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Algonquin Nation erects wigwam opposite Parliament in protest over future of former U.S. embassy

Members of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation have erected a wigwam in front of the former U.S. embassy opposite Parliament Hill in Ottawa in an effort to draw attention to a lack of consultation on the future of 100 Wellington St. 

Verna Polson, grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabeg, says she is fighting for her First Nation’s rightful place in discussions over the future use of 100 Wellington St., a heritage building that is on Algonquin Anishinabeg territory. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Members of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation have erected a wigwam in front of the former U.S. embassy opposite Parliament Hill in Ottawa in an effort to draw attention to a lack of consultation on the future of the 100 Wellington St. building. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in June 2017 that the former embassy will become a space dedicated to Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities. But the First Nation says it was not consulted on key aspects of the new space.

The heritage building, which is on Algonquin Anishinabeg territory, has sat vacant for nearly two decades after the U.S. embassy moved to its current location on Sussex Drive. Ever since, its future use has been the subject of public discussion and debate.

A wigwam was erected Wednesday evening by members of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation tribal council outside the former U.S. embassy in Ottawa that is slated to become a space for Indigenous people. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the building was slated to become a portrait gallery, but that plan was shelved when Stephen Harper came into power.

The Grand Chief of Algonquin Anishinabeg, Verna Polson, said she plans to live in the wigwam until she becomes a partner at 100 Wellington St.

“We’re fighting for our rightful place,” Polson said. “If we can’t come to an agreement or solution for something as small as this, how is Canada going to address bigger Algonquin issues?” 

The wigwam is the traditional home of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Polson gathered with a dozen supporters on Wednesday evening to put up the wigwam in an effort to have her First Nation recognized as an equal player in the discussions over the future of the building. 

‘Reconciling with the owners of the land’

Polson says the First Nation was not consulted on the art and displays planned for the space until February, and not on the governance of the building until April, and they’re still not a full partner.

“If you’re going to reconcile, if Canada is going to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples across the country, you better start reconciling with the owners of the land,” said Frankie Cote, a band council member from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Que., and negotiator for Indigenous Peoples space.

A flag from the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation hangs outside of the new space for Indigenous Peoples at 100 Wellington St. in Ottawa. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

“The whole intent is this is going to be acting much like an embassy: High governmental-level functions, government-to-government meetings, nation-to-nation meetings … We’re the Algonquin Nation that hosts this building, hosts this project and we also deserve our rightful place so that we can meet with government officials. As it stands right now, we don’t have any place in this city that we can meet.”

A survey conducted for the government by Ekos Research Associates suggested that a “Canada House” to showcase the best of the provinces and territories was the favoured choice for the building’s use. A gallery was the second choice, with an Indigenous cultural facility coming in third.

Polson and Cote are inviting Trudeau and Indigenous leaders to visit the wigwam, which is the same type of lodge used by their ancestors who travelled the Ottawa River. 

“It’s important that we become equal partners in every aspect of this building,” Polson said.

“I’m doing this for my people, my family, my grandchild that’s going to be born soon. I need to continue this fight to take our rightful place as Algonquin people.”

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