Content Warning: This article contains content about sexual assault and sexual abuse, please take a step away if you need to. Honour your body and spirit always.
The wellbeing of Indigenous youth, who have been called to the frontlines to protect the land and water, must be a top priority for camp organizers, says Secwépemc Hereditary Matriarch Miranda Dick.
Recently, there’s been an increase of Indigenous Youth stepping forward to voice concerns about safety on the frontlines. In response, Dick is speaking up about how camp organizers can create safer spaces and she is encouraging Youth to continue reaching out for support.
“From frontline accountability and transparency to camp protocol, we must always be clear that consent is the primary guiding principle in all of our work,” she says.
“If we ask the resource extractive industry to respect our bodies on the frontlines, we recognize this respect extends to [frontline] camp life, and life in general.”
Indigenous People are frequently subjected to violence when protecting their homelands. And Dick reminds youth that they may be subjected to this violence on the frontlines.
“Our land has never consented to extractive industry, Land grabs are non consensual, the RCMP regularly lay hands on our People without consent and we must do better.”
Dick says that no one on the frontlines should be putting their hands on another person without clear consent first, and that consent can be withdrawn at any time.
When you’re called to the land
Dick has spent decades occupying space on her homelands and even leading action camps.
Protocol and consent are put in place to honour the protection of all life and land. She has previously written the Secwépemc Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol to honour her nation’s protocol, and says it’s important for the Youth to understand that they are also worthy of honour.
“I really think that the youth of this time are really searching for that belonging, searching for a sense of community.”
“When I was younger, I really had this almost like thirst for knowledge…I really wanted to go to a camp that really brought that [cultural knowledge]…where I had [access to] language, I had elders in community, [and] it was within our own Nation,” says Dick.
Indigenous Youth frequently feel called to the frontlines to protect the land and water. Often they are called on a spiritual level, and when they respond to the call it fulfils a responsibility to their community. But, responding to the call requires incredible strength, courage and love.
“It’s almost like an Ancestor is calling, so they feel a need to go and support and help out however they can,” says Dick.
“The teens, and the kids, we always want to create a safe space for them.”
“And that even means for aftercare as well,” she says.
That means that camp organizers and friends need to check in with Youth after they get home, or after any potentially traumatic incidents.
Although Dick is a Hereditary Matriarch in the Secwépemc Nation, she speaks to the youth about safety on the frontlines from the heart of a Mother around the importance of safeguarding oneself.
“I felt as a Mother, and it came really from my Mother’s perspective…raising the awareness of what you can do and how to recognize harm when it comes to oneself and in front line resistance,” Dick says.
Responsibilities of Frontline Organizers
Dick has organized everything from frontline action camps to land occupations, where she and others use and access their lands in the ways the Secwépemc people always have. These include berry picking camps, bark harvestings, hunting camps and even art camps. At each camp, she has worked hard to meet the health and safety needs of those present.
When someone first arrives at an action camp for land or water protection Dick goes through a checklist with them.
“Safety protocol first is read…we make sure that they have adequate care, [are] financially situated, [and have] a plan on how they’re going to get back [home],” she says.
Dick also provides information about the legal side. Being on the frontlines of an action can carry legal repercussions and any Youth present needs to know their rights as well as what could happen if they get arrested or are in violation of a court injunction.
She also says it’s important for organizers to have up-to-date resources on sexual assault.
“We must be ready with contact lists of available support persons and services including court support and care for victims of sexual assault. It is important to know the limits of reporting incidents and how to seek the service or advice of lawyers to file restraining or no contact orders.”
What can unsafe frontlines look like for youth?
Unsafe frontlines can include various types of restrictions or abuse, many of which Dick has witnessed at others’ camps. This abuse, Dick says, can include withholding money for travel or transportation in and out of camp or frontline sites, confinement, and being deprived of the resources to report to supports such as therapy, counselling, or victim services.
“Constant control and manipulation, food insecurity and many more situations where a person is feeling a constant sense of emergency, fear or isolation from family or just plain isolation,” she says.
Dick says that Youth should know that when they are feeling unsafe on anyone’s frontline they have a right to access the support necessary to share their story and receive necessary care.
“When incidents occur in our movements we must be ready to assist in travel for medical appointments as well as counselling services…victim services as well as shelters.”
Dick says it’s also important to be mindful of the signs of child and Youth exploitation on the frontlines.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, indicators that a person is being exploited or trafficked include the feeling that they can’t leave without harm, having no access to medical care, feeling as though their movements are being controlled, and being prevented from communicating with family or friends. These are just to name a few, a more extensive list can be found here.
“When abusive or exploitative situations are brought out in our communities, it is important for victims to have access to a safe space and the resources available to all victims and survivors of sexual violence or abuse,” she says.
Dick says she has a deep respect for the Youth who show up for their people.
“When we’re protecting clean water, and we’re protecting the land, and all of that, we don’t mean that we’ll die for it, Mother Earth wants us to live,” says Dick.
If you need support around trafficking or abuse please reach out to The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, which operates 24/7, at 1-833-900-1010 or use the chat function on the website. If you are feeling distressed you may also reach out to the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.