An Indigenous youth group is hoping the United Nations will step in and help them seek justice after they claim they were “brutalized” by Vancouver Police Department officers who broke up what they say was a peaceful protest last week.
The youth group, known as the Braided Warriors, had been out protesting the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion at affiliated insurance companies throughout the week in downtown Vancouver, calling on them to drop the project. While earlier demonstrations ended peacefully, the group’s third protest, at AIG Insurance’s office at 595 Burrard St. on Friday (Feb. 19), turned ugly when VPD officers arrived and “violently” dispersed the crowd.
A video circulating on social media showing scenes of a police officer grabbing the hair of a protester and others being thrown to the ground has been sent to the VPD’s Professional Standards Section for review – but the Braided Warriors want more action to be taken.
According to the Braided Warriors, youth were “violently thrown to the ground, dragged across floors and down stairways, pulled by the hair and braid, thrown to surfaces covered in glass, strangled in a chokehold, and dragged face down on concrete.”
On Monday (March 1), the youth group returned to the site of the protest to film testimonials of their experiences with the VPD to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and to the International Human Rights Community.
Dressed in traditional regalia, the youth gathered peacefully at the front of the BMO building once more, singing and smudging “temeth” or earth on one another for protection.
#IndigenousYouth that Were Violently Arrested Outside Vancouver AIG Insurance Building Return to Film International #HumanRights Testimonials— Kanahus Manuel (@KanahusFreedom) March 2, 2021
Indigenous Activists Escalate Their Actions Calling on AIG to Stop Insuring Trans Mountain Tar Sands Pipeline #stopinsuringGenocide pic.twitter.com/8NEdk75P2M
VPD officers 'should be ashamed of themselves'
One of four youths arrested for mischief and obstruction by the VPD, Kaylee Wolflinger, of Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, said she wanted to share her testimonial to bring awareness to what had happened.
Wolflinger said she had been left traumatized by the experience of being arrested, while trying to help a fellow Braided Warrior who was being pulled away by police.
“While they were getting thrown out the door I saw that their drum was falling on the ground, and I've always been taught that drums should never touch the floor, so I went and leaped over and I went on my knees and I tried to pick up the drum,” Wolflinger said.
“When I picked up the drum, I just felt a sudden force on my back, that pushed me down and my body and my head hit the floor where shattered glass was. I just remember being in a daze and continuing to watch the police violently displace Indigenous youth that were occupying this space.”
After being arrested, the 21-year-old said she was left in a paddy wagon in the dark for about an hour and a half, without anyone looking at her injuries or checking if she was OK, causing her to have a panic attack. Once placed in jail, she said it took a further hour and 40 minutes before a nurse attended to a cut on her head.
“This whole situation has really affected me and all of us mentally, and it was really traumatic,” Wolflinger said.
“What they [police officers] did was wrong and it was unnecessary force. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
SUPPORT INDIGENOUS YOUTH WARRIORS @BraidedWarriors violently arrested at #stoptmx #stopinsuringGenocide at AIG Insurance to demand insurance companies stop underwriting #TransMountain pipelines— Kanahus Manuel (@KanahusFreedom) February 20, 2021
@amnesty @NaomiAKlein pic.twitter.com/Zv3ApTtI72
VPD say some youth became 'confrontational'
While Braided Warriors maintain they did not become violent, VPD spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said protesters had tried to block access to the building and some became “confrontational” when officers attempted to negotiate.
“During Friday’s protest, the demonstrators set up a tent and used their bodies to barricade the front doors of a building on Burrard Street, refusing to let anyone enter or exit,” he said via email.
“Several protesters became physically and verbally confrontational with police. Extra officers were brought in from other areas of the city to regain control of the situation and to remove the protesters from the building.”
Sgt. Addison said the video circulating on social media of the interactions that took place on Friday had been sent to the VPD’s Professional Standards Section for review. He said the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner had also been notified.
Braided Warriors call on UN for intervention
As well as justice for the police “brutality” and calling for the charges to be dropped against those arrested, Scwicweye, of Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation, said the Braided Warriors were hoping for intervention from the UN to help with their fight to stop the TMX pipeline and with their greater goal of the “abolishment of all police on all unceded lands and territories” and a return to Indigenous law.
“We hope for intervention and immediate termination to Trans Mountain Pipeline, the removal of police from unceded territories and to call attention to the human rights violations that Canada is committing against Indigenous people,” she said.
“That's why we stand here and why we do this, to ensure that that will happen.”
The newly formed group, made up of Indigenous youth from many nations, fights for Indigenous sovereignty mostly on the unceded territories of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.
“Indigenous people have been resisting colonialism since first contact, and we are just an extension of that,” Scwicweye said.
She said until the insurance companies affiliated with TMX publicly come forward and state they will no longer insure the project, they will “continue to be a target for all people defending the land.”
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.