Cheryl Dlii says when she set out to organize a march for Black Lives Matter, she didn’t know her worldview would get a negative reaction.
Dlii felt inspired to support the movement by organizing a march of her own in Fort Simpson. She shared her idea online using the phrase “all lives matter” in an effort to include Dene people.
With limited access to TV, Dlii told Cabin Radio she did not understand the context in which the phrase “all lives matter” is now understood.
Dlii said the negative response pushed her to do some research and, from that research, she learned why her idea and wording were not well-received.
“It was not where I thought it was gonna go,” she said. “So I did my homework. I googled everything and found out, whoa, OK, that might have been a poor choice of words.
“Dene Zhatie is my first language and I live my whole life that, you know, all lives matter and that’s right from the blade of grass to the droplets in the clouds.”
Dlii said that may have affected the turnout for Wednesday’s march from the Unity store to the Northern store. She said more planning might make for a better turnout and she is thinking of organizing another event.
“Everything went OK. Not as good as I had hoped or expected – not as many people came out – but I’m very grateful for the people that did show up,” she said.
“I think the support would have been a whole lot better had I used proper wording. I didn’t realize that there had been a movement … that was dismissive of minority rights.”
Dlii went on to recall experiencing racism from a young age because of her appearance.
“I’m a mixed-blood Dene woman who’s experienced racism from all three sides … from the settler to the Dene to the Métis Nation of people,” she said.
“I never really fit in anywhere. I know exactly what racism is about. The colour of my skin, you know? I’m lighter than most people are. But I’m fluent in my language.”
She said she didn’t speak English until she was six or seven years old, and was raised by her grandparents on the land.
“I was raised by my nice, brown grandma and grandpa, right? I never knew I was different until it was being pointed out as I grew up,” she said.
“That was our life. I didn’t even know what ‘town’ was or what that meant. I just knew groceries came once in a while from a trail.
“I know exactly what racism is all about.”
MMIWG rally in Fort Smith
The march in Fort Simpson came a day after a Black Lives Matter event in Yellowknife, and followed a similar protest in Fort Smith on Sunday.
Another demonstration took place in Fort Smith on Thursday, this time targeting the federal government’s delay in producing a national action plan to address findings of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Dozens of vehicles, many decorated in red at organizers’ request, took part in the rally.
“It’s just a load of money spent on it and really nothing to show,” Connie Benwell, whose daughter was discovered dead in 2007, told the CBC at the event. The national inquiry cost nearly $100 million.
“They need to act on what they say,” Benwell told the broadcaster. “It’s a shame that they put so much money toward it and nothing’s being done to act on it.”