Ten red dresses stood like crosses along the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction on International Women’s Day, March 8.
The dresses, set-up as part of a Wet’suwet’en solidarity gathering organized by Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation member Savannah Rose, commemorate Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
At a talking circle in Hitacu on March 6, Indigenous scholar Dr. Sandrina de Finney from the University of Victoria called the disappearance of thousands of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) over the last three decades a “Canadian genocide”.
For Rose, whose Nuu-chah-nulth name is Wh?aala, meaning graceful dancer, talking about the passing of Indigenous women is a highly emotional topic. She lost a sister to drug addiction.
“That to me is missing and murdered. She lost herself in the concept of needing drugs, and that’s not okay,” Rose said.
“Alcohol and drugs was not a part of our lifestyle. We did not live off of that. It wasn’t even a part of who we were. It was not present. Then there is trauma from residential school, the ripple effect from the trauma,” she continued.
Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation Savannah Rose talks with Ha’wiih Tutube of Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ at the March 8 Junction campout in support of hereditary Indigenous laws and rights. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Demonstrators propped a piece of cardboard reading ‘Shut down Canada’ below the ‘Welcome to Ucluelet’ sign.
“I feel like it is important for people to realize that ‘Shutting down Canada’ is the only way we have been able to get our message across to people,” Rose tells the Westerly News during Sunday’s solidarity rally.
“I know people here are really upset thinking we are blockading the road, but I don’t even know where they got those words from. People are changing the narrative without even talking to us,” she said.
Vehicles were able to travel by the peaceful demonstration without inconvenience. There was no road barricade.
One demonstrator explains the sign ‘Shut down Canada’ signifies to shut down ports and railways until respect for Wet’suwet’en hereditary law is achieved.
Rose was compelled to organize a local demonstration after her Tyee Ha’wiih (hereditary chief) Wilson Jack said he was proud of her for supporting the Wet’suwet’en during a recent six-day Indigenous youth-led occupation of B.C. parliament in Victoria.
“There are LNG negotiations happening for Barkley Sound in Sarita Bay and this could be us some day. It’s really important for us to make sure Wet’suwet’en knew that we stand with them and we are going to protect the land with them,” Rose said.
“You think about the land that you live on, you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the land. You wouldn’t be here without the water or the trees that provide the air. We are part of the land. It’s really important for people to understand that message,” she said.
Rose believes the province is choosing profit over what’s right.
“The government doesn’t understand what no consent means. They don’t like that we are using our voices now with our territories. They don’t like that we are saying no and they are not accepting it and they are still forcefully oppressing our people and taking them off their territory. And that’s not okay,” said Rose, an environmental technician at Central Westcoast Forest Society.
Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation member Sheldon Touchie, 28, joined the rally to support his hereditary chief. Like most of the demonstrators present at Sunday’s 24-hour Junction campout, he wants the Canadian government to listen and to acknowledge Indigenous Rights.
“This is a coming of the times for aboriginal people and acknowledgment of traditional aboriginal titles. This is a wake up call for Canada,” said Touchie.