First Nations say ceremonies held at Ottawa anti-restriction rally break protocols, need to stop
'The Algonquin Nation did not give consent for these ceremonial practices,' says news release signed by chiefs
While pipe ceremonies, smudging and sharing circles are all part of ceremonies practised by many Indigenous people across the country, the way they're being conducted at the Ottawa protest against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions breaks protocols, according to some First Nations leaders.
"It's very important for the First Nation community, the host community to give acceptance to any type of invite, any type of event," said Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, near Ottawa.
Chief Whiteduck is one of the area First Nations leaders who is tasked by his people to protect the protocols of his traditional territory.
A pipe ceremony at the Ottawa protest was brought to his attention last week, and he says the people behind it were wrong to conduct the ceremony without permission.
"It's similar to the other treaty communities across Canada, where you don't see one treaty nation going to another, treaty nation just hosting an event and just taking control of their lands and their territory," said Chief Whiteduck.
A news release from last week signed by Chief Whiteduck, among others, calls actions at the protest "unacceptable."
"The Algonquin Nation did not give consent for these ceremonial practices," it says. "First Nations and Non-Indigenous people should always remember protocol and that permission from us [is] needed to proceed."
Some of those shown conducting and participating in these ceremonies in a video posted to Facebook last week have been identified as people from First Nations in Manitoba.
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization in Manitoba says he doesn't want to question why they are choosing to participate in rallies.
But he does wonder if they know what they're doing when they conduct ceremonies and why it's important to follow traditional protocols of the territories they're in.
"Many of our people need to understand, or should understand, that First Nations ceremonies and protocols are a science," he said.
"Our Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers have based it on learned experience and learned protocols. Not things made up."
He also said it's concerning to see First Nations people involved in the protests, given the effects COVID-19 has had in First Nations communities.
During previous waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, many First Nations in Manitoba imposed lockdowns themselves to control who entered or left their communities as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among their people.
Prevention measures helped to keep cases of the illness low in the communities during the first two pandemic waves, according to the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.
However, it has since broken through the safety measures and the numbers of cases started to rise.
A recent study conducted by two University of Manitoba professors suggests COVID-19 rates in First Nations are linked to housing and infrastructure issues that increase the odds of exposure to infectious diseases, and found some First Nations communities had infection rates 10 times higher than the Manitoba average.
Grand Chief Daniels says it's also concerning to see Indigenous people at the anti-COVID-19 restriction rallies, given that there have been racist gestures, Confederate flags and swastikas seen at protests.
"It's way off for the citizens of our nations to support … a movement that doesn't have the interest and health and well-being of Indigenous people at heart," he said.
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Chief Whiteduck said he has been in touch with some Manitoba chiefs, hoping to address concerns his people have with the ceremonies being held at the Ottawa rallies.