New Brunswick

STU basketball players take knee to raise awareness of MMIW

Two Indigenous students are using their profile as athletes to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

'We just feel that there wasn't enough attention on the crisis,' says Quentin Sock

Jeremy Speller from Gesgapegiag First Nation (left) and Quentin Sock from Elsipogtog First Nation (right) took a knee during “O Canada’ to raise awareness of MMIW. (Facebook)

Two indigenous students at St. Thomas University are using their profile as athletes to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Quentin Sock from Elsipogtog First Nation and Jeremy Speller from Gesgapegiag First Nation took a knee during "O Canada" at the St. Thomas Tommies basketball home opener in Fredericton to raise awareness of the issue.

"We just feel that there wasn't enough attention on the crisis, so we decided to do whatever we could to bring more light onto the issue," said Sock.

The duo held up a red shawl, a reference to the red dress movement, which also tries to bring attention to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Use of kneeling as protest growing

The act of kneeling, or sitting out, a national anthem has become a popular and controversial practice to raise awareness of issues, especially those affecting communities that are seen as marginalized.

The most famous contemporary example is Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, who took a knee during the American national anthem in support of the BlackLives Matter movement.

Quentin Sock and Jeremy Speller raise awareness for missing and murdered aboriginal women
The STU kneeling also had a tinge of controversy. The players had intended to take a knee during a pre-season game but were told by the university not to.

"There was a delay at the start," wrote Jeffrey Carleton, STU's director of communications, in an email. "I think that the initial notification caught [the athletics department] a bit off guard so the players agreed to meet with us and after that it came together quickly."

Nervous and emotional day

Sock said he was nervous when the day finally came.

"I just felt like getting there they were going to tell us, 'Oh, we can't do it now. I'm sorry we can't do it. Here's the political reasons we can't do it and such and such.' So leading up to it, I was nervous."

Speller said the event was an emotional one and was worthwhile.

"It obviously made an impact. ... Canadians that didn't know about it, they are obviously ... they're aware of the crisis now," said Speller.

He also received a lot of positive feedback from spectators at the game.

"I had a lot of people, a lot of people I didn't even know, after the game or outside in the city that just came up to me, that recognized me, and said 'Good job with that, we support you and Quieten and the team,'" said Speller.

Learning about MMIW

Sock credits his time at STU as the catalyst for his activism.

"When I first started learning about the crisis here at St. Thomas, it's where I first heard of it, it's when I started looking into it more," he said. "It really lit a fire around me."

Dawn Russell, president of STU, said in an emailed statement she was proud of the two athletes.

"Our athletes are student athletes — students first, athletes second. We want them to be informed, critical and independent thinkers concerned about important issues that confront society today and engaged citizens," Russell said. "The issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women is one of those issues."

While Speller and Sock's own families have not experienced the tragedy of a missing or murdered woman, Speller said raising awareness is still important to him.

"I have a mother, I have two sisters, I have a niece, I have cousins, I have family that are women that I know are more likely to go missing or murdered," Speller.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton