Although Phil Fontaine was silenced in Winnipeg yesterday, the debate about whether or not he should have been allowed to speak still rages on online.  

The controversy started after protesters took over a planned talk by First Nations leader Phil Fontaine at the University of Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Fontaine was scheduled to speak on First Nations issues but just as he was about to begin, protesters interrupted with drumming and yelling. 

They said because of his new position with natural gas and oil pipeline developers TransCanada, he wasn't representing their interests, or thinking of the environment.  They're also concerned about TransCanada's Energy East Pipeline Project and how it could impact their traditional territories.

“How dare you, Phil!” charged protester Jo Seenie. “On your own people? Anishinaabe people? How dare you sell us out to work for the enemy that’s destroying this earth?”

We posted the news story on our Facebook page and our audience weighed in:

  • Graham Brett MacMurphy: Once again the INM crowd shows how ignorant they are. When will they realize that they are not the only voice of FN people. When you consider that somewhere around 10,000 FN and Metis work in the oil sands and in drilling rigs one can clearly see that there are those who disagree with the protesters​.
  • Rodger W. Ross: Fact of the matter is; they wanted a presentation on past, present and future indigenous issues and they paid the wrong guy to come in to discuss it...the way the oil industry is infringing on Traditional Indigenous Lands...there will be no future!

Fontaine saddened by confrontation

In an interview with CBC after the protest, Fontaine said he was saddened by the confrontation and added he believes he does stand up for the environment and First Nations.

“Have I been satisfied with everything that I’ve learned? Absolutely not. Have I expressed those views with industry? Absolutely,” he said. “[The protest] was not one of our shining moments as an aboriginal community.”

Other high profile First Nation leaders continued to weigh in on this today.

  • Wab Kinew: Phil Fontaine is a good man. That is all
  • Jess Gordon: Ahhh don't worry about ole Phil Fontaine. He's been doing this for years. I'm more concerned about the many that are using or only now finding their voices, being targeted as disrespectful. They are out there protecting you and Mother Earth after all. What's disrespectful is not creating those opportunities to speak with your people about wth you're up to. C'mon "Leaders" and old boys club chiefs...tough it out...wait til the drums and chants are done and answer questions. Let THEM speak.
  • Justice Murray Sinclair: I recall that when I was appointed to the court as a judge, I said, "Some will say that I am going over to the dark side and that I have turned my back on my people. I can see why they might think that, but, respectfully,
    ''This is not the first time that Phil has been accused of selling out and been treated with disrespect...' - Justice Murray Sinclair
    I ask for their patience to allow me the time to see if I can accomplish one of the objectives I have in accepting this responsibility: to make this a better place for all of us." This is not the first time that Phil has been accused of selling out and been treated with disrespect. I have admired his dignity in the face of such treatment. He was the only one who behaved respectfully among the actors in that room today.

Protest was a 'good thing' says Ouellette

Phil Fontaine protest

Protesters took over a planned talk by First Nations leader Phil Fontaine at the University of Winnipeg on Wednesday. (CBC)

Robert Falcon Ouellette is with the University of Manitoba's Aboriginal Focus Programs.

He says regardless of whose side you're on, the protest was a good thing because it brings awareness to aboriginal issues.

"If it had just been a normal lecture, Phil would have talked for an hour, and then it would have fallen by the wayside and we wouldn't remember in two months..." said Ouellette. "But in this case, all Canadians are actually talking about this."