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A closer look at some of the key players in the Lower Mainland’s Wet’suwet’en protests

Familiar faces behind B.C. blockades and anti-pipeline protests
After a string of disruptive protests and blockades, Jordan Armstrong takes a look at the backgrounds of two of the organizers.

With near-daily protests and blockades disrupting the Lower Mainland, residents are beginning to see some key faces appearing regularly on their TV screens.

While demonstrators have taken pains to reject the label of “protester,” referring to themselves instead as land defenders supporting Indigenous sovereignty, it has become apparent that behind many of the actions is a much smaller group of activists.

In Vancouver, the face of the string of actions — including an occupation of Attorney General David Eby‘s office and several port blockades — is Natalie Knight.

Anti-pipeline protesters occupy Attorney General’s office
Anti-pipeline protesters occupy Attorney General’s office

“We are Indigenous people who have lived on this land for a very long time with uninvited settlers on our land,” Knight told Global News at the office occupation.

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“It’s an economic disruption,” she said of the port blockade.

READ MORE: Vancouver police arrest 6 blockaders defying injunction outside Port of Vancouver

“We recognize that the government tends to only understand the language of money, so disrupting capital and the flow of goods is a language that they will understand.”

But Knight, who self-identifies as the organizer of solidarity actions with Wet’suwet’en in Vancouver, isn’t from Canada.

Police make arrests at Port of Vancouver protest
Police make arrests at Port of Vancouver protest

She told Global News Tuesday that she was of Yurok and Navajo ancestry with roots in California and New Mexico, and came to the country eight years ago for school, though did not want to discuss her immigration status.

“I don’t think I need to share my status with you,” she said.

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READ MORE: Pipeline protesters near Port of Vancouver, Deltaport arrested following court injunction

Knight earned a PhD from Simon Fraser University, where she graduated with the Dean’s Convocation medal for her dissertation Dispossessed Indigeneity: Literary Excavations of Internalized Colonialism, described by the school as moving “between the separate fields of Marxism, feminism, settler colonialism, and critical Indigenous studies.”

Perhaps presciently, her doctoral advisor Dr. Deanna Reader lauded Knight as a promising scholar and “one who will make an enormous contribution to public debates and urgent social issues in academia and well beyond.”

In the Fraser Valley, there is another activist group that’s either organized or facilitated a series of rail blockades, including two that forced the cancellation of West Coast Express service.

Protests cause more problems in Metro Vancouver
Protests cause more problems in Metro Vancouver

Formerly the Alliance Against Displacement, the group relaunched in January with a “wider mandate” as the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism.

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On its website, the group calls itself a “revolutionary working class and Indigenous organization active on lands occupied by British Columbia, Canada.”

READ MORE: Police clear rail blockades of West Coast Express, CN tracks near New Hazelton

The group has been active since 2013, but one of its key organizers, Ivan Drury, has deeper roots — going back to the three-month squat at the old Woodwards building in 2002.

Since then, he’s been the ubiquitous face of the group at tent cities from Nanaimo to Vancouver to Maple Ridge and in the campaign against Burnaby demovictions.

Anti-pipeline protests stop West Coast Express
Anti-pipeline protests stop West Coast Express

In January, he took the lead on a plan to set up an “anti-RCMP checkpoint” outside B.C. RCMP headquarters in Surrey in response to the force’s actions in Wet’suwet’en territory.

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READ MORE: West Coast Express resumes service as protesters lift Coquitlam blockade

Drury did not respond to requests for comment.

Global News asked the Red Braid Alliance how a group that was founded on housing advocacy became a central actor in a series of civil disobedience actions in the Indigenous sovereignty movement, but they didn’t want to talk.

“We don’t want to talk to you on the record about that right now,” said the organization’s Listen Chen, reached by phone, “because it feels like a distraction from the movement as a whole.”