Juanita MacLeod created a stir when she arrived in full jingle dress regalia with a red hand painted across her face for a protest against vaccine mandates on Parliament Hill.
The Nipissing First Nation member and ’60s Scoop survivor joined the convoy in Barrie, Ont., as it lumbered toward Ottawa to block roads on Saturday.
“I firmly believe that, Canada being a free country, we should be allowed to make our own choices,” said McLeod, who is Otter Clan and also goes by the traditional name Odemin Kwe. “We should not be forced to do anything we don’t believe in.”
While launched to oppose a mandatory COVID-19 inoculation policy aimed at truckers, McLeod told Nation to Nation she joined the movement for “many, many reasons” of her own.
“My teachings from my elders that I received are to walk with an open heart. When you walk with an open heart, you will learn to walk in harmony,” she said. “We all want the same common goal. We want our freedoms. We want to be able to protect our waters, our lands. We want our other children that are still yet to be brought home, brought home.”
MacLeod returned to Barrie but for nearly a week the convoy of parked vehicles has continued blockading and occupying the city centre. The non-stop horn blaring, spewing of gas fumes and disruptive demonstrating has many locals on edge.
Confederate and Nazi swastika flags were spotted at the occasionally raucous weekend rally that prompted three arrests and about a dozen criminal probes. One anti-hate watchdog organization called the protest “nothing but a vehicle for the far right.”
Indigenous leaders, groups and observers also condemned the rally for its appropriation of First Nations drumming, which one senator called a “blatant act of racism.” Algonquin leaders similarly denounced ceremonies held without their permission on the nation’s unceded territory as potentially harmful.
Joy Henderson published a piece in The Toronto Star calling out the authorities for coddling the convoy while cracking down hard on Indigenous-led dissent.
“Police have essentially stood down to a very illegal and horrific protest,” said Henderson, who is a Black, Lakota educator, writer and activist living in Scarborough, Ont. “If we were to do a protest for Indigenous rights tomorrow, we would see the difference.”
After Henderson published the essay the backlash was immediate and extreme, she told N2N.
“It was an entire weekend of death threats, lewd insults, racism. It was just something I hadn’t encountered or even expected before,” she said, “and I have written controversial pieces.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s backing down. Henderson said she can understand why the movement’s rebellious, anti-establishment tone may attract frustrated Indigenous people the state has harmed.
“But I don’t necessarily think that this is it. This is not the cause that we need to get behind because they’re not here to help our issues,” she added.
MacLeod also got some blowback for showing solidarity. But that didn’t dampen her resolve either.
“We all have our issues with the government,” she said. “We need to stand up. Unite. It’s time to be heard for everything that they’ve done wrong to us.”
When asked what the government should do, she responded bluntly: “Trudeau needs to go.”
Indeed opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a palpably unifying sentiment for the group that has dwindled from thousands to a few hundred.
While Trudeau panned the convoy as a fringe movement and noted the Canadian Truckers Alliance deemed it misguided, the federal Conservatives hitched their wagon to it.
And yet amid the anti-Trudeau rhetoric, it was now-former Tory leader Erin O’Toole who lost his job after his own caucus revolted and ousted him in a leadership review.
Jamie Schmale is the Conservative critic on the Indigenous services file and represents the federal riding of Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. He joined N2N to assess the Liberals’ performance.
“I don’t think that changes anything in terms of how our party wants to proceed with our conversations with Indigenous communities,” said Schmale of O’Toole’s ejection. “Our priorities are still the same. We don’t believe the status quo is working.”
During his unsuccessful federal election campaign, O’Toole pledged to get tough on “illegal blockades” via new legislation. So, N2N asked Schmale, would that proposed law apply to the convoy roadblock on Parliament Hill?
“To me, I don’t think this does. However, I do think the individuals that have protested here in Ottawa have made their point,” he replied. “And I think we need to have conversations about how we ease or start the process of clearing out the downtown core.”
You can catch all three interviews above.