Sophia Sidarous, an Indigenous U of O student, helped organize the Wet'suwet'en solidarity student walk-out and information session. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum
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An information session was hosted in the University Centre, where t-shirts made by local Indigenous youth were sold

The University of Ottawa was one of the many schools across the nation to host a student walk-out to show solidarity for Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on Wednesday, which saw several students mobilize at the school’s University Centre to help raise awareness around the situation.

“We just wanted to hold an art build and an information session so that people can drop in and get informed on what the issue is, because people who are more inclined to know about the issues are more inclined to walk out with us,” said Sophia Sidarous, a second-year conflict studies and human rights student who helped organize the event.

The dispute over the construction of a natural gas pipeline on the ancestral lands of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northern British Columbia has prompted hundreds of solidarity protests, rallies, and blockades across the country, with Ottawa hosting a number of demonstrations throughout the month of February.

On Sunday, a draft deal was struck between federal and provincial governments and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, although the terms of the deal are still not known.

Sidarous, a Mi’kmaq from the Metepenagiag First Nation who has helped organize several solidarity demonstrations in Ottawa, said that she wanted to organize the event at the school because she found that there was a lot of silence and a lack of information in the university regarding the situation.

“I just wanted to bring that to (the school),” said Sidarous. “Indigenous peoples within universities are trying to engage their non-Indigenous peers to care about the issues that are happening in their own communities and in their own country.”

Sidarous highlighted how schools such as the University of Victoria, McGill University and the University of Guelph each hosted their own student-walk out on Wednesday as well.

“Even people who are not on our side per se, get to stop in and ask questions and we’ll do our best that we can to explain the media, and how that plays a part in the actual issue at hand,” said Sidarous.

In addition to handing out flyers that explained the situation, t-shirts that were made by local Indigenous youth and allies were also being sold at the information session, with all proceeds going toward land defenders in Wet’suwet’en.

“I think just the lack of information … is really turning this narrative into something as Indigenous peoples … inconveniencing Canadians,” said Sidarous. “I think it’s really important for non-Indigenous peoples to take action on these issues that are happening in their own country, that this is something that affects us all.”

For Sidarous, the goal of the event was to help educate people on the matter and get more people at the university involved.

“This is the way it should have been probably a while ago, but there was kind of a lack of response from non-Indigenous peoples to take the lead on educating themselves,” she said. “So we have to kind of step up.”

Hannah Newman, a third-year nursing student who participated in the walk-out, said that as a white settler, it was important for her to support Wet’suwet’en and Indigenous rights.

“I think it’s really important as students, as sort of the future generation, to put our foot down and say ‘No means no,’ we can’t keep letting the government —  specifically white settlers — keep doing these things,” said Newman. 

She added that Indigenous youth have been the ones taking a stand against the impacts of colonialism, and that it’s important that they know that they aren’t alone in their fight.

“It’s really nice to see youth realizing. I know that there are people who are supporting these movements, whose parents and family don’t understand why, and they’re able to try to educate the people around them,” she said.

Fernando Jimenez, a second-year anthropology student who also participated in the walk-out, said that when students combine their voices, they can play a crucial role in helping to draw more attention to an issue.

“We’re just challenging the notion as Canada as a nation, because there’s so much colonial history that really just puts that into question,” said Jimenez. “Whose land are we really on?”

Sidarous echoed Jimenez’s sentiment, where she said that the role that students play in helping to spread and make sense of the situation “is very important.”

“They’re youth, right? We’re going to be in positions of power soon, so the more that people take initiatives on this now will impact them later on when they’re in positions of power or in any field that they’re studying,” said Sidarous. “Wet’suwet’en, in this context, and Indigenous peoples —  no matter what field of study you’re in, this will be impacting you, one way or another.”