Vancouver occupation of INAC office ends

The week-long occupation of an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office in Vancouver by a group of Indigenous mothers is over.

#OccupyINAC protesters leave building after securing meeting with federal ministers

Indigenous women and children who occupied INAC offices in downtown Vancouver for one week leave the building after securing a meeting with federal ministers to discuss their demands. (Facebook)

The occupation of an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office in Vancouver by a group of Indigenous mothers ended Saturday, after the ministers of INAC and Canadian Heritage agreed to meet with the group in May, Council of Mothers spokesperson Jerilyn Webster says.

"This is big for us, as far as government placing Indigenous issues as a priority on its agenda," Webster said.

"But these are just the first steps to the real work that needs to happen."

Vancouver's occupation started on Monday, April 18, following occupations of other INAC offices across Canada. #OccupyINAC protesters were demanding action on the suicide crisis in Attawpiskat, Ont. 

Toronto protesters left that city's INAC buidling on Thursday, saying they were directed to leave by youth from Attawapiskat.

That's when Vancouver's group shifted the focus to reinstating a youth cultural program and increasing Indigenous language funding, both federal responsibilities.

A spokesperson from INAC confirmed via email that Minister Carolyn Bennett will meet with the group "in the coming weeks" to discuss language funding, and also to discuss a youth culture program disbanded by the Harper government in 2012.

"We've heard from the youth about the importance of rebuilding their identity as proud Indigenous people, and we agree that cultural and wellness programming plays a valuable role," states the email.
Protesters who occupied the INAC office in Vancouver for six days say they've secured a meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. (CBC)

Webster said she's cautiously optimistic about the gesture.

"This new government didn't just shut its ears; it listened, it wants direction and we're here to provide that, but we don't want lip service."

Re-establishing culture and language programs fits into a bigger healing picture, Webster said. The fallout from historical injustices in Indigenous communities has created circumstances in which people, like those in Attawapaskat, are now killing themselves.

"As mothers, we see the sense of urgency and we did what we had to do to make addressing it a priority," said Webster.

Vancouver's occupation drew civic and Indigenous leaders, but it also found new supporters such as the local chapter of No One Is Illegal, a social justice group that advocates for immigrant rights and issues.

"We were able to bring all these people together for a common goal," Webster said. 

Occupy Vancouver was the only #OccupyINAC group that involved only women and children.

"We wanted our kids to stand with the kids of Attawapiskat," Webster said. 

Vancouver was the second to last INAC office to be occupied. Protesters are still inside the INAC office in Winnipeg.


Wawmeesh George Hamilton is an award winning journalist/photographer and a three-time BC-Yukon Community Newspaper Association award winner. He has garnered three Canadian Community Newspaper Association awards and was a 2018 Webster Award nominee. He graduated in 2016 with an MA from the UBC graduate school of journalism. He is a member of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C. @Wawmeesh