Drivers are being warned traffic on Highway 1 will be slowed Friday by round dances protesting the poverty of Indigenous people in Manitoba.
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in Manitoba, is organizing a series of weekly events in different locations across the province every Friday leading up to the provincial election on Sept. 10.
Representatives from the organization plan to begin their protest on the Trans Canada Highway on the Manitoba side at 5:30 p.m. — just in time for rush hour leading into the weekend. Their exact location will be determined when attendees arrive.
"It’s unfortunate that it gets to this point. We really don’t wish any harm on anybody, we just want people to take our concerns seriously and be treated respectfully as any other human being," said Jerry Daniels, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.
"We really don’t wish any harm on anybody, we just want people to take our concerns seriously and be treated respectfully as any other human being." -SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels
The round dances will be spread out in 15-minute intervals over two hours to break up traffic delays. Attendees will also hand out information pamphlets to passersby.
Daniels said the aim is to slow traffic, not halt it altogether. He expects at least 20 people will attend.
The main reason for the event, Daniels said, is chronic poverty in Indigenous communities.
"We’re the original owners of this land and we’re the most marginalized. The children do not come into this world wanting to be in jail, wanting bad outcomes," he said.
Nearly a quarter of Indigenous people living off reserve in Manitoba were living in poverty in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. Meanwhile, on reserves, Indigenous child poverty rates in the province were ranked the highest in the country that same year.
Daniels said the organization will also demand the province treat First Nations as equal partners. He pointed to the province's Economic Growth Action Plan, which was rolled out last year, and doesn't list any Indigenous organizations as strategic partners.
Traffic is expected to be "slowed considerably" while protesters provide pamphlets to motorists about their concerns between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, said RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre.
In a statement, Manaigre said RCMP expect both lanes of travel to be affected, with the most impact felt in the eastbound lane as people drive to their cottages.
"The RCMP respects and protects the right to a lawful protest, as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our role is only to ensure the safety of the parties involved." -RCMP spokesperson Paul Manaigre
The grand chief put out an invitation to the public to join the circle and dance online Thursday.
In response, Facebook users raised concerns about traffic delays slowing emergency service vehicles and voiced opinions about the protest resulting in driver frustration rather than evoking empathy.
Others posted threats and racist messages. One user said he hopes the protest causes a major accident and that all involved get arrested.
When asked about the comments, Daniels said they "reveal truth in how people really are — and maybe that’s what we need to see.
"Canada needs to look in the mirror."
The organization contacted the RCMP in advance because SCO spokesperson Vic Savino said they are aware it's illegal to block or obstruct a highway, an act that can result in a penalty up to five years in prison.
"The idea is not to aggravate the drivers, we just want to inform them," Savino said.
RCMP will notify the public about traffic delays in the area via social media.
"The RCMP respects and protects the right to a lawful protest, as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Manaigre said in a statement. "Our role is only to ensure the safety of the parties involved."
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.