(Justin Trudeau in the ceremonial teepee on Parliament Hill Friday. Photo: Russ Diabo/Twitter)
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he delivered a message of respect and reconciliation Friday to Indigenous activists who have set up a ceremonial teepee on Parliament Hill ahead of Canada Day celebrations.
The prime minister and his wife arrived at the site mid-morning, as downtown Ottawa buzzed with preparations for the July 1 event that’s expected to bring around half a million people into the downtown core.
The Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., had arrived Wednesday night to erect the teepee and engage in what they are calling a “reoccupation” to draw attention to the history of Indigenous people in Canada during 150th birthday celebrations this weekend.
Originally the group clashed with police, who arrested nine people and refused to allow the teepee, but all nine were released and the structure was set up close to the main stage.
The Trudeaus spent about 30 minutes inside the teepee; on Thursday, the prime minister has said their position is understandable and must be respected.
This picture was just sent to me. It seems PMJT is in the tipi on parliament hill & organizers aren't allowed in? pic.twitter.com/IK1IAyybn4
— Russ Diabo (@RussDiabo) June 30, 2017
The Bawaating Water Protesters are just one of many Indigenous groups planning protests this weekend to draw attention to the fact that for them, there is nothing to celebrate.
Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said Friday the government respects the group’s right to protest peacefully.
“We know that millions of Canadians will be celebrating tomorrow, but not all Canadians,” she said.
“In the context of Canada 150, it is our time to reflect on the darker chapters that happened in our history and also work towards reconciliation and make sure that the next 150 years are way better when it comes to relationships with Indigenous Peoples.”
Ottawa resident George Neville was on the Hill to show his support for those who brought the teepee to Parliament Hill.
“I think it’s reprehensible how they were treated initially,” Neville said of the early arrests.
“But they won out. They made their case.”
Many streets around Parliament Hill closed Friday and massive concrete barricades blocked routes; a security sweep in the morning included officers looking into and under the decorative planters which line the roads.
There were lineups to get through screening stations that will allow access to celebration sites Saturday, as security officials used Friday as a run through for tomorrow’s festivities.
“The hoops you have to go through, it’s like a cattle shed here,” Neville said of security.
“It seems extreme for a country like Canada.”
Workers were busy putting the final touches on the main stage as visitors, who came from across the country and the world, snapped pictures by the centennial flame, hoping to get the large Canada 150 sign hanging over the stage in the background.
Others milled around the Sparks Street pedestrian mall under a grey overcast sky.
Joly described the mood as hectic ahead of Saturday’s events, which will include the Prince of Wales, but stressed federal officials are ready in terms of security, organization and the show itself.
“We want people to be able to celebrate and have fun and we want to showcase the best of Canada. That’s exactly what we’ve been working for two years and now this is our big moment.”