By Glen Dawkins, Winnipeg Sun, March 11, 2016
Six weeks after he was unceremoniously kicked out of Portage Place, indigenous elder and military veteran Joseph Meconse was honoured and received a formal apology during a press conference Friday to announce changes to the downtown mall’s operation.
“Today is a beautiful day and everybody around me is significant,” said the 74-year-old Meconse, who was kicked out the mall’s food court for loitering in late January despite having just sat down with a plate of food. “I’m just happy to be alive and happy to be here to stand up for our people and stand up for everybody.”
Meconse was honoured Friday as the mall’s official Ogichidaa, an indigenous ambassador and liaison. Bear Paw Security will replace the former security firm, to bring indigenous values to the mall, and a new aboriginal music series is being launched this spring and summer in co-ordination with Manyfest.
“Today, Portage Place will reach out to those we have wronged and in return we will ask for forgiveness,” said Portage Place general manager David Stone, who met with Meconse and Manito Ahbee Festival executive director Lisa Meeches following the incident to apologize.
“I think the incident with Joe, I could call it a tipping point. But I think more of what came out of that incident with Joe was conversation: Conversation with Joe, conversation with Lisa and some of the leaders in the indigenous community.”
In early February, Stone apologized for Meconse’s treatment and announced the elimination of the policy limiting patrons to only 30 minutes in the food court. In response to the incident, protests were held including a flash mob involving about 200 people.
“This is a very important and significant day,” said Meconse. “I finally got what I was working for: to get the people to gather together to be friendly, be friends with everybody.”
During the press conference Friday, Stone also took the opportunity to apologize to Annie Henry, a then-79-year-old from Roseau River First Nation who suffered similar treatment from Portage Place security in March 2013.
“Most importantly, we would like to start the process of moving forward but apologizing for the errors of our past,” said Stone.
A pipe ceremony and a round dance involving members of the downtown’s business and indigenous communities was held following the press conference.
In his role as the mall’s Ogichidaa, Meconse would like to work with Portage Place to make it the welcoming place he feels it should be. He said he would like to see the mall add comfortable furniture its elderly shoppers to use.
“My plan is to continue what I’m doing right now,” said Meconse. “At 74, as long as I can get something done today, that’s good enough. We don’t try to strive to get something (done) that we know we can’t handle. We have to know our boundaries and how far we can go.”