Car horns and rallying cries of “no justice, no peace!” and “what do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” rang through Yellowknife on Tuesday afternoon.
Hundreds of NWT residents took part in a Black Lives Matter solidarity march and motorcade through the capital’s downtown core.
The event coincided with the funeral of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25. Similar anti-racism protests have been held across North America and the world in recent weeks. Dozens of people attended an anti-racism rally in Fort Smith on Sunday.
Inemesit Graham, one of the Yellowknife event’s organizers, said it is important to recognize racism is an issue at the local level.
“People coming out here and showing their personal experiences within our own community can highlight how this is a problem that’s insidious within all communities and has to be challenged at every single level,” she said.
“I often think people think racism is an issue of good people versus bad people and I really don’t believe it is. I think it’s sometimes an issue of apathy, and because something isn’t your lived experience, you don’t understand that it’s somebody else’s living experience.”
A large group of protesters led Tuesday’s march on foot, carrying signs emblazoned with slogans like “always challenge racism” and “ignoring the problem is only making it worse.” A vast line of vehicles covered in signs and ribbons followed slowly behind.
Protesters in a Black Lives Matter march through Yellowknife on June 9, 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The event had originally been advertised as solely a motorcade.
Organizer Ambe Chenemu said they asked police ahead of time whether people could march and were told no. Tuesday he encouraged those in attendance to make the route on foot if possible anyway.
“The oppressor will never have the right way to protest,” he told the crowd.
“We’re supposed to take over. So we are taking over.”
Graham said there had been some concerns on social media about pandemic restrictions. Many people marching wore non-medical face masks and organizers gave masks to those without.
“A lot of people are saying, well racism is a pandemic as well and it is a danger, a real danger to a lot of peoples’ lives,” Graham said.
Tinache Makonye said he felt called to attend Tuesday’s event for his children. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Tinashe Makonye was among those in attendance at Tuesday’s march.
He said he felt called to action as a Black man and father. Seeing Floyd’s death triggered feelings he’d long suppressed.
“I do have two beautiful Black babies,” he said. “I need them to know that they are important and as much as they’re different by virtue of this human construct of race, they’re equally as important.”
Makonye said the event was a good starting point for people to openly express their feelings and educate one another.
“I feel like the community I live in is now seeing a little glimpse of what it is that we go through,” he said.
“I would like to encourage people within our community that we need you just as much as you need us.”
‘We are not punching bags any more’
Snookie Catholique said she was encouraged by the turnout on Tuesday. She said she was marching because she doesn’t want her children to face the racism she has experienced.
“Our young people don’t need to see racism, they don’t need to experience it,” she said.
“For me, to be part of this is monumental because what’s been done to our people, even us as Indigenous people, is wrong and we are not punching bags for anybody any more and it’s got to stop now.”
Yellowknife resident Inemesit Graham awaits the start of Tuesday’s protest. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Marchers convened at Yellowknife’s RCMP detachment where they knelt, chanted “enough is enough,” “Black lives matter,” and “stop police brutality,” and listened to speakers.
Organizer Chenemu, who is from Cameroon, was one of the speakers. He said he never felt racism until he moved to Canada in 2012.
“I had to readjust to a system that I was never used to. I had to be reminded that I couldn’t just walk down the street like I used to.”
Many Black people are tired of speaking out about racism, something they’ve done for hundreds of years, Chenemu said – but with Floyd’s death recorded on video, more people have seen it for themselves.
Protesters gather outside Yellowknife’s RCMP detachment. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Protesters in downtown Yellowknife. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Chenemu called for more accountability and transparency from the police and for officers to wear body cameras.
“The system was never built for us. The system was built to work exactly the way it is. And we want change and we want change from the institutions,” he said.
Chenemu also called for the RCMP to be defunded. He explained that does not mean disbanding the police but reallocating funds to other services, while ensuring police aren’t responsible for things like wellness checks.
“There’s a lot of police departments within our cities that are over-funded over child services, that are over-funded over welfare, infrastructure, the real things that we need,” he said.
On Monday, NWT Liberal MP Michael McLeod had criticized RCMP and called for an increase in the number of Indigenous police officers in the North.
Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.