TheStar Halifax –
Sherry Pictou, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University who studies Indigenous feminism, spoke to an audience of more than 50 people who packed into a small lecture hall at Dalhousie University Friday afternoon.
The talk was part of an ongoing feminist seminar series at the university, which hosts a different speaker each month.
“This is about our struggle, but also about our resilience and our resurgence,” Pictou said, referring to Indigenous women across the country who have taken on leading roles in land defence and human-rights advocacy.
While her lecture was poignant, considering the events on Wet’suwet’en land earlier this week, it had been planned long before the conflict erupted.
RCMP gathered on Wet’suwet’en territory outside Houston, B.C., on Monday to enforce a court injunction and allow workers to start construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
While the First Nation’s band council has supported the pipeline, the hereditary leaders and some other community members remain staunchly opposed and set up a barricade to their land.
RCMP forced a dramatic retreat from that barricade Monday afternoon that garnered international attention.
Pictou said her talking points were prepared well before this week’s activity in B.C., but she found some room to address the conflict.
After the lecture, Pictou said she couldn’t help but talk about the Wet’suwet’en situation because of the confluence with her work; Pictou has been studying Indigenous feminism, treaty rights and Indigenous sovereignty for more than 20 years
To the audience, she spoke reverently about the women involved with the Unist’ot’en barricade but admitted she was “a little bit worried” for their safety.
“We are at a juncture in history where we are at risk of duplicating and marginalizing women even further,” she said.
Pictou said the danger lies not only in the violence that can take place on the front lines of conflicts but also amid the development of pipelines or other projects that require rural, isolated work camps.
Researchers in Alberta and B.C. have shown a link between remote work camps and violence against women and it’s important to do gender-based analysis in communities before projects start.
An obstacle to that kind of gender-based risk analysis, according to Pictou, is that “women are not sitting at the table,” especially Indigenous women.
On Tuesday, there were Wet’suwet’en solidarity rallies and counterprotests staged around the country. Halifax’s rally was led by women, aligning with Pictou’s assertion that Indigenous women are, for better or worse, at the forefront of Indigenous activist work.