Protesters honoured the deaths of Tina Fontaine, Colten Boushie, and Brady Francis—three Indigenous youths who were murdered without any suspects being held criminally responsible—at a walkout on campus on March 14, National School Walkout Day. Over 3,100 walkouts took place at schools across North America that day, mostly over gun reform laws in the United States. The walkout was organized by the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) of McGill University in coordination with Indigenous students at Concordia University.
Dozens of students and supporters gathered at the Y-intersection with signs at the start of the demonstration. The event began with a moment of silence before a series of activists spoke about Indigenous justice and the Buffalo Hat Singers drum group led performances. In their talks, Indigenous community figures lamented the lack of justice for Fontaine, Boushie, Francis, and others, asking that the victims’ lives be honoured through continued education and action.
Talia Bellerose, a First Peoples’ Studies major at Concordia and speaker at the event, recommended that activists devote their energy toward bringing about change to the Canadian criminal justice system.
“I want this to be about forgiving,” Bellerose said. “I want Colten and Tina and every other Indigenous person that is gone to know that we’re sorry we failed them. Canada, the government, they’re not going to apologize to them. But we have to make a better future for the [next] generations.”
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Indigenous Affairs Commissioner and speaker Carlee Kawinehta Loft affirmed that the Canadian criminal justice system is discriminatory on an institutional level, but pointed out that university students have a unique opportunity to create change.
“These injustices occur due to nationwide implementation of various Canadian systems which systematically devalue Indigenous lives,” Kawinehta Loft said. “We as university students recognize that it’s part of a system that trains courts, juries, and jurors, that trains future social workers, police officers, and influential citizens in general. We have a responsibility to be knowledgeable, to care, and to use this privilege to enact change for the better.”
Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM), shared her struggles growing up during the Sixties Scoop, a government program that removed Indigenous children from their families and isolated them from their culture.
“Because of that experience, even though I was told to be ashamed of my culture, I ended up getting my education,” Nakuset said. “I ended up working at the Native Women’s shelter and creating projects [to combat] a lack of services for Indigenous people, and injustices on many levels. So if it’s possible for someone like me to be able to do all of these projects and get funding, you can all be the answer to this, because it’s not going to change [otherwise].”
Although she praised those who attended the walkout, Kawinehta Loft emphasized the need for demonstrators to maintain the momentum of the movement for Indigenous justice.
“I’m happy you came today, but remember that your action doesn’t stop here,” Kawinehta Loft said. “It doesn’t stop today, and there are many ways you can reach out. You can go reach out to other activist organizations, you can look up where to donate, and most importantly, you can just know what’s happening around you, what’s happening in this territory and others.”
Ben Geboe, a speaker and the executive director of the American Indian Community House in New York, emphasized the importance of activism to the Indigenous community.
“Indigenous people have suffered this great oppression which continues,” Geboe said. “It’s not an ideological or a passive battle. It’s actually happening, and […] we’re surviving with the help of great activism.”