First Nations elder explains why he interjected on Trudeau's behalf at Winnipeg town hall

Ernie Daniels, an elder from the Long Plain First Nation, intervened when protesters interrupted the prime minister's town hall at the University of Winnipeg on Thursday.

'Please respect everybody' elder Ernie Daniels said as protesters interrupted PM at Thursday's town hall

Elder Ernie Daniels says he was invited to the town hall by the Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization. (Lyza Sale/ CBC)

An elder from the Long Plain First Nation says he can't believe he made the news for speaking up when protesters interrupted the prime minister's town hall in Winnipeg on Thursday.

"I was just playing the role as an elder, mediator, mitigator — make things flow, in a nice way," said Ernie Daniels.

Justin Trudeau took questions from the crowd at Thursday afternoon's town hall, and at around the 20 minute mark a question was asked about pipelines.

That was when three women holding signs stood up behind the prime minister and started protesting. When a group started yelling "keep it in the ground," Trudeau thanked the protesters for sharing their perspective and asked them to allow him to continue speaking.

After another interruption and another exchange between the women on stage and the prime minister, Daniels stood up.

Trudeau handed him the microphone and said, "I don't know if she'll listen to you, she won't listen to me."

"I'm an elder of Treaty 1 territory. Our treaty has allowed you people to come to our territories," said Daniels.

"So I'm asking that you people that are making statements, please respect everybody, please respect our territory." His statements were followed by applause from the crowd.

Ernie Daniels (left, along with his son and late mother) met Justin Trudeau in 2013 in Portage la Prairie, Man. (Ernie Daniels)

Daniels said he agrees with the message of the protesters, but not their methods. He said he didn't intend to publicly shame the young protesters, just defuse the situation.

"First of all, there is such a thing as respect, dialogue and a democratic setting," he explained. "There is no need for anyone to yell or scream or interfere."

Daniels said he was sitting with Brokenhead Chief Jim Bear during the town hall. He said as two elders, they felt obliged to do something. He said he also wanted to make a statement about Indigenous people.

"I wanted the prime minister to hear this, that we are treaty people, we signed treaties with the Crown and they are safe passages for you people to come settle in our territory," he said. 

"We didn't go to war with you, we didn't make a war and peace treaty, it was passage for you to come in our territory and live with us, co-exist, and that was based on respect."

During the interview, the elder offered a piece of advice to protesters.

"I would encourage those protesters to do what so many of the Indigenous people are doing and go out on the front lines and protest where the problem is, not in a town hall meeting."

About the Author

Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been reporting for a decade. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor