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U of Winnipeg to reschedule protest-disrupted speech

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University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy said he is deeply disappointed protesters made it impossible for Phil Fontaine to make a scheduled speech today.

The protesters felt Fontaine, formerly a leader in First Nations circles, has sold out by accepting a job with TransCanada pipeline, a natural gas and oil pipeline developer. Fontaine was also named to the board of directors of NB Power.

The protesters chanted and beat drums in the area at the U of W where Fontaine was scheduled to give a free lecture.

Fontaine, a former Assembly of First Nations grand chief, was supposed to speak on First Nations issues in the past, present and future but he was unable to speak because of the noise of the protesters, some of whom had painted their faces and held placards protesting oil-industry development.

Jo Seenie, who addressed Fontaine from among the group of protesters, said Fontaine "doesn’t speak on behalf of all the Anishnabe."

"We are disappointed and disgusted that he would actually work for the enemy, TransCanada, in terms of protecting the land and the waters and the future of our unborn. We are Anishnabe people of this land. We need to voice for her, for Mother Earth," she said in an interview.

"We want these corporations to stop the greediness of destroying the marrow of Mother Earth."

Axworthy said the speech will be rescheduled.

"It is deeply unfortunate that today a small group of protestors disrupted this important lecture," Axworthy said in a news release.

"We were encouraged that there was such a strong student, faculty and community interest in hearing Dr. Fontaine’s speak. Our Convocation Hall was standing room only.

"Within the Indigenous traditions, all members of the community have a voice. In a university environment, we expect that people may disagree and hold strong views. We also expect that everyone is given the opportunity to state those views and to be heard. The protestors today employed intentionally disruptive tactics to silence all voices but their own."

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 6:50 PM CST: Corrects third paragraph, making it clear Fontaine was to give a free lecture.

8:39 PM: Adds quotes from Jo Seenie.

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