Upwards of 150 people crowded Waterloo Town Square last Friday to show solidarity with the Idle No More movement for Indigenous rights.
Several prominent Indigenous rights activists were there to speak, including Sylvia McAdam, the co-founder of Idle No More and Brigette DePape, a young Canadian activist.
“There will be an opportunity for all of us, and we will have to choose, are we going to take non-violent direct action ourselves? Are we going to stand? Are we going to lie our bodies … in front of this development?” DePape asked the crowd.
DePape attracted national attention in 2011 when she held up a sign in Parliament that read ‘Stop Harper.’
Many at the demonstration expressed their support for indigenous populations in New Brunswick. Anti-fracking protestors were involved in violent clashes last week with police after they moved in to dismantle a blockade.
“We have a choice: either we can stand with the Harper government, with the snipers, with the petro states or we have a choice and we can stand together, stand united … against this colonial agenda,” DePape urged.
McAdam encouraged involvement in the movement from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, both of whom were represented at the event.
“I ask every one of you, do not be silent. Be peacefully resistant. Write letters, send an email, make phone calls, attend rallies like this,” she said.
“Ask Indigenous people, how can we support you? How can we all collectively defend for our lands and our waters?”
The event was organized by Laurier students and members of the Aboriginal Students’ Centre, in addition to McAdam.
Speaking to the purpose of the event, Laurier masters student and organizer, Lisa Yellow Quill said, “I think that it creates enough of an awareness to create a bigger awareness. It opens doors and it creates opportunities to jump in to take the lead or whatever they need to do themselves.”
Yellow Quill expressed that demonstrations help with feelings of isolation and discouragement by bringing people together.
The demonstration drew many supporters from the Peace and Justice Studies Association conference that took place at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo late last week.
“It was really a nice opportunity to kind of learn about all of the social justice and stuff and then see it in practice right away,” said fifth-year global studies student Jinelle Piereder.
“I’ve learned a little bit about the Idle No More movement and a little bit more this week at the conference, but I’ve never shown my own solidarity with them before, so it was a good chance to start doing that.”
For Richard Matthews, a conference participant and professor at Kings University College, the social justice demonstration did more than just complement the conference – it was the very essence of its purpose.
“It’s the spirit of the conference,” he said.
“There’s nobody at this conference that thinks you should be just reading books or sitting in the library.”
Matthews continued, “If it’s not actually trying to solve some sort of social justice problem, then you’re wasting your time. This is absolutely central to it.”
The two-hour event culminated in a drum song and ground dance, where demonstrators held hands and danced in a large circle around the square.