The organizer of a June 6 protest in solidarity with people of colour (POC) held in Kitimat says there is still a long way to go in fighting racism in North America but that events like that of this most recent weekend are essential to continuing the global conversation on making racism a thing of the past.
Event organizer and Kitimat resident Rosie Reschke told the Kitimat Northern Sentinel that while the idea to hold the rally in Kitimat was a direct response to the ongoing protests across North America, she also wanted to shed light on Canada’s own history of colonial racism toward its Indigenous people. The nationwide protests began over the last few weeks in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., who died while being arrested by police.
As she wasn’t able to be in town for May 5 — recognized by the country since 2017 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) — Reschke said she hoped the event would be able to reflect not just the challenges faced by black people in North America but by POC across the continent.
“I thought, why don’t we combine the two and raise some awareness on both issues?”
She said despite the impacts of COVID-19 the event saw a great turnout. “We had around 37 at the peak which is great,” she said, adding that the majority of those who passed by in cars also showed their support. “We also had a lot of people driving by and honking, which was also really nice.”
In addition to the turnout, Reschke said Kitimat resident Delaney Ribeiro helped to raise $425 for the Native Women’s Association of Canada at the event.
The day also saw a number of speakers come out to denounce racism, including District of Kitimat mayor Phil Germuth who was absolutely clear in his message: racism is real and it needs to end now.
“Right now the world is bearing witness to some horrific events that showcase extreme examples of prejudice and injustice,” said a mask-clad Germuth to a group of protesters near the intersection of Haisla Boulevard and Lahakas Boulevard. “The events we have witnessed recently on TV may seem to be occurring a world away from our little community here in northwest B.C., however unfortunately racism and prejudice are prevalent in our community.”
Germuth said his own experience of the past few weeks has been one of learning.
“I, myself, am learning how little I know about the matter,” he told protesters. “By opening up and listening and trying to understand each other’s experiences we can work together to close the gaps of misunderstanding and we can work together to stop racism, dismantle prejudice, build on reconciliation and to find an end to these injustices.”
Germuth also read a letter from Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach which reiterated the importance of addressing racism experienced by POC.
“Like you I have been heartbroken and horrified by the anti-black racism and violence occurring in the United States, including the killing of George Floyd,” Bachrach wrote. “Sadly, such violence has been the lived experience of black people in America for hundreds of years.”
Bachrach stated he was no less saddened by the persistence of other kinds of racism, in particular anti-Indigenous racism within Canada.
“This must end and it will only end when we gather the courage to require full accountability for those in positions of authority and change our systems so they no longer perpetuate discrimination.
“Black lives matter, Indigenous lives matter and what matters more than anything at this moment is those of us with the privilege in power, [whose] skin colour has never made our lives harder, speak out and demand change,” Bachrach stated.
For her part, Reschke said she was impressed the two representatives made an effort to engage with the protesters and to acknowledge the difficult realities people of colour face across the country.
“I thought that was great,” she said. “It’s a really important issue to me and to have a community that is standing behind it is just great.”
She added that as someone who has never directly experienced racism but knows it exists in the realities of others she feels it’s important to acknowledge that advocating in support of POC is not necessarily done so at the detriment of any other identifiable demographic.
“I think it’s important to realize that this movement is not saying that ‘All lives don’t matter,’ it is just focusing on how, at the moment, certain lives are more at risk,” Reschke said. “We have to do something about that because, as they say, all lives can’t matter until people of colour’s lives matter.”
She also expressed optimism with regard to how peacefully the protest proceeded, noting that residents were respectful of each other and that violence seen at protests across the United States and parts of Canada was not replicated.
“I was concerned that, you know, there’s always the chance that someone could come and feel very strongly about the matter and it could change the way the protest was experienced, but having said that we had a very peaceful and calm approach,” she said. “It was really much more of a ‘let our voices be heard’ kind of moment, with the people talking and just coming together as a community, so that was really wonderful.”
She said it’s important to keep the conversation going in the coming weeks and months, adding that learning about and embracing the difficulties POC face is essential, especially to non-POC allies.
“Knowledge is power and to share knowledge is what keeps going and what keeps this momentum happening,” she said.
“When we see in the news that someone has passed away who is a person of colour due to police brutality or something, instead of just saying, you know, ‘Oh wow, it happens so often and it’s so bad,’ we need to … educate the youth especially, because those are the leaders [of tomorrow].”