said. “I had to stand up and fight to prove that I was an intelligent human being.”
Russ reminded the crowd that all people ultimately evolved from single-celled organisms, and cells need to work together to survive and grow.
“What we’re doing is an autoimmune disease … cells attacking cells, killing one another,” he said.
After sharing a native proverb that goes, “if it’s not good for everyone then it’s not good at all,” he said people need to work together to make the world a better place.
“We should just see each other for the way we can contribute to the planet and to our society in a good way, and make sure we’re doing it for everyone,” he said.
Alsop was the final speaker, saying racism can be blatant or subtle, and comes from “seeds of hate” and feelings of superiority.
“In the Haida culture, that’s one of the teachings, is that we’re all equal, and that’s what Black Lives Matter is about, seeking equality,” Alsop said.
He said by gathering for the solidarity protest, people were figuratively dipping their pinky toes in the water, “maybe just the edge of your nail even.”
“We’re already up to our neck,” he said, inviting others to take a deep breathe before dipping their foot in, then their leg, then their entire bodies.
“We all watched George Floyd take his last breath, so we ought to be grateful that we’re here now, we have this opportunity to make that change, to take that plunge.”
Steve Querengesser, who is on the HGTA executive, then led the crowd in lining up along the side of the highway with their signs to raise awareness.
The signs said “stop racism,” “Canada is not innocent,” “silence is violence” and more.
Querengesser’s own sign said: “Teachers are essential workers in the fight against racism.”
A solidarity protest had also been planned for Masset, but Querengesser said it was cancelled out of respect for the community after organizers became aware of a funeral for a Haida elder taking place in Old Massett on the same day.
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