A Tale of Two Protests: Saturday Marches for Indigenous Rights and Freedom (!)

It was a grey and chilly Saturday afternoon, the downtown streets had the usual kinds of people milling about grabbing a bit or doing a bit of shopping, but the real action was political this weekend. At noon, it was the supporters of the First Nations land defenders in the Wet’suwet’en territory, and then later it was time for the Guelph Freedom Rally, one of the largest local gatherings yet for the COVID-19 skeptical.

Starting at noon, local activists gathered outside the Guelph Farmers’ Market for a hastily organized march to support the land defenders blockading a road to a Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline construction site in British Columbia and to denounce an RCMP raid on their camp on Friday that resulted in 14 arrests.

“They were illegally moved from their own unceded territory when B.C.’s in a state of emergency right now, so it’s a very, very poor use of resources that could be spent helping people who are in need right now,” said Maura Winkup, a member of the Cayuga from Six Nations who was one of the co-organizers of the march.

“It’s important to show support, they [the hereditary chiefs] put out a call to action, and we’re here to show support even though we’re on the other side of the country,” Winkup added. “We’re showing that we hear them, and that we support them. It’s to amplify their voice as well.”

Between 70-80 people took part in the march that blocked off the intersection at Wellington and Gordon Streets for a period of time before continuing the march up Wyndham Street and Macdonell before coming around back down Wilson to the Farmers’ Market. Guelph Police Service blocked off streets ahead of the marchers who moved up the streets en masse with flags, signs and music. At one point, the sound of N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police” filled the downtown core.

The march was peaceful, but their was an undercurrent of anger against the government and against the RCMP.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Reconciliation means something different to us than it does to them,” Winkup said. “I mean, eight days after Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30, they’re dumping out clean drinking water and slashing tires on Indigenous land where they don’t have jurisdiction.”

Concern about the RCMP’s actions against Indigenous and non-Indigenous protestors in British Columbia drew hundreds of local supporters in several demonstrations downtown pre-pandemic in early 2020. Since then, Black Lives Matter and the discovery of unmarked graves on residential school properties have soaked up a lot of social justice juice, but Winkup hopes Wet’suwet’en’s concerns are now definitely back on the front burner.

“I urge the community, and the media of course, to start covering this, start talking about it, and educate people on it,” Winkup said. “I know it can be a little challenging when media is getting arrested when they are covering Indigenous issues, which can obviously impact the the amount of media coverage there is.”

Among the people arrested by the RCMP Friday are photojournalist Amber Bracken who was working on behalf of The Narwhal, and freelance filmmaker Michael Toledano. Repeated calls to release the credentialed media have gone unanswered by the RCMP, and the two are still in custody as of this writing.

Although the weather is chilly, Winkup hopes that the support for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs is heating up.

“I’m super proud of our community and the people who have come out from outside of Guelph as well, we definitely love all the support,” she said. “I urge people to keep educating themselves and to just show up even if you only have 10 minutes.

Just 10 minutes after the end of one march, another one started to gather in front of city hall on an entirely different matter. For the first time in months, people who are skeptical of COVID-19 public health restrictions and vaccine mandates gathered in great numbers for a political purpose. This time, there were about 70-80 people who all had a different reason to be there, but they did not want to be misunderstood.

“I don’t like being called an anti-vaxxer, most of us are not anti-vaxxers. We just don’t trust this one that was put together fast, crammed down our throats and dangled in front your face keep your job. I shouldn’t have to inject anything into my body,” said a one woman who jumped into a pick-up truck that pulled up on Carden Street before she could be asked her name.

Alternatively, there was another protestor named Vivyan Nicki who was more than happy to talk on the record. She didn’t like being labelled anti-vax either and said that it wasn’t true when applied to her and her friends.

“I respect all paths, I respect questions, and I respect all cultures, but I don’t respect them mandating the vaccine,” Nicki said. “What healthcare do I believe in? I believe in the medicine man – roots herbs and tonics – but I respect my western doctor as a friend, I love her, I respect her, but I believe in the medicine man. I respect all paths, I don’t hate on the vaccination, I just don’t agree with it. It’s not from my roots.”

Nicki’s point of view was shared by many people, they weren’t coming at this from a negative place, they were just choosing a medical course that they feel is right for them. They said things about how love will overcome hate, and that they need to support one and other to raise awareness that the majority of us who are following public health advice are doing so at the cost of freedom.

“We’re here today to talk about freedom, and to take back the rights that were taken from us in the last two years,” said the emcee of the protest, who asked to be called Noah. One of his associates suggested “Tony Fauci” though. “It’s been dark time and a confusing time for everyone, people are feeling like we’re alone and no one’s here with us in this, but as you can see, it’s far from the case in this small city.”

It didn’t take long for the conspiracy stuff to start creeping in though.

It started small. One woman talked about organizing online, and warned people to be weary of Facebook groups because there are people joining these groups with the intention of spying on the members.

Another woman said that “they” are talking about giving children the vaccine in schools, even though Public Health has already announced that they will not be handing out vaccines in school, and that no child will be barred from school if they’re not vaccinated.

Someone named Rob, who seemed to be known to many of the people taking part, took things up a notch by first talking about how the people who take the vaccine are being treated like lab rats, and they he took things somewhere completely different. “We all know that Agenda 2030 is the hidden agenda, and that slowly but steadily it’s taking place and COVID is actually the introduction of Agenda 2030,” he said.

As explained by Reuters in a fact check earlier this year, Agenda 2030 is “a set of Sustainable Development Goals devised in 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly.” They cover areas like the elimination of poverty and hunger, the promotion of gender equality and quality education, and the creation of sustainable cities and clean energy. Canada is one of the countries that contributed to and initiating the strategy.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against Pride, but it is remarkable that the same colours of pride are also in the same as Agenda 2030, and that’s why you can actually see the start of a one world religion that will slowly push everybody in the same direction,” Rob added. “This evil is wrong.”

It’s worth noting that the United Nations’ webpage for Agenda 2030 has no colour, and that the symbol in the browser tab is a hollow circle with around two-dozen different colours, so there’s no relation to the Pride flag at all.

Another man spoke after Rob and bragged that people in Australia, a popular target for COVID conspiracy theorists who believe that county’s restrictions were too punitive, were “waking up” to the truth. He said that he just read a few hours earlier that in New South Wales they were seeing a flood of new COVID cases in hospital among people of all ages who were recently vaccinated.

Googling the claim later, an article in Saturday’s Guardian touted the success of New South Wales for keeping cases low even after they re-opened the economy. How? “The combination of an impressive and rapid vaccine uptake, together with mask mandates, contact tracing and isolation requirements as well as vaccination entry permits, has largely been credited for containing the outbreak and keeping case numbers low,” according to The Guardian.

“It’s important to support each other as this gets ramped up because if you think [Justin Trudeau] is evil and tyrannical and hateful now, he’s gonna start ramping this up because I think he only sees one way through to Nuremberg too,” the Australian man added.

The group then started their own march through downtown chanting things like “Freedom!”, “Our Body Our Choice!”, and “Let’s Go, Brandon!”, a portmanteau for “Fuck Joe Biden!” that has become a popular chant for right-leaning politicians and activists, as well as likely right-leaning voters.

Some of the speakers promised future events, but it was unclear who the organizers of this event were, and many of the people who have previously been leading voices at these gatherings were absent.

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