Protestors Force First Nations Chief off Stage; Winnipeg University to Reschedule Speech


Phil Fontaine, the former Assembly of First Nations chief, was booed away by the crowd at the University of Winnipeg, Wednesday for taking up a job with TransCanada Pipeline in December. Fontaine was scheduled to present a lecture on First Nations issues at the Convocation Hall.        

The moment Fontaine began speaking early afternoon, angry protestors with faces painted red and black, surrounded the stage. They flashed anti-oil sand signs, placards denouncing oil-industry development, and beat drums as Fontaine tried to deliver the speech. This resulted in the cancellation of the event. Fontaine was immediately escorted from the room as his supporters and protesters broke into a scuffle with each other.

Protesters said that by accepting a job with the natural gas and oil pipeline developer, Fontaine is representing neither their interests nor is he concerned about the environment.

"How dare you, Phil!" protester Jo Seenie said. "On your own people? Anishinaabe people? How dare you sell us out to work for the enemy that's destroying this earth? ........We are disappointed and disgusted that he would actually work for the enemy, TransCanada, in terms of protecting the land and the waters and the future of our unborn," Winnipeg Free Press reports.

Seenie and other protesters are urging these corporations to stop destroying resources of Mother Earth.

Fontaine said that although he is employed with TransCanada, his sentiments regarding the environment and First Nations will never change. He felt unhappy with the turn of events on Wednesday.

"Have I been satisfied with everything that I've learned? Absolutely not. Have I expressed those views with industry? Absolutely. [The protest] was not one of our shining moments as an aboriginal community,' Fontaine said.

President Lloyd Axworthy described the incident as upsetting and regretful. He said that a protest of this kind hasn't occurred at the university in a very long time.

"I think it was orchestrated. I think they came deliberately to disrupt and that was the plan," said Axworthy. "I think they were looking for confrontation not for conversation." CBC reports.

Although the protest was successful, some students were unhappy as they were not able to put forth their controversial questions to Fontaine. Sadie Lavoie, U of W, said that the university officials shouldn't have cancelled the event.

University officials said that the event would be rescheduled to a later date.

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