Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Friday with indigenous activists who set up a demonstration teepee on Parliament Hill ahead of Canada Day celebrations.
The prime minister and his wife arrived relatively unannounced at the site mid-morning, as the national capital was abuzz with preparations for the July 1 event that’s expected to bring some half a million people into the downtown core.
The Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., arrived Wednesday night to erect the teepee and engage in four days of what they called a “reoccupation” to draw attention to the history of Indigenous People in Canada during 150th birthday celebrations this weekend.
Originally the group clashed with police, who arrested nine people and refused to allow the teepee, but all nine were eventually released and the structure was set up, then later moved to be close to the main stage for Saturday’s events.
The prime minister stopped by while he was on Parliament Hill for rehearsals; the activists said they became aware Trudeau was going to visit when the RCMP came to search the structure.
The Trudeaus spent about 30 minutes inside, meeting with four people.
A video of the meeting posted on YouTube showed the prime minister sitting cross-legged, shoes off, and clasping a feather as he listened to a request from group member Candace Day Neveau that the current federal department responsible for indigenous affairs be renamed the office of honourable treaty relations, and that the current Indian Act be scrapped.
“We have to move beyond the Indian Act, we have to end the Indian Act but we can’t do it with the stroke of the pen from Ottawa,” Trudeau said.
“We have to do it with your partnership, with your leadership and there are people at different points along their healing journey . . . We need to respect your pace, your leadership.”