PHIL Fontaine, the former Assembly of First Nations national chief, was unable to deliver his speech at a scheduled appearance at the University of Winnipeg on Wednesday after he was drowned out by a group of shouting, drumming First Nations protesters.
The protesters had blended in with the crowd in the packed U of W Convocation Hall. About two minutes into Fontaine's speech, they brought out large signs and began to call Fontaine out on his new job with TransCanada Pipeline, a natural gas and oil pipeline developer.
Protesters accused Fontaine of "selling out" as U of W officials attempted to convince them to participate in a meeting following Fontaine's address.
"We wanted to send a message that we are opposed to TransCanada and that we were there on behalf of our allies and our allies from Lakota territory to bring a message to Phil that he won't be allowed in the territory because he sold out," said Jo Seenie, who addressed Fontaine from among the group of protesters.
"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."
University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy called an end to the event after Fontaine was shouted down a second time. Fontaine was escorted from the room as his supporters and protesters shouted at each other.
A U of W press release issued later stated: "It is deeply unfortunate that today a small group of protesters disrupted this important lecture."
The release noted that "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 protesters today employed intentionally disruptive tactics to silence all voices but their own."
Fontaine's scheduled speech was "to share his insights on critical issues facing Canadians today, including the issue of resource extraction and development in a manner that balances the needs of indigenous people, protects the environment and allows for private-sector engagement," the release said.
Seenie said her people, which began by singing the Mother Earth Song and ended with the Ancestors Song, believed the best way to get Fontaine's attention was at the public event.
"He doesn't speak on behalf of all the Anishnabe. We do not agree with the pipeline, Enbridge or KXL or Eastern Energy. We want these corporations to stop the greediness of destroying the marrow of mother Earth," she said, referring to other TransCanada projects.
Fontaine's new job is to be a go-between for TransCanada Corp. and the 180 aboriginal communities located along the Energy East Pipeline's 4,500-kilometre path, many of which have expressed concern for wetlands and wildlife welfare. TransCanada's website (www.transcanada.com) states the proposed project would see a new pipeline built in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed 1,897-kilometre crude oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb.
The U of W statement said Fontaine's speech will be rescheduled. Seenie would not say whether that event will also be attended by protesters.
-- with files from Austin Grabish