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Canadian Forces members disrupt indigenous ceremony in Halifax
Two First Nations gatherings in Nova Scotia were disrupted on Canada Day, and the Department of National Defence confirms five of the men involved in one of the incidents are members of the Canadian Forces.
A ceremony in downtown Halifax began with Chief Grizzly Mamma from Truro cutting off her braids and placing them at a statue of Edward Cornwallis, to symbolize the scalping and poor treatment of indigenous people during Cornwallis’ reign.
It was also a ceremony of mourning, and honoured missing and murdered indigenous women
Five men interrupted the service by attempting to pay homage to Cornwallis, who is known for issuing bounties for the scalps of Mi’kmaq people.
“It was so frustrating, because we're trying to do a ceremony, we're trying to help heal and mourn, and here you have a group of young white men, who are interrupting a group of indigenous women who are trying to do ceremony. It just felt like once again, we were made to feel less than,” said Halifax’s poet laureate Rebecca Thomas
The men identified themselves on a video that was posted to social media. The video shows the men, dressed in matching black and yellow polo-style shirts, approaching the indigenous demonstrators to debate the Mi’Kmaq’s claim to the land on which the ceremony was held.
“This was Mi’Kmaq territory. This is now Canada. This is Halifax, Nova Scotia,” said one man who arrived holding what appeared to be a Canadian Red Ensign flag. “This is a British colony.”
The Canadian Red Ensign, which bears the Union Jack in the corner, was the national flag until it was replaced by the Maple Leaf design in 1965.
People who were in attendance say the men claimed they were members of “Proud Boys,” a U.S.-based ultra-conservative fraternity-like group that believes in “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”
National Defence spokesman Daniel LeBouthillier has confirmed that all five men involved in the incident are members of the Canadian Forces, and at least two of the men are in the Navy.
In a statement to CTV News, the spokesperson for the minister of defence said: “Canada is strong because of our diversity and our values of promoting peace, democracy and human rights for all. The Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence are inclusive and diverse organizations, and racism and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated."
Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd and Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk, the commanders of the the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army, also posted a joint statement on Facebook, saying the actions of a few of its members don't reflect its commitment to being an inclusive and diverse organization.
All five men involved were contacted by CTV News, but they didn’t return phone calls.
The incident wasn’t the only disruption at an indigenous gathering on Saturday. In Stewiacke, members of The Water Protectors say fireworks were shot off at their camp at Alton Gas.
Protesters are stationed at Alton Gas because the company wants to hollow out salt caverns near Fort Ellis, and propose the salt brine be released into the Shubenacadie River.
“To me, it was an act of terrorism. To us here at the camp, this is a prayerful camp, a peaceful camp, it's a water protectors camp,” says Dorene Bernard, a member of The Water Protectors.
Bernard says on Saturday, a group of three men drove by in a black truck and shot off fireworks into the crowd. A woman, who asked to be identified only as Carol, says it sounded like gunfire.
“They yelled Happy Canada Day to us, and then they sped off,” says Carol.
Carol says, while the interaction was racist, it was nothing new to her.
“I didn't feel any more racism than I'm used to feeling in Canada and throughout my whole life. I mean, it’s dangerous for an indigenous woman,” she says.
The RCMP were called, but explained there was nothing they could do without a licence plate.
“We’re comparing these small things that happened, but our people are dying, our kids are killing themselves. We still have 93 reserves without clean water, but Trudeau can spend $500 million on celebrating this fake birthday,” says Carol.
The women say they will continue to gather and perform their ceremonies, even with threats.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff