Demonstrators blocked off Portage and Main, holding a round dance Wednesday afternoon in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en protesters in B.C.
Traffic was diverted from the downtown Winnipeg intersection as people chanted, sang and danced. Many carried signs condemning the $6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline project and calling on the RCMP to leave Wet’suwet’en traditional territory, after arrests in B.C. sparked protests across Canada.
Such demonstrations have been frequent in the Manitoba capital and surrounding area in recent weeks, including a rally in front of Manitoba RCMP headquarters two days prior.
Brielle Beardy-Linklater, a two-spirit community activist, said Wednesday she has attended every event in Winnipeg in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs thus far. She said the constant action is meant to enforce a message to people in the city and beyond.
"It’s the consistency, and the message we’re trying to send to Canadians," she said. "That we’re still here, and we still hold title to the land as Indigenous people, no matter which Indigenous background that is. We’re here on treaty land, treaties that were signed years and years ago for our benefit from our ancestors.
"So when we’re peacefully assembling, we’re trying to demonstrate as a people what we are."
Tensions briefly flared during the demonstration Wednesday, after a man entered the circle of protesters and confronted speakers. The man was escorted away by police; no charges were filed.
Joseph Munro, co-founder of the First Nations Indigenous Warriors — a non-profit that seeks to break stereotypes and provide support to Indigenous communities — said the incident spoke to the "aggression" toward First Nations people in the city.
He said the group’s presence at Portage and Main was, in part, to provide safety services.
"Our mandate here is to make sure that nobody is attacked by an outside group that’s trying to come and stop what we’re doing here," Munro said. "And that’s partly what the warrior job is to do here: to make sure there’s peace and safety here to do it."
While many in attendance were regular attendees of recent solidarity demonstrations, some were experiencing it for the first time.
Sherise Fleury said attending her first rally Wednesday was emotionally intense, and she hoped people witnessing the demonstration would approach it with empathy.
"This isn’t to ask people for support, this isn’t a movement of support," she said. "This is a movement, I think, to understand the injustices that we’ve felt for so long."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 8:37 PM CST: Adds photos
8:45 PM: Updates layout