‘I’m glad to leave Ottawa’: Veteran Nunavut protestor caught in Ottawa blockade

Veteran Nunavut protester

Every new flag at these protests can send you into a Google rabbit hole, and this one is no different. That blue flag with the white cross and five starbursts is known as the Eureka flag. Originally it stood for a revolt in Australia in the mid 1800s. Today, it has been embraced by Australian right-wingers and white supremacists, but labour groups and the Australian Communist Party have been trying to reclaim the symbol. This one was spotted over the weekend in Ottawa, right next to a Q Anon flag. Photo: Jason Leroux/APTN.


If you live on Baffin Island, you know Ottawa. The national capital is a hub for eastern Nunavut’s Qikiqtani region, for air travel and for medical treatment.

Iqaluit’s Leesee Papatsie was in Ottawa last week supporting her husband’s medical visit.

“I’m glad to leave Ottawa, how about that,” said Papatsie from her Iqaluit home. “I thought it might just be a protest. Come Friday, all day Friday, night, people started coming in, checking in to the hotel.  All the people that were checking in that day and the next day were not wearing masks at all.”

Papatsie isn’t alone in taking the trip to the centre of the Ottawa anti-vaccine mandate protests.

Last week, 96 Nunavummiut were in Ottawa, either are patients or escorts for patients. Many of them stayed downtown. There have been reports of maskless people in hotels intimidating other guests. Papatsie said she got lucky, the protestors at her hotel weren’t wearing masks, but they were mostly kind.

“I have to say, the actual people at the hotel, the people were really nice. They asked us if we needed help with our bags, they tried to help us. I think these were the good protestors, they must have been,” said Papatsie.

Veteran Nunavut protester
Leesee Papatsie, seen here at one of her Feeding My Family protests. She founded the group to protest the high cost of living in Nunavut, but even this veteran protestor was taken aback by what she saw during the Ottawa blockade. Photo: APTN.

That said, she saves her empathy for the workers at the hotel being exposed to the maskless patrons, as friendly as they were to her.

“That, to me, says there’s something wrong. No respect for the workers. My concern is for the hotel workers, having to work at that hotel, and having to put up with that.”

No stranger to protests herself, Papatsie has tons of experience. She was one of the founders of Feeding My Family, the group that had some of Nunavut’s first public protests.

Her protests were pickets with signs, not full blockades. The people who made up the Feeding My Family protests were also very different from Ottawa.

‘It was very, very white,” says Papatsie. “I’d say 99 per cent of the people with signs and trucks and stuff are white. It’s intimidating [being there] with brown skin. And to see those flags. The Confederate flag. I was lucky, I have my husband, who’s white.

“Him being white was my protection. I knew I’d be OK because I’m walking with a white guy.”

Papatsie estimates her downtown hotel was 10 or 15 minutes away from the large group on Wellington Street, but the noise carried very well.

“The honking at night was really loud, and they have fireworks,” explained Papastie. “The street we were at, the cars were constantly driving by and honking.

“It was intimidating. It was not right,” says Papatsie with a shake of her head. “It didn’t feel right.”

Outside the hotel, Papatsie didn’t get the same level of respect she got while inside.

“When we were walking, a truck passed by and they yelled ‘take the mask off, you need to breathe.’ In the hotel, we didn’t experience that, and I think we were very lucky.”

As for other Nunavummiut who need to brave Ottawa during this extended protest, Papatsie has some very simple advice, “Don’t stay downtown. The taxis are avoiding the hotels downtown. Don’t go anywhere downtown. Medical travel should be telling people not to stay in down,” she said.

 

Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.