Elder supports removal of legislature camp, calling it a ‘mockery’
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Sixty officers carefully dismantled a teepee encampment at the front of the Manitoba legislature Tuesday as a handful of protesters from the reprised version of the “freedom convoy” heckled them.
“You take down my house, I’ll take down your house,” one woman shouted at the officers who converged on the area where additional security fencing was put up for the removal of the occupation.
“There is no COVID,” yelled a man from the encampment they called a “law lodge” that had illegally occupied the grounds of the legislature for at least three months. New security legislation that took effect June 1 prohibits encampments in the legislature precinct.
Supporters have said they don’t recognize the government or its laws, and berated reporters whom they accused of being paid off by the government. The illegal occupation ended on Tuesday. On Monday, police stopped supporters from delivering more poles to erect a third teepee.
Winnipeg police say weapons were found in the camp and at least seven people were arrested Monday. They have been charged with obstructing a peace officer and depositing items in the legislative precinct that support an extended stay.
On Tuesday, the encampment’s leader and at least two others occupying the front lawn of the legislature were arrested for breaching the peace. The “clan mother” Si Pih Ko, also known as Trina Francois, was handcuffed and put in the paddy wagon for breaching the peace. So was Phil McLellan, who spoke to reporters Monday about officers preventing the “necessities of life” from being delivered to the encampment, and claimed police had used brute force in Monday’s arrests.
“The Winnipeg police and Manitoba government officials made the decision to dismantle the camp today as a result of escalating threats of bodily harm, the indication of weapons and aggressive behaviour by north camp occupants,” police said in a news release Tuesday.
Police, conservation officers and security officials methodically went to work removing the encampment.
Conservation officers dismantled two teepees pole by pole and loaded them onto a flatbed truck. Kitchen tents, a fire pit, firewood, a gas barbecue and an accumulation of household items and furniture were loaded onto trucks and taken away.
As crews continued to take down the final teepee, at least two people wearing face coverings and what appeared to be a protective vest rushed the north fence line, shaking the chain link, before police approached and the people dispersed.
When a Bobcat bulldozer removed the last of the debris, Sagkeeng First Nation elder Mary Starr wasn’t sad to see the encampment go.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on here that I have very deep concerns about,” Starr said as she watched the north lawn encampment being taken down. She’s been part of another encampment set up on the east lawn of the legislative grounds in June 2021 to maintain a sacred fire until all unmarked graves at former residential schools are identified
The survivor of Fort Alexander Indian Residential School said she’s had nothing to do with the north-side encampment but stopped by on Monday night.
“All I saw was a bunch of young kids getting stoned out of their minds and they have ‘the law lodge,’” she said, pointing to a sign in front of the dismantled teepees. “I think to myself ‘the law lodge’? Is that the way they want to move forward — with a bunch of kids stoned out of their minds?,” she said Tuesday.
Starr — who also goes by Danko Makwa Kaypeytashete, which translates to Great Grand Mother Bear Who Comes Like The Wind — said she supported Si Pih Ko/Francois when she went to Alberta and sang a protest version of O Canada to Pope Francis.
“I thought she was very brave and courageous to do that, but when I see a mockery of what’s going on here, then my support started to dwindle,” she said. “There’s a lot of non-natives here who speak on her behalf,” Starr said.
The Sagkeeng elder hopes the sacred fire encampment on the east side can remain, and plans to discuss it with the government.
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen described the camp on the east lawn as an “operational issue” and said Winnipeg police are the lead law enforcement agency on the file.
Goertzen said security concerns about the encampment on the north lawn had escalated over the past number of weeks which prompted law enforcement officials, led by Winnipeg police, to move in.
“There have been over the last couple of weeks arrests for individuals who were trying to grow the encampment, there’ve been arrests of individuals who had outstanding warrants, there were arrests for individuals who were using things that could be used as dangerous weapons,” Goertzen told reporters Tuesday.
“Ultimately, we were hoping for a different type of resolution,” he said.
The governing Progressive Conservatives did not provide direction to law enforcement on how or when to address the security concerns, Goertzen said, but added the province expects laws to be enforced.
“Police ultimately decide in terms of the enforcement, so police have decided, you know, today and (Monday) you saw actions based on their own decision-making process in terms of when and how to take action,” he said.
Members of the encampments on both the north and east lawns were handed eviction notices on Aug. 17 and told to vacate within a week. However, Goertzen acknowledged activity at the two camps had ramped up following the notice, with the encampment on the north lawn increasing in size.
“This was something different that was prohibiting other people potentially from protesting and other people from exercising their democratic rights,” Goertzen said.
Fencing now surrounds the north lawn of the legislature to prevent structures from once again being raised.
“It means a lot to me that this house, that this building feels like it belongs to Manitobans, but it can only feel that way if all of us respect it as a place to be safe and as a place to come and have your views heard but not to come and stay and cause others to feel unsafe,” the justice minister said.
The province said the teepees were “carefully and respectfully dismantled and will be stored in the same manner and returned to its owners.”
Earlier in the day, an assembly to honour the National Day of Action for MMIWG2S+ at the legislature took place without interruption, police said.
“Once the MMIWG2S+ assembly dissipated, police cleared participants from the north camp to enable Manitoba government officials to safely and without interruption de-commission the north camp in its entirety,” police said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 4:23 PM CDT: Corrects name to Si Pih Ko
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 5:17 PM CDT: Adds video of teepee being taken down
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 5:33 PM CDT: Removes duplicated wording
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 7:18 PM CDT: Writethru
Updated on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 8:26 PM CDT: Corrects timeline
Updated on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 8:05 AM CDT: Adds byline
Updated on Wednesday, October 5, 2022 10:40 AM CDT: Expands byline