HALIFAX — An organizer of the Aboriginal ceremony in Halifax disrupted by off-duty members of the Armed Forces on Canada Day says she is glad the military has apologized but she also wants a public acknowledgment that much of the East Coast is unceded Mi'kmaq territory.
"More than an apology, I need that education out there," Rebecca Moore, a member of Nova Scotia's Pictou Landing First Nation, said Wednesday.
"That needs to be well known. That needs to be broadcast loud and clear by the Canadian Armed Forces. They need to make sure that their employees are well aware of that to avoid future conflicts like this."
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, said late Tuesday that the Forces' members involved will be removed from training and duties while the military conducts an investigation.
He added that the members' future with the Forces "is certainly in doubt."
On Saturday, five young Forces members dressed in black polo shirts, carrying the old Red Ensign flag, and singing "God Save the Queen" approached the ceremony, where a crowd had gathered to mourn the loss of life associated with European colonization. The ceremony was being held at the foot of a statue of British military man Edward Cornwallis, a former governor of Nova Scotia and the founder of Halifax in 1749.
A tense but non-violent confrontation lasted for about 10 minutes, as the men took issue with assertions from organizers that they were interrupting a sacred rite on Mi'kmaq territory.
"This is Canada," one of the men said, his comments captured on a cellphone video posted on social media. "It might have been Mi'kmaq territory."
The men said they were members of the Proud Boys, a self-declared group of "Western Chauvinists" who say they are tired of apologizing "for creating the modern world."
Moore said the interruption was inexcusable.
"We wouldn't go up and interrupt a Remembrance Day parade for people mourning their fallen soldiers," she said. "It's the same thing. It was disgraceful."
In an interview with CBC News Wednesday, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes said the five did not disrupt the Halifax ceremony, and only intended to check out what he described as an anti-Canada rally. He said he has posted a petition defending the five men, and hoped to fly to Halifax to present it to military brass.
"As a Canadian I'm embarrassed," said McInnes, the Canadian co-founder of Vice magazine. "These guys are being pilloried for doing their jobs."
The federal government and the head of the Canadian Armed Forces had made it clear late Tuesday that the actions of the five men were unacceptable.
"I detest any action by a Canadian Armed Forces member that is intended to show disrespect towards the very people and cultures we value in Canada," said Vance.
"What happened in Halifax over the weekend is deplorable ... The members involved will be removed from training and duties while we conduct an investigation and review the circumstances. Their future in the military is certainly in doubt."
Vance also issued an apology to Indigenous people, as did Rear Admiral John Newton, the commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.
The Department of National Defence issued a brief statement Wednesday, confirming that military police have started an investigation.
Their future in the military is certainly in doubt.Gen. Jonathan Vance
"The bottom line is that Indigenous people are core members of the defence team and deserve to be celebrated as such," department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an emailed statement.
"The defence team works hard to foster a diverse, inclusive organization and will continue these efforts to ensure a respectful, dignified environment for all Canadians."
Le Bouthillier said he could not comment on Moore's suggestion that the department provide military members with more education about the Peace and Friendship Treaties, signed between the British and Mi'kmaq and Maliseet nations in the Maritimes between 1725 and 1761.
Under these historic agreements, the Mi'kmaq and the Maliseet agreed to certain trade and political alliances with the Crown, but the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed in 1999 that they did not surrender any rights to lands or resources. As a result, these First Nations maintain that they hold Aboriginal rights and title throughout their traditional territory.
"We did not surrender our territory," Moore said in an interview. "We are not a conquered people. This is unceded Mi'kmaq territory to this day ... I would love for the defence minister of Canada to say that — to say that to his employees so they know that."
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