B.C.'s Indigenous Affairs minister defends meeting with Indigenous youth in Legislature despite 5 arrests

The province is defending its decision to invite protesters inside the B.C. Legislature for a meeting that resulted in a sit-in and multiple arrests, as supporters of those arrested gathered in front of the building again Thursday morning.  

Seven members of the group Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en met with government officials in the building, which is closed to the public, on Wednesday. Five of them were arrested in the evening after refusing to leave the building and staging a sit-in protest.  

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser says the youth had requested the meeting. 

“I’m very, very disappointed with the outcome,” said Fraser.

Fraser agreed to let the group in on the condition that they leave afterwards — which he says they promised to do. He described the meeting as productive and respectful.

The demonstrators said they met with Fraser to discuss the ongoing dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C. which  is under construction on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory. But they don’t believe their concerns were addressed. 

Ta’kaiya Blaney, one of the Indigenous youth at the meeting, says the group decided to stay in the office because of a “lack of commitment to condemn Coastal GasLink.” She described the sit-in as a peaceful protest to generate accountability.

“This wouldn’t have had to happen if Canada had exhausted all avenues, if [Premier] John Hogan had met with hereditary chiefs, if diplomacy was adhered to,” she said over a loudspeaker to a crowd in front of the Legislature on Thursday.

“Instead, this is what we do out of necessity. This is what we do out of survival.”

Ta’kaiya Blaney speaking to a crowd in front of the Legislature on Thursday morning. She was one of the Indigenous youth at the meeting Wednesday. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The sit-in was live-streamed on Facebook, including police arriving and placing members of the group in handcuffs.

The five people arrested were taken to police headquarters for processing and released on the condition they would not attend the legislature grounds. An investigation into mischief is underway.

Despite that, Fraser says meeting with the youth is part of his responsibilities as minister of Indigenous Relations. 

“I could not do my job at all if I didn’t work with respect, provide trust and good faith — it is the basis for everything I do,” he said. “I thought that would be reciprocated.” 

The silhouettes of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en members are seen inside the B.C. Legislature late Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (phoeberamsay/Twitter)

Interim Green Party Leader Adam Olsen, a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, attended the meeting as a witness. He says he is “disappointed” but also concerned that the sit-in and subsequent arrests overshadow the meeting.

“What I take away from that meeting is the youth did a really good job articulating the challenges that are facing Indigenous people in our country and our province,” he said. 

“[The outcome] overshadows it in the sense that this is now the story. What the story should be, I think, is that we are sitting down and learning from each other.”

The dozens of Indigenous youth and their supporters packed up blankets and tarps Thursday, ending the 17-day protest at the legislature that saw a fire burning constantly at the front steps and people camping overnight at the building’s
ceremonial gates.

Blaney said the Indigenous youth are leaving the legislature but their movement for the rights of Aboriginal peoples continues. 

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