Manitoba

'Good intent and with good spirits': after 45-minute travel delays, protest on eastbound Trans-Canada ends

About 50 protesters gathered on either side of the highway at Deacon's Corner, slowing drivers and speaking to them and handing out information on the youth suicide crisis gripping First Nations communities, before allowing them through.

Drivers asked to sign petition to fight First Nations youth suicide crisis

Protesters approached traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway near Deacon's Corner east of Winnipeg on Friday, June 30. They asked drivers to sign a petition calling on the government to take action on First Nations youth suicide. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Activists demanding action on the First Nations youth suicide crisis stalled traffic trying to head east out of Winnipeg on the Trans-Canada Highway Friday afternoon. 

About 50 protesters gathered on either side of the highway at Deacon's Corner, speaking to drivers and handing out information on the youth suicide crisis gripping First Nations communities, before allowing them through. 

The group of protesters, including adults and children, waved American Indian Movement flags and held a drum ceremony along the side of the highway shortly before 1:30 p.m. before moving out on to the highway. The protesters cleared the highway around 3 p.m.

The activists were also asking people to sign a petition addressed to federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Health Minister Jane Philpott.

"We need opportunities to identify where the priorities are needed, as well as equip the staffing with the funds that are necessary to intervene and prevent any more devastating losses to our communities," said Vin Clarke of the Urban Warrior Alliance.

About seven RCMP officers were also there.

The Urban Warrior Alliance was joined by the American Indian Movement Canada and Idle No More, Clarke said.

Clarke said his group contacted the Manitoba and Canadian governments in 2016 as the First Nations communities of Attawapiskat and Cross Lake faced growing suicide crises.

"After we made those calls to the government, there was no action to help improve the wellness of our youth up north or their families," he said.

Driver Devin De Ruyck waited 45 minutes as he tried to get to Steinbach, Man. Once he learned about what the group was protesting, he said he was supportive.

"I think it's good. It's a good message. It needs to be spread, it's not spread enough," he said.

Clarke was asked about the potential for hostility when blocking traffic on a busy highway, as Winnipeggers tried to head east to cottage country on Friday afternoon. 

"But when we do something like this, we do it with good intent and with good spirits," he said.

Dozens of Indigenous activists joined in the protest. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Erin Brohman