An Algonquin elder from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg says truck convoy protesters in downtown Ottawa and their supporters, some of whom have been conducting First Nations ceremonies, are overstepping their boundaries.
“We don’t know who these people are,” said Claudette Commanda.
The protest in Ottawa, now almost a week old, started in opposition to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. It has since expanded into a movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, including provincial vaccine mandates, masks and restrictions.
Videos and photos circulated on social media this week showing a group of convoy supporters conducting pipe ceremonies and singing hand drum songs at Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa.
Ottawa is located on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin, and Commanda said it is disrespectful for First Nations people who aren’t from the region to conduct ceremonies on their territory without following proper protocols.
“We never go into anyone’s territory and assert ourselves, unlike these people who have come here and have asserted themselves by claiming either A, they’re Algonquin or B, they’re hereditary or C, that they are medicine men and women,” said Commanda.
On Wednesday, the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg issued a statement saying they do not support the convoy and the actions taking place on their territory were “unacceptable.”
“The Algonquin Nation does not support the setup of a teepee, the pipe ceremony and a sacred fire in Confederation Park in support of the ‘Freedom Convoy,'” read the statement signed by all three chiefs.
“First Nations and non-Indigenous people should always remember protocol and that permission from us needed to proceed.”
Savanna McGregor, grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, said she hopes the protest will be finished soon.
“They need to respect our wishes and the citizens of Ottawa,” said McGregor.
Handling of Alberta demonstration draws criticism
In Alberta, the chief and council of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation issued a news release Thursday about a demonstration at the U.S.-Canada border at Coutts, Alta.
The demonstration, which is tied to the Ottawa protest over federal rules for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated truckers entering Canada from the United States, has seen a number of trucks block the border crossing into the U.S., though protesters opened one lane in each direction on Wednesday. Only limited amounts of traffic are proceeding into Montana.
“If this blockade was being organized by Indigenous people, we have no doubt that authorities would respond quickly to remove the blockade and utilize the law that has been created to do so,” the statement said.
The fact that the demonstration is being allowed to continue shows “the disparity between how Indigenous and non-Indigenous protests are approached by our government,” the statement said.
“If peaceful protests of critical infrastructure at Coutts is allowed, then we expect the same to be true in the future should Indigenous people engage in similar forms of protest.”