APTN National News
The woman who performed the Indigenous ceremony interrupted by five members of the Canadian Armed Forces wants more than an apology.
“I’d like our treaty rights to be honoured,” said Chief Grizzly Mama. “And respected just as we would respect anybody else that lives on our property.”
Rear Admiral John Newton is Commander of the Maritime fleet of the Canadian Navy. He was “personally horrified” at the news that the “Proud Boys” were also members of the Canadian Forces.
“I could see and read right away what the members had failed to appreciate,” said Newton. “How wrong they had strayed, how much trust had been eroded with a community we’ve worked very hard to embrace.”
The Proud Boys is a fraternal group with an extreme ideology that Newton said has no place in the Canadian military.
“As I learn more about them, it’s clearly a white supremacist group and we fundamentally stand opposed to any of their values,” said Newton.
On July 1st, as people celebrated Canada150 across the country, Grizzly Mama held her own ceremony to honour Indigenous suffering. She chose to shave her head at the base of the controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis. Noted as the founder of Halifax, the British Military leader issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps.
“So when I was cutting my hair, I was cutting that genocide off of my people,” said Grizzly Mama.
It was a deeply personal ceremony for Grizzly Mama. She’s lived in Mi’kma’ki for three years but is originally from the Gitxsan Nation in British Columbia. She knows loss firsthand. Her daughter went missing along the Highway of Tears.
“For me to cut my hair is to finally let my daughter go on to the spirit world along with my brothers and sisters that were murdered,” said Grizzly Mama. “[The ceremony] wasn’t only for me, it was for my sisters and brothers in Winnipeg and Ontario and New Brunswick and Mi’kmaq territory.”
In a video posted on YouTube, the five junior seamen, some of whom wear Proud Boy T-shirts, carry a Red Ensign Flag, the former flag of Canada before the familiar maple leaf.
“This is a British colony,” one of the men said in the video. “You’re recognizing the heritage and so are we.”
Another forces member said, “This was Mi’kmaq territory – it is now Canada.”
Rebecca Moore, one of the Mi’kmaw organizers of the event on Canada Day, said she is glad the military has apologized but she also wants a public acknowledgement that much of the East Coast is unceded Mi’kmaq territory.
And in an interview with APTN, Newton said awareness is growing in the military.
“We have to continually learn not just the history looking backwards about what are the sensitive issues for the Aboriginal communities,” said Newton. “What does it mean to say unceded territory?”
Newton said there’s a lot of work to be done to educate the forces on Indigenous issues and nations, but there has been progress. He’s sent his fleet to work with Indigenous communities along the Mackenzie River in the NorthWest Territories. This summer, the navy has plans to work with Innu and Inuit communities along the coast of Labrador, like Nain and Natuashish.
“Just so we can create first contact between our sailors and the aboriginal people,” said Newton. “Because a lot of ignorance and bigotry and racism comes from a failure to understand other people.”
The five members of the forces have been suspended. It’s an administrative move that brings them onshore doing menial tasks.
“These people work with military secrets, sensitive information; others might work with finances,” said Newton. “You probably can’t work with that type of information going forward until all the steps of investigation, administrative censure or legal consciousness has been brought to this case.”
In addition to being removed from duties, the men are on probation and have to undergo counselling for a year.
Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance said in a statement issued Tuesday, “Their future in the military is certainly in doubt.
“We are the nation’s protectors, and any member of the Canadian Armed Forces who is not prepared to be the defender we need them to be will face severe consequences, including release from the forces.”
They could be discharged if the seamen show no improvement in attitude, or if they have another infraction. As well, an investigation by the military police is underway to assess whether the men violated the Code of Service Discipline in the National Defence Act.
Newton wants to move forward to repair any damage done. He’s reached out to the Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre in Halifax, hoping to arrange a meeting with Chief Grizzly Mama and others who took part on the ceremony on July 1.
“To tell them what the process is for us, tell them how much I’m very sorry we didn’t stand there to protect them and their right to demonstrate,” said Newton. “It’s out duty to protect Canada and all the unceded terrain of Canada.”
No word on if or when that meeting will happen.