A First Nations ceremony held in downtown Halifax on Canada Day to honour missing and murdered indigenous women was interrupted by men who identified themselves as part of an alt-right organization -- and included two members of the Royal Canadian Navy.
During the ceremony, Chief Grizzly Mamma cut off her braids and placed them at the foot of a statue of Edward Cornwallis -- a gesture meant to symbolize the scalping and mistreatment of Mi'kmaq people that occurred under the Halifax founder’s command. That’s when a group of five men are said to have showed up to disrupt the event.
“It was so frustrating,” Halifax poet laureate Rebecca Thomas, a Mi'kmaq woman and activist, told CTV Atlantic on Monday. “We’re trying to help, heal, and mourn. And here you have a group of young white men interrupting a group of indigenous women who are trying to do a ceremony. It just felt like once again we are made to feel (like) less.”
Some in attendance said the men identified themselves as members of the “Proud Boys,” a U.S.-based ultra-conservative fraternity-like group that believes in “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”
A Department of National Defence spokesperson confirmed to The Canadian Press that two men in the group are members of the Royal Canadian Navy. It is not clear if they are on active duty.
In a separate statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the military is “inclusive and diverse,” and “racism and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated."
Video posted to Facebook shows the men, dressed in matching black and yellow polo-style shirts, approaching the indigenous demonstrators to debate the Mi’Kmaq’s claim to the land on which the ceremony was held.
“This was Mi’Kmaq territory. This is now Canada. This is Halifax, Nova Scotia,” said one man who arrived holding what appeared to be a Canadian Red Ensign flag. “This is a British colony.”
The Canadian Red Ensign, which bears the Union Jack in the corner, was the national flag until it was replaced by the Maple Leaf design in 1965.
The incident was not the only disruption at an indigenous gathering on Canada Day.
Members of a group protesting the construction of a natural gas storage facility about 60 kilometres from Halifax said three men riding in a truck shot fireworks into the crowd at point-blank range.
“They yelled Happy Canada Day, and then they sped off,” said a woman who asked to only be identified as Carol. She said it sounded like gunfire.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff and files from The Canadian Press