#OccupyINAC Vancouver declares victory after ministers agree to meeting

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On Monday April 25, the Occupy INAC group in Vancouver declared victory after confirming a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly. 

The group of Indigenous mothers, who call themselves the Council of Mothers, ended their occupation of the INAC offices in Vancouver on Saturday April 23 and will meet with the ministers to discuss their demands, including funding for Indigenous languages and Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth.

The Council of Mothers, along with their children, a father, and youth, joined in on the national #OccupyINAC movement when they began their occupation of the Vancouver INAC offices on April 18.

For six days, the group remained in the lobby of the INAC office in solidarity with the youth of Attawapiskat.

At the victory rally on Monday in Vancouver, the group stated that the Attawapiskat youth council, satisfied after recent meetings with members of the Parliament, asked occupy movements to focus on the issues within their own region.

Shortly after, #OccupyINAC Vancouver and the Council of Mothers prioritized their focus on young Indigenous peoples, culture, and language, demanding an increase in funding for Indigenous languages and Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth.

The group called attention to the disparity between the amount of federal government funding for Indigenous languages versus the French language.

There is $2.4 billion allocated for French, whereas Indigenous languages receive $5 million.

"Our youth, our culture, our women, our elders, our Indigenous communities, are deserving and worth the funds," said Jerilyn Webster, who had occupied INAC Vancouver with her son Sequoia.

"This occupation was done out of love and acceptance and belonging. And we are wanting to create and lead the children to the future that Indigenous children deserve. We as the Council of Mothers acknowledge that our actions are not only for people in Vancouver and across Canada, but it is also for our ancestors, and it is an intergenerational healing."

The 18-year-old Indigenous youth and poet, Valeen Jules who had joined the Council of Mothers and their children in occupying INAC spoke on her own lived experiences.

"This issue hits home for me as an Indigenous youth who has contemplated suicide before. And who has fell into a deep sorrow of depression before in my young life," said Jules.

"I'm feeling the sorrow and grief that comes with hearing my peers speak about suicide," continued Jules. "And as a protector of the land, it is hard to hear that because we are fighting for the future of these children, yet they are too stuck in a rage and in sadness of ongoing colonialism and of genocide. So it's hard to do this really important work when there are youth out there that need our love and attention."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called for immediate action by the federal government to address the state of poverty and youth suicide epidemics in Aboriginal communities.

"The Council of Mothers have said that they are not prepared to wait for the government to take four years to act on these issues. They are demanding action right now, and I would suggest to the Trudeau government, and to the court government that if action is not taken, if the Council of Mothers are not listened to, what you witnessed in the last week will become the hallmark, that characterizes the relationship between Aboriginal peoples in this country, and the Trudeau government, and the Provincial governments across this country regardless of their public attitudes and statements of good intention," stated Phillip.

"This could be the beginning of a long and hard summer across this country, with respect to the multitude of issues that confront Aboriginal peoples in this country that have been going on for far too long," Phillip warned.

Minister Bennet and Minister Joly have coordinated plans for an in-person meeting with the Council of Mothers in Vancouver for late May to early June.

In the meantime, the Council of Mothers, friends, family, and supporters are celebrating the end of their week-long occupation and their upcoming meeting with federal ministers.  

The victory rally on Monday ended with a dance party in the street beneath the INAC offices building where the Council of Mothers, their children, a father, and Jules had occupied.

But before the dancing started, Jules left the crowd with a powerful reminder, "Decolonial love across cultures, classes, religions, and orientations wins every time."


Find more photographs from the victory rally here.

Lenee Son is a freelance multimedia journalist living in metro Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @leneeson




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