Identity

Indigenous Peoples Report Racism Surge as Wet'suwet'en Rail Blockades Grow

A Cree woman from Winnipeg went viral after posting a tearful video detailing racism she experienced last week.
February 20, 2020, 3:26pm
Demonstrators march in support of Wet'suwet'en.
Demonstrators march in support of Wet'suwet'en as a standoff between the nation's hereditary chiefs and the Coastal GasLink pipeline project continues. Photo by Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Violet Baptiste, a Cree woman living in Winnipeg, says she was waiting for her bus after work when a group of white people—who she said were issuing racist commentary about the nearby Wet’suwet’en rally—ambushed her and started hurling racist, anti-Indigenous insults.

In a five-minute video that went viral, a teary-eyed Baptiste recounts the story, detailing several prejudicial comments allegedly issued at her.

Baptiste said that a pro-Wet’suwet’en rally, which took place on February 10, inspired the vitriol, because it forced several bus routes to change course, delaying commuters. Baptiste stood at her transit stop while others started venting about the Wet’suwet’en supporters.

The City of Winnipeg did not confirm whether bus routes were delayed on February 10.

“People got upset and mad about them, so the insults started,” Baptiste told VICE. “It was like ‘These damn Native people, why don’t they get jobs?’”

Baptiste said she’s a visibly Indigenous woman, so she didn’t want to stand in the middle of a racist diatribe. She ended up challenging the group: “I said, ‘You don’t know that they don’t have jobs.’”

The group then started verbally attacking Baptiste, she says. First at the bus stop, then on the bus. She said they repeated racist stereotypes about Indigenous peoples and even uttered “Fucking Natives” in front of her.

Baptiste said she was troubled by the fact that no one stood up to her attackers during the assault, and every time she tried to stand up for herself, three or four people would gang up on her.

“I’m a strong woman, but having a group of white people abuse me for 15, 20 minutes on a bus, telling me everything that is wrong with Native people, isn’t right,” Baptiste said through tears, in her video. “It is so god damn hurtful.”

Baptiste didn’t report her situation to police or public transit officials because she “didn’t want to get anyone fired.”

While an ongoing standoff between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project continues, abuse targeting Indigenous communities has proliferated online and near protest sites: people have referred to Wet'suwet'en land defenders as “terrorists” in news comments or suggested on social media that people should drive vehicles through Indigenous-led rallies; RCMP are now investigating after a truck drove through a Manitoba blockade led by Wet’suwet’en supporters, though the driver’s intent has not been confirmed; and Yellow Vesters stormed a blockade site established in Edmonton on Wednesday yelling at Indigenous protesters and their allies to “get the fuck out of Alberta, you pieces of shit” and to “drop dead.”

Even prominent conservatives have voiced dissatisfaction with Indigenous demonstrators. Outgoing Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer equated them to a “mob,” prompting NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to call Scheer racist. Peter MacKay, who is vying for Conservative Party leadership, called Indigenous groups “thugs” and “a small gang of professional protesters.” Indigenous writer, Alicia Elliott, replied to the latter sentiment in a Tweet: “The type of people who make unproven claims about ‘paid protesters’ cannot conceive of anyone doing anything without the promise of money.”

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a 19-year-old Wet’suwet’en supporter and advocate, has been mobilizing in Victoria for nearly two weeks. She said she’s noticed heightened racism taking place away from protest sites—and people are scared.

“False and misleading and inaccurate depictions expose us to white supremacists and threaten our safety,” Blaney told VICE on Friday.

Indigenous activists say they’re staying strong despite a steady stream of racism.

Brielle Beardy-Linklater, 25, has been organizing rallies in Winnipeg. She said she’s concerned about the onslaught of anti-Indigenous prejudice accompanying pro-Wet’suwet’en rallies.

“We’re targeted,” Beardy-Linklater told VICE. “Anytime Indigenous communities stand up...people jump on the bandwagon and tell us to ‘get over it.’ We’re treated as such inconveniences.”

According to Beardy-Linklater, social media has made ongoing racism particularly difficult to avoid. She made her Instagram private as a means of disengaging with internet trolls and always avoids the comment sections under Indigenous-related news.

The 25-year old said she’s not surprised to hear Baptiste’s story.

“It is disheartening,” Beardy-Linklater said. “If that doesn't tell you about the racism that Indigenous people are experiencing, then I don’t know. That was a clear cry for help and a call for an end to racism.”

Beardy-Linklater said Indigenous youth who mobilize in support of Wet’suwet’en fear for their safety, but will continue to organize and express solidarity.

“We’re using our voices and taking to the streets because this needs to end,” Beardy-Linklater said. “That’s what I want to focus on: the joining of communities, people coming together by taking up space through ceremony and in a peaceful way.”

According to Baptiste, non-Indigenous Canadians need to challenge their racist friends and loved ones.

“I carry a pair of earphones now, so I don’t have to hear the racism,” Baptiste said. “This kind of taunting can’t happen anymore.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not addressed the spate of racism directly, but voiced a desire for partnership and trust between Ottawa and Indigenous demonstrators.

As Trudeau continues to push for a peaceful and quick resolution to the ongoing blockades by Wet’suwet’en supporters that are currently paralyzing the majority of Canada’s train routes, conservative opponents continue to criticize him for inaction. Wednesday’s parliamentary question period saw further debate between MPs about next steps.

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