Cowichan Tribes Safety March an antidote to on-reserve youth violence

Cowichan Tribes
Cowichan Tribes' members and local supporters used Saturday's Safety Walk as solidarity march against crime and violence in the reserve area.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Drumming, signing, and signs of courage against growing on-reserve crime — and fear of possible gang activity — were seen and heard during Saturday's Safety March by Cowichan Tribes and its supporters.

Tzinquaw dancers thumped drums while elders, youths and other locals walked down Boys Road to Statlou Road, then along Thiek Road to the highway.

The message from 100 or so folks was clear: we're not afraid; we're standing strong for safe reserve lands.

"The main thing is safety," said Chelsea George. "We just want to be heard."

Chantel George agreed.

"The neighbourhood's not very safe, and we want that to change."

Changes could come from Tribes' members living on reserve, as newly elected Chief Chip Seymour and council address a raft of issues confronting their people.

"It's part of the legacy of our need to continue with reconciliation," Maureen Tommy, Tribes' general manager, said of issues resonating from residential-school abuse suffered by some of her people.

"It's part of all nations coming together."

She signalled Tribes has been tackling many issues, seemingly symbolized during the January 2011 murder of Tribes' teen Tyeshia Jones.

"After we had the loss of our beloved one (Jones), we were experiencing gang violence at the same time."

So the march was designed to reach reserve areas, identified by Koksilah school students as those where they didn't feel safe, Tommy explained.

That message was heard by Safe Youth Cowichan, and Tribes during Saturday's march and dialogue at the Friendship Centre.

Organizer Angela Underwood explained the idea is gathering community as one voice against violence, bullying and promotion of understanding.

Tribes member Norm Thorne indicated some misguided youths believe gangs are cool; Saturday's march would show them different.

"They're not necessarily gangsters, but wannabees.

"That's a problem because they should want to be something else," he said.

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