The “freedom convoy” has successfully used both misinformation and misdirection to build numbers, maintain support and entrench themselves in the nation’s capital and beyond.
For supporters like Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the involvement of white supremacists in the convoy is a simple perceptional bias of the “liberal media,” rather than a driving factor — a few “bad apples” that somehow don’t spoil the whole bunch.
And now they’re using a new tactic to further shrug off allegations of white supremacy: appropriating Indigenous struggles, as well as our means of resistance and healing, to legitimize themselves.
The convoy has attempted to align itself with two Indigenous priorities: raising awareness about the impacts of residential schools and bringing clean water to all Indigenous communities.
During the second week of the occupation of Ottawa, Pat King, an outspoken public face of the convoy, shared a video of a protester urging a parent-supported school walkout for an “Orange Shirt Day.” “Get those masks off,” the protester said. “You don’t need them.” "Every Child Matters," King said in support of the walkout.
The Orange Shirt Society, whose work regarding the impacts of residential schools uses the phrase “Every Child Matters,” took to Instagram in response to reports of the convoy flying Every Child Matters flags and banners. “[These] are separate causes with very different objectives,” they wrote.
Many First Nations leaders and community members condemned the misappropriation, including Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations. “This movement, which has really racist undertones, is trying to utilize a legitimate movement that began many years ago for its own purposes,” he said.
The convoy’s now-defunct GoFundMe listed “Canadians for Clean Water” as one recipient of collected donations; the Daily Hive took this to mean that the convoy had raised $600,000 for Indigenous communities. But when Haudenosaunee author Alicia Elliott looked into this claim, she discovered these funds would not in fact go towards creating the infrastructure to bring clean water to First Nations.
The Algonquin Nation also released a letter saying it did “not support the set up of a teepee, the pipe ceremony and sacred fire in Confederation Park in support of the ‘freedom convoy’” in the first week of the Ottawa occupation by members of the convoy, or the convoy itself, after it was reported that those events had transpired without their permission.
A frightening element of the convoy’s appropriation of Indigenous ceremony, activism, protest and acts of resistance is its alignment with a desire to feel oppressed and victimized. A convoy supporter on Twitter, for example, described watching the truckers roll down the highway crying, “broken” by the “trauma” of the Canadian government’s “unforgivable actions.”
It seems the convoy and its supporters feel they alone have suffered the difficulties of living through a pandemic — with no acknowledgment that Black and Indigenous people, immunocompromised people, people of colour, frontline workers and older people, especially those in long-term care, have in fact been the most impacted.
I believe this desire to be seen as oppressed comes from a racist misconception that Indigenous communities and other marginalized communities are playing the victim, and that our hard-won and insufficient rights are in fact privileges. This is why we strive to communicate our realities in a strength-based way: storytelling, singing, dancing and drumming our resistance. We carry our anger and express our hurt, led by love and hope.
So to see the convoy supporters drumming nonsense on hand drums, playing at being Indigenous, is deeply hurtful. Our community has danced on that same hill in Ottawa to bring attention to ongoing and centuries-old violence against us, which is both denied and ignored.
Orange Shirt Day and Every Child Matters, and any state support garnered by those movements, are built on the labour of residential school survivors and their communities. They hold accountable a nation benefiting from privileges that come from stealing land, stealing culture and stealing children.
The convoy participants cannot disguise their cause as similar to or supportive of these movements, because they refuse to acknowledge their privilege or take accountability for how white supremacy benefits them. Trying to steal them is an act of white supremacy.
The convoy’s harmful co-optations parallel non-Indigenous people claiming Indigeneity to enrich themselves and gain power. The convoy is attempting to distance itself from racism and legitimize its white supremacist movement by appropriating Indigenous cultural tools, movements and identities. The convoy is not oppressed; these “protesters” are just accustomed to privilege.
The spiritual, emotional and physical violence of experiencing, confronting and denouncing the convoy’s appropriations has fallen to Indigenous people, communities and organizations. Part of this work consists of documenting, debunking and publishing. The other part consists of dealing with the backlash of speaking out.
Indigeneity is not a commodity that can be bought or manipulated to legitimize hate.
This misappropriation by the convoy, under the guise of “freedom,” is just another way that colonizing forces drain our resources and attempt to erase us.