A press conference with family members of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls devolved into shouts of “white lady,” “white man,” and demands for respect after a journalist asked whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the person to blame for missing indigenous teens in Northern Ontario.
“Excuse me?” said Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, flanked by advocates for and family members of missing women and girls.
“Excuse me, did I just hear you correctly?”
Julie Van Dusen, a CBC television reporter who asked the question, tried to interrupt, explaining she’d like to hear Wabano-Iahtail’s opinion on any differences between Trudeau’s record on indigenous affairs with that of his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
Wabano-Iahtail and the group’s elder, Sophie McKeown, spoke over her, telling the reporter “no,” “stop,” and to “not speak to us” that way.
“We are human beings and the way you are speaking to us shows no respect,” said McKeown, who was said to have recently suffered a stroke.
“We don’t want you here. Can you please leave? Step out. You have no right.”
Glen McGregor then from CTV News piped in, defending the question as “not racist.”
McKeown and Wabano-Iahtail, standing side by side at a podium in a press conference room on Parliament Hill, wanted none of it.
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They said the problem is the way Van Dusen communicated her question. The reporter pushed back, telling the women she was not trying to be insulting or insinuate anything, but her words were drowned out again with shouts of “stop,” “you don’t do that,” and “no.”
“You’re a guest here, and you don’t even know how to speak to us. You don’t even recognize the tone in your voice, in your delivery,” Wabano-Iahtail said before telling the Van Dusen she was cut off.
McGregor then said he would re-ask the question, and was warned to be respectful.
“I’m being totally respectful,” he said back. “I’m asking how Justin Trudeau’s record compared to Stephen Harper’s record. Do you think he’s improved the situation? I think that’s what [CBC reporter] Julie was asking.”
Upon finishing his question, the women chastised McGregor for speaking on behalf of his colleague.
“You know what, white people? You’ve had your voice here for 524 years,” Wabano-Iahtail said.
“Five hundred and twenty-four years you’ve been visible, white lady … Look how fast your white man comes and stands up for you. Where is everybody else to come and stand up for us?”
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In short order, Wabano-Iahtail answered the reporters’ questions.
“As far as how Justin Trudeau is doing, one of the things we have to keep in mind is we’re asking the United Nations to help us … Because your Liberal party was also responsible – every party, your every government that has been in power, there’s been a war conflict” she said, citing residential schools and the 60s scoop.
“None of your governments have clean hands. All of your governments have blood on your hands.”
And soon after that, she declared the press conference finished.
“Look how many people came to bat for you, white lady. And you’re a guest here. Without us, you’d be homeless. This is over.”
Tensions were already running high in Ottawa Thursday morning, hours after a group of indigenous protesters had a run in with law enforcement on Parliament Hill.
The demonstrators kicked off a four-day Canada Day protest when they successfully erected a teepee in front of Parliament Hill, not long after police thwarted their initial attempt.
Organizers say the demonstration marked the first day of a “reoccupation” ceremony to counter Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations because Indigenous Peoples have little reason to celebrate colonization
A spokeswoman at the scene Thursday morning said 10 people were briefly held in custody before being released. Demonstrators initially said about 15-20 people had been taken into custody.
Candace Day Neveau, from a group called the Bawating Water Protectors that arrived in Ottawa from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Wednesday, said those arrested were ordered to stay away from Parliament Hill for six months
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Jessica Bolduc, who was with the Sault Ste. Marie group, said they wanted to build a teepee on what is unceded Algonquin territory.
She said it is also about recognizing there is much work to do before anyone can say Canada had achieved reconciliation.
With files from The Canadian Press
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