By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are criticizing the anti-health order and vaccine mandate protests that continue to grip Ottawa and cities across the country and some are upset after seeing incidents at the protests of what they say is appropriation of Indigenous culture.The protests in Ottawa that have been going on for more than a week were originally planned to protest federal mandates that require Canadian truckers who cross the border from the U.S. into Canada to be vaccinated, or be tested for COVID-19 and isolate when they return to Canada.
But in a media release Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said he believes the protests and their original intentions have been “hijacked.”
“Sadly, it is evident that this `Freedom Convoy’ has now been highjacked by protestors that have no connection to the trucking industry,” Dumas said.
“They are using this protest to bolster their anti-vaccine stance.”
And while organizers claim these protests are about COVID-19 restrictions and health orders, Dumas said he believes through what he has witnessed that there are other and more hateful reasons that some are protesting.
“Everyone has seen the Nazi flags, desecration and misuse of Indigenous ceremony, hate-filled activities towards the homeless and residents of Ottawa, but also hate-filled misinformation towards First Nations Peoples,” Dumas said.
“How did an act professing personal autonomy of body allow itself to become usurped by messages and acts disrespecting First Nations and desecrating sites of war veterans?
“Moreover, how can people disrespect themselves to such a degree?”
And Dumas said he was also angry after seeing videos from Ottawa of protesters displaying First Nations objects during the protests.
“Social media posts and media reports also have shown protesters using objects that appear to be traditional First Nation sacred cultural objects such as drums and a peace pipe, and some protesters singing and drumming,” Dumas said.
“The AMC strongly opposes this type of cultural appropriation that inappropriately depicts the use of First Nation sacred objects.”
According to Dumas, he is also disturbed because some protesters have publicly said their goals include dissolving or overthrowing the current federal government, something he said that has not been part of recent First Nations protests in Canada.
“As First Nations people from this land, we love our country and have brought forward our concerns through peaceful protests. Never have we asked for dismantling of the government, but have continued to approach negotiations in a peaceful manner, despite all the oppression placed in our way.”
In a separate media release, Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) president David Chartrand also criticized the recent protests and the motives of some who are protesting, and he said they were “tarnishing” the public image of the entire trucking industry.
“We are saddened for the 90% of truckers who are fully vaccinated and have worked diligently throughout the pandemic, facing personal risk of exposure to COVID-19, severe weather and all other hazards to deliver much-needed supplies to Canadians,” Chartrand said.
“These individuals have worked hard and assumed risks over the course of this pandemic and are now forced to witness the tarnishing of their industry’s reputation.”
And with some images recently surfacing of Metis flags among the protesters in Ottawa, Chartrand said that those who are flying those flags do not represent MMF or the Red River Metis people.
“It is my understanding that some of the leaders of this protest have either called themselves Metis or have used Metis symbols to encourage the appearance of Indigenous support for their protest,” Chartrand said.
“Canadians and Red River Metis citizens always have the right to protest, but as your elected representatives, we have the duty to inform all Canadians that these individuals and this convoy in no way represent what we believe in.”
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.