The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) and the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) teamed up on November 22 to hold a U of T-wide march in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and other Indigenous communities who have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In addition to interested U of T students, representatives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Environmental Justice Collective, the Women and Gender Studies Student Union, and other student groups were also present at the event.
The ISSU and ASSU event began with a poster-making session in the lobby of Sidney Smith. Small flyers with facts and information about the #NoDAPL movement, the situation in Standing Rock, and other Indigenous resistance campaigns were handed out to students.
Following this, multi-disciplinary artist Jenny Blackbird sang a Water Honour Song outside of Sidney Smith Hall. Individuals that spoke at the event were author Lee Maracle, who is the Traditional Teacher at U of T’s Aboriginal Student Services, and Indigenous Studies instructor Amos Key Jr., who is the Director of First Nations Languages Program at Brantford’s Woodland Cultural Centre.
“I’m here because the water affects us all, it doesn’t just affect Indigenous people — it’s not just about our land, and our trees, and our ways: it’s about the whole of us. It’s about whether the future is going to be bright for your grandchildren,” said Maracle. “It’s about you, and it’s about your responsibility here.”
The march began after the speeches, starting outside of Sidney Smith and ending at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) building. At 6:00 pm there was a Standing Rock Syllabus Group Reading in the OISE library.
In an email to The Varsity, ISSU President and organizer of the march Jennifer Sylvester said that she was “very pleased with the outcome of the event. We had a very enthusiastic crowd and all were proud to march together to bring a voice to happenings at Standing Rock and other Indigenous issues.”
Sylvester also stressed the importance of fighting for water rights: “Everyone, including students at University of Toronto need to fight for the protection of water. Because Water is Life, and nothing can survive without it. It is our duty to protect this land so we can confidently pass it on to future generations.”
“When a student learns about the sacred nature of Indigenous knowledge, empathy will certainly follow,” she continued.
ASSU also participated in a larger Toronto-wide protest against the pipeline on November 5.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion proposed pipeline that would cross Lakota Treaty Territory. The pipeline’s detractors have expressed concerns over its proposed path under the Missouri River, which is a source of water for the Standing Rock Sioux.
The Standing Rock protests have garnered international media attention and instigated a social media campaign designed to confuse police officers looking for protesting members of Standing Rock, using the hashtag #NoDAPL.