BY GLEN DAWKINS
Sandy Banman understands the frustration of the drivers that she and a small group of protesters inconvenienced Friday with their blockade on Portage Avenue near the Perimeter Highway.
But those drivers need to understand where she’s coming from as well.
“We’re asking them just to stop for a few minutes and think and reflect on how we feel to have all of these issues and (what it’s like to) have a nation that’s broken and suffering,” said Banman, one of 10 protestors who — despite the bitter cold — took part in the protest as part of the nationwide #ShutDownCanada series of First Nations protests and blockades. “How it feels to bury your child and how it feels to bury your friends and family members and have people in jail and have all of these kinds of conditions going on.
“If you just stop for a while and think about that. Your inconvenience of 20 or 30 minutes does not compare to this pain our people are suffering.”
The protest shut down the westbound lane of Portage at St. Charles Street, with protestors holding signs blasting Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apparent indifference to the plight of First Nations peoples and calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
“We want to bring attention to our missing and murdered indigenous women as well as our children and our missing and murdered men,” said Banman, who knows four missing or murdered women and whose 31-year-old son Carl David Banman went missing in May 2011 before his dead body was found near Morden three weeks later.
In addition to the issue of the missing and murdered, Banman said the protest was intended to bring attention to numerous other concerns facing indigenous people such as poverty and the prison and child and family services systems.
“We’re here to raise awareness about (those issues) and to tell Mr. Harper that the system that is in place is not working and we need a national inquiry into missing and murdered women,” said Banman. “We need to find out how these systemic issues are affecting so many people. Things need to change completely so that we can have a positive and happy lifestyle like the rest of Canadians.”
Winnipeg police closed off traffic on Portage all the way up to Buchanan Boulevard from the 11 a.m. start of the protest until about 3:15 p.m.
Similar protests were held in Toronto and Vancouver as well as smaller centres across the country. It was the biggest national First Nations protest since the Idle No More demonstrations of 2012 and 2013.