New security fencing has been erected along the west side of the Manitoba Legislative Building ahead of Canada Day weekend.
Manitoba Justice also confirmed, among its security plans, the front driveway has been completely blocked to vehicles for the first time since February, when the so-called "freedom convoy" occupied Memorial Boulevard.
On July 1, 2021, protesters spurred by discoveries of potential unmarked gravesites at former residential schools across Canada toppled and beheaded a larger-than-life Queen Victoria statue on the front lawn of the legislature grounds.
Two weeks ago, a small group connected to the "freedom convoy" erected a giant teepee near where the statue had been located, to the puzzlement of Manitoba First Nations leadership.
"I have no idea who they are," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs acting grand chief Cornell McLean said Thursday.
The group’s Facebook page was set up in February to support the Manitoba "freedom convoy." It’s now calling itself "It Takes a Village," and acknowledges in a video most people gathering at its site are non-Indigenous.
McLean said he can’t comment on the actions that particular group, but "I just want to say, with the non-Aboriginal groups, maybe they’re not getting any traction, so they figure if they mix in with the First Nations people, then maybe they’ll get some traction."
During the "freedom convoy" occupation of Ottawa in February, the Chiefs of Ontario issued a statement condemning protesters for spreading misinformation and appropriating Indigenous culture.
The anti-government, anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate group occupying the teepee in front of the Manitoba legislature has raised the flags of the American Indian Movement and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Some of those involved say they’re Indigenous; they’re calling the encampment a "law lodge." Reporters have been warned to stay off their "private lawn" and away from their "sacred fire."
Like the "freedom convoy" protesters, group members say they mistrust news media. On social media, they oppose government laws and vaccine requirements while supporting conspiracy theories about the world economy and chemtrails.
"I’m not sure what the purpose is of their protest," said McLean.
The acting AMC leader said he’s spoken to Justice Minister Kelvin Goerzten about a small group of American Indian Movement supporters who’d been protesting on Highway 6 near Fairford, but were moving to the legislature grounds Thursday.
One resident of the area near the legislature said she’s concerned the protesters who in February blocked roads, occupied Memorial Boulevard and hectored passersby are back — and have been allowed to take root on the grounds.
"What the heck is going on?" said the recent retiree who lives in Osborne Village. The woman who agreed to be interviewed if her name wasn’t published, because she is scared of retaliation from protesters.
At first, she assumed the giant teepee set up two weeks ago was connected to an Indigenous group that’s peacefully camped on the eastern side of the legislature for more than a year. When she found out it was connected to the February protests, she grew alarmed.
"Are these different groups joining forces? If so, that’s very concerning."
The protesters have been allowed by the provincial government to park their vehicles near the teepee, while other vehicles are not allowed on the property unless they have business at the legislature.
"It just seems like a very foolish choice to let this take place, given what has happened (in February)," said the area resident.
"It just seems like a very foolish choice to let this take place, given what has happened (in February)." – Area resident
NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine has also raised concerns about security at the legislative building and the misappropriation of Indigenous culture by the protesters with the teepee in front of it.
"(On Tuesday), I had to ask security to walk me to my vehicle because of these so-called ‘sovereignists,’ lead by a non-Indigenous man with a British accent," Fontaine posted online.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.