BOW VALLEY – Worldwide Black Lives Matter rallies united against discrimination over the past weeks, and in the Bow Valley, two rallies brought forward the dark realities of Canada’s shameful history of racism against Indigenous people.
Supporters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) marched in Canmore and Banff with signs up and fists raised on Friday and Saturday (June 5-6), speaking out against racism and police brutality towards Black, Indigenous and peoples of colour communities and in unity to end white silence on important conversations.
On Saturday, over 400 people arrived at Banff’s rally point in Central Park carrying Black Lives Matter signs, while others chanted “Black Lives Matter,” "George Floyd" and “Indigenous Lives Matter.”
Rallies erupted worldwide following the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a white police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck as he suffocated on May 25 in Minneapolis, U.S. The death was captured on video. With the knee cutting off oxygen flow, Floyd infamously uttered “I can’t breathe” multiple times in a plea with the cop before dying.
The police officer, Derek Chauvin, was fired from the force and charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers present were also fired and are facing charges in Floyd’s death.
When relaying Indigenous lives matter, the BLM vigil and march didn’t shift from its main cause of one race’s constant battle, but emphasized everyday realities in not just the U.S., but in Canada, and in particular with Indigenous peoples.
Rachel Snow, a law school graduate and Indigenous law consultant, said there are parallels between Black people and Indigneous people, and is supportive of the Black Lives Matter message. However, she added any awareness pertaining to the systemic racism for people of colour is positive.
“I think the things that are happening in the United States are harbinger of what could happen globally because of this inbalalnce," said Snow, who's a Wesley band member of Stoney Nakoda First Nation. "If we’re talking about getting back to where we need to be and trying to get to a place where there’s actually recognition, where there's actually Indigenous people on panels where they’re talking about racism and there’s that balanced voice ... We've shared the space and shared the land and we need to share that intellectual space, that space for reasoning that space for surviving as people, I think it's very important."
Recent examples of issues between police and Indigenous people are common, but not always seen by the public. In New Brunswick, Indigenous woman Chantal Moore was shot and killed by police carrying out a wellness check on her. In Nunavut, the legal aide society has filed complaints with the RCMP complaints commission for alleged racism and violence against Inuit women by RCMP. In Alberta, the police watchdog ASIRT is currently investigating the circumstances of a March incident where an Indigenous man was arrested by RCMP.
“Sadly, police target Black people and Native people. I would hope that Black people would understand and empathize,” said Trent Fox, a doctoral student in education at the University of Calgary focusing on the history of the Stoney Nakoda people.
“All minorities should be fighting this battle, together.”
Fox is a member of the Wesley band and said Indigenous complaints against police mostly go ignored by media and society, but during a time when racism is being addressed on a mass scale it’s understandable that Indigenous people want to be heard when this is the only time mass media might listen.
“The standards in terms of police training need to be addressed,” Fox said. “At minimum, police should have a degree or diploma to ensure objectivity is acquired. Training should include race relations, Native studies, Black studies and Asian studies. This would provide a foundation to develop learned opinions.”
On Saturday in Banff, over 400 people attended the peaceful BLM rally. Banff RCMP reported someone’s bear spray had accidentally been discharged during the protest, but there was no injuries reported and no charges being sought.
Allison Yearwood, one of the speakers at the rally, fought back tears while saying the names of Black and Indigenous people killed at the hands of police in the U.S. and Canada.
“Appeal. Don’t let the feeling just go away. Do something. Do something,” Yearwood said.
She ended the vigil with Floyd, who's death was captured on film.
“You can’t really see that video [of George Floyd's death] and not feel something,” said Canmore’s Benjamin Chambefort, who marched at Banff’s rally. “The system is broken like the police system, it actively protects corrupt cops – not every cop is bad, obviously, but when your system protects those who are bad, something is wrong.”
After the march from Central Park down Banff Avenue to Bear Street and back, the large crowd took a knee in the park while church bells rang at St. George's-in-the-Pines 46 times for Floyd’s age.
Banff resident and author Jean Roberts spoke to the crowd on stage after, saying when she moved to Banff 22 years ago from the small Caribbean island of Grenada, one of the reasons she stayed in the resort town was because she was “able to be a tourist.”
“I didn’t have to be a black woman, I didn’t have to be a woman of colour, I didn’t have to be any of those things. I can just be a tourist in this town and that also means I am an avoider,” Roberts said. “I am a person that always stands on the sideline, I’ve always been a bystander.
“Most people ask me this question all the time, ‘Where are you from?' And it also frustrates me … the reason it frustrates me so much is because I realized people don’t want to get to know me, they just want to know where I’m from. If you want to know where I’m from and who I am, ask me my name and then where I’m from.”
The rally's organzier also acknowledged the Bow Valley's Indigenous residents and neighbours.
“Indigenous racism is Canada’s racism,” said Aurora Borin, Saturday's organizer. “And for so long we have swept it under the rug and looked away. When the commission on residential schools comes out with cultural genocide, we care more about the words than the contents … I hope this will be a turning point.”
For Snow, she said organzers mentioning "Indigenous Lives Matter" at the rally is a good way to educate the public on matters that are systemically challenging in Canada and locally. She added that it will be a process of moving forward.
"A lot of people are [still] working through residential school trauma, and traumas that they’re working through, and this not going to happen quickly with rallies overnight. It’s a process and this process where people are getting woke will continue so that we can all live in a better world and a better place and [take] better care for the land, enviroment and climate," she said.