Indigenous organizations across the country are showing solidarity with Algonquin Nation leaders as they resist cultural appropriation and oppose the anti-vaccine mandate occupation of their traditional unceded territory in downtown Ottawa.
On Wednesday activists blockading Parliament Hill held a pipe ceremony, lit a sacred fire and planned to erect a teepee at Confederation Park — moves Algonquin leaders swiftly denounced as “unacceptable” and potentially harmful.
The events lent the appearance of official First Nations support for the movement, but Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda says they were an insult.
“The Confederation Park interlopers need to go,” said Commanda via email Thursday night. “They are disrespecting the Algonquin people, our protocols, our land and our spirituality, and our Ancestors!”
The park hosts the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, which, like the cenotaph up the street, was reportedly peed on during a rally an estimated 8,000 people attended last weekend.
The region is unsurrendered territory subject to land claim negotiations and civil lawsuits launched by Algonquin groups like Commanda’s community of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, which is situated in Quebec about 130 kilometres north of Ottawa.
“Anyone who is a legitimate First Nation person would never assert themselves on another First Nation territory, or claim they are hereditary holders to Algonquin land, or self proclaim themselves as medicine people,” Commanda continued.
“These false prophets need to go find their own identity. Stop appropriating First Nation Anishinaabe identity, our culture, our spirituality, our land!”
Some Indigenous people do support the movement, and a few Every Child Matters flags and other Indigenous flags can be spotted around Ottawa. But a growing chorus of leaders condemn what they see.
The Chiefs of Ontario organization, which advocates on behalf of the 133 First Nations in the province, slammed the “misinformation and cultural appropriation” on display.
“The actions taken during the events in Ottawa are deeply offensive,” said Regional Chief Glen Hare via press release Thursday evening. “Cultural appropriation of First Nations ceremonial items and protocol is colonial violence. I condemn these actions and harmful stereotypes, in addition to the racism and antisemitism displayed throughout the convoy, in the strongest terms.”
Those actions included the apparent appropriation of First Nations drumming by protesters shouting “yaba daba doo” next to the Centennial Flame. A Nazi swastika flag and confederate flags were spotted at the rally while many businesses in the city centre have been shuttered for a week.
The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians also offered support for Algonquin leaders defending the authority and integrity of their culture. The Manitoba Métis Federation slammed what it calls “the anti-vax trucker convoy” and showed the same solidarity.
“It is my understanding that some of the leaders of this protest have either called themselves Métis or have used Métis symbols, like our sash, to encourage the appearance of Indigenous support for their protest,” said federation President David Chartrand. “These individuals and this convoy in no way represent what we believe in.”
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron spoke out “against bigotry, hatred and racism in all forms” and also supported the Algonquins leaders. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan also vigorously panned the “ignorant acts of cultural appropriation.” Three organizations representing chiefs in Manitoba offered the same sentiment.
The convoy of big-rigs and other vehicles has jammed traffic on many downtown roads. Some occupiers have set up makeshift campsites while pushing residents close to their wits’ end with incessant horn honking and partying in the streets.
Social-assistance organizations like women’s and homeless shelters also expressed concern about the occupation’s impact on their clients. Tungasuvvingat Inuit, which delivers programs aimed at thousands of Inuit, said the blockade is causing “anxiety and increased fear.”
A picture tweeted out by federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino from inside RCMP headquarters showed a large red occupied zone covering the entire city core. Mendicino told reporters Friday the federal Liberals will send more Mounties to beef up the municipal force.
“You have seniors and disabled people who can’t get around because they don’t have access to public transportation, and we are hearing many, many reports — very disconcerting reports — about young women who are being harassed or are being intimidated,” Mendicino said. “I think that the prospects for confrontation remain high.”
Critics have accused Ottawa police of badly bungling their response to the occupation and, at times, appearing to support it by facilitating the delivery of fuel. Officers have been largely standing down and observing or roving around the streets in small bands.
They refused to ticket or tow vehicles between Friday and Sunday “so as not to instigate confrontations with demonstrators,” according to a release. Police Chief Peter Sloly was asked Friday morning to respond to those criticisms.
“This remains, as it was from the beginning, an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration,” remarked Sloly. “I take great empathy with those that have endured unacceptable violations of their ability to live and raise their families and conduct their businesses in this city.”
He promised to punish any officer caught facilitating the protest — something he denied is happening — and added that he and other officials have been receiving death threats. The force is stretched beyond its capacity and needs help from federal and provincial agencies, he said.
Watch Fraser Needham’s story about TI’s concerns with the protest:
The force has arrested three people, issued 30 tickets and launched about a dozen criminal probes since Sunday when they started slowly clamping down. He said police recently nabbed a man en route to the protest with a gun.
He also said police are adopting a “surge and contain” strategy to harden and expand the red zone while bracing for a possible influx of 300 to 400 hundred more trucks, 1,000 to 2,000 more protesters, and 1,000 counter-protesters.
Some federal Conservatives are now calling for the occupation to disperse, though its leaders have generally supported the movement.