A rally against racism attracted about 100 people in Hay River.
The July 4 event – part of a worldwide denunciation of racism – expressed solidarity with Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities.
Participants marched around downtown and listened to speeches in the parking lot of the Hay River Community Centre.
Among the speakers was Chief April Martel of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), who said the rally was historic.
“Thank you for standing up and joining us on this day,” Martel told participants, adding it’s time to talk about racism.
“Today I want to make a stand to let’s stop racism,” she said. “Let’s be heard. Let’s stop it in the health-care system. Let’s stop it in the schools from bullying. Let’s stop it from the RCMP.”
The system has failed Indigenous people, Martel added, “and we don’t want to be failed anymore.”
R.J. Simpson, speaking as MLA for Hay River North and not as a territorial cabinet minister, delivered a blistering condemnation of racism in Canada.
Simpson said Canada is internationally known for its poor treatment of Indigenous people.
“The residential school system is what we’re best known for,” he said, “and while those might seem to be a distant memory, they are far from it. There are people alive today who experienced the worst, and I mean the worst, of residential school.”
While recognizing some people had good experiences in residential school, he said, “But that doesn’t change the fact that our territory participated in state-sanctioned cultural genocide and not that long ago.”
Simpson said the larger system that supported residential schools still exists.
“In reality, the residential school system was a single component of a larger system that worked, more or less, in unison towards common goals,” he said. “While residential schools have disappeared, the larger system and all of its components – the child welfare system, the justice system, the health-care system and the overall structure of government – remain in place and relatively unchanged.”
Simpson said events like the July 4 rally are a good start because they raise awareness.
“But we have a long way to go,” he said. “That’s because fighting racism isn’t just about awareness and changing the beliefs of individuals. It’s about identifying and changing the systems that allow racism to perpetuate inequality and prejudicial treatment.”
The rally was organized by Vigne Sridharan and Daniella Boronka, two friends who arrived in Hay River in January from Kitchener, Ont.
Community resident Beatrice Lepine said it was wonderful to see the rally organized by the two young women.
“It’s great to see young people step up now,” she said.
Lepine said she would like the rally to create awareness that there is hope.
“People are changing and I think that’s a good thing,” she said.
Those at the rally were invited to sign a petition calling on the NWT Human Rights Commission and the Legislative Assembly to host a summit on systemic racism.
The recent worldwide demonstrations against racism were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in May at the hands of Minneapolis police.