Students and community members alike gathered at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre on Jan. 18 for a rally in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C., and Unist’ot’en. The event was organized by two students from the Indigenous Business Students’ Society.
Aubrey-Anne LalibertePewapisconias and Jerrica Rebel Prettyshield headed the rally and introduced speakers at the event. Mary Lee, an Elder from Chitek Lake, was one of the more than 50 people in attendance at the rally, and she started the rally with opening remarks, which were followed by a prayer. University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union President Rollin Baldhead also gave a speech and performed a song with a drum after the prayer.
The rally-goers joined events across the continent to show support for the first ever Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C.
In addition, the U of S rally showed solidarity with the Unist’ot’en camp in British Columbia and their recent confrontations with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the TransCanada pipeline project that is set to be developed on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. On Jan. 7, RCMP forces broke down a barricade and arrested 14 protestors.
In a speech at the rally, L a lib er te-Pe wapis conias, second-year operations management student and co-organizer of the rally, says that Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada face similar issues.
“We are people who have survived genocide, assimilation, colonization efforts and extreme abuse in all forms… We are people built and raised in institutions that were made to make us fail, and yet, here we are — thriving,” LalibertePewapisconias said.
Ryan Meili, Saskatchewan New Democratic Party leader, attended the rally at the invitation of U of S students. He says that youth leaders like Laliberte-Pewapisconias and Rebel Prettyshield indicate a promising future for Indigenous leadership in Saskatchewan.
“I was extremely impressed with the young women who had organized the event and all of the powerful speakers who came forward,” Meili said in an email to the Sheaf. “The growing presence of young Indigenous leaders on campus is a hopeful sign of changing dynamics in our province and of the possibility of a Saskatchewan that is addressing past wrongs and moving forward to become a more equal, more fair and healthier province.”
Regan Ratt-Misponas, president of the Indigenous Students’ Council, also spoke at the rally and says that Indigenous peoples in the province and abroad have been impassioned in light of the deaths of Tina Fontaine, Colten Boushie and Jon Styers.
“I think about these systems and these structures, and I know that they don’t last forever, but what does last forever is that fire. As long as you keep that fire going, it will last forever. Don’t let that fire go out,” RattMisponas said.
For Andre Bear, fourthyear Indian Teacher Education Program student, the passion that Ratt-Misponas spoke of indicates a disconnect between leaders and prominent issues facing Indigenous peoples.
“Unfortunately, that fire — that passion — is not reaching our leaders,” Bear said at the rally. “It is not reaching a lot of the people who are currently making decisions for each and every one of you… It’s not getting through to them. It’s truly not making the connection that destroying our lands is going to destroy us, too.”
Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor