News / Winnipeg

'We need to keep these areas safe': Indigenous activists protest drug trafficking at Portage Place

Members of the Urban Warrior Alliance organized a third protest Sunday to bring awareness to drug trafficking they say is happening at the downtown mall.

Jennifer Spence-Clarke (centre) leads a throng of activists in a march around Portage Place Shopping Centre Sunday, while pushing her 20-month-old daughter Miigwan in a stroller.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski/Metro

Jennifer Spence-Clarke (centre) leads a throng of activists in a march around Portage Place Shopping Centre Sunday, while pushing her 20-month-old daughter Miigwan in a stroller.

After two days of protesting drug trafficking outside Portage Place Shopping Centre, Indigenous activists gathered behind the mall Sunday in an effort to heal.

A group of women, who are members of the Urban Warrior Alliance, led the third demonstration, which involved a smudge ceremony, drumming and prayer songs.

Sandy Banman, who participated alongside nearly two dozen concerned community members, said she was asked to buy drugs while helping set up for the event Sunday.

"We know we’re not going to stop the drug trade. It’s probably going to be back as soon as we leave," Banman said in an interview. "But we just wanted to make a statement that we need to keep these areas safe for the elders and women and children."

The group marched in a wide loop around the mall and side streets, smudging along the way and pushing strollers with small children inside.

Organizer Jennifer Spence-Clarke pointed to her 20-month-old daughter Miigwan as a symbol of hope and as one of the reasons why she’s fighting to make downtown safer.

Stephanie Rabbit was visiting Portage Place Sunday when she happened upon the protest and joined in. She said every time she comes by the mall, drug dealers have approached her.

"It hurts my feelings, I don’t like seeing our people like that," Rabbit said. 

"They need guidance and opportunities," she added. "They need shelter. Most of them are just street people, just trying to survive."

Banman agreed the majority of dealers in the area are living in poverty and selling drugs out of desperation.

"Somebody who has a lot of money at home is not going to come here and sell 20 or 30 Tylenols to get a (carton) of milk, or a loaf of bread or some noodles to get through the weekend," Banman said.

"We’re not here to hurt anybody or to say that we’re better than anybody else. We’re here to say that we all suffer and we need to be here for one another as a community."

Area councillor Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) was on hand for the demonstration Sunday. She praised the community for trying to combat drug trafficking, a problem police and mall security can’t fight alone, she said.

"I think Portage Place needs our help," Gilroy told Metro. "I don’t think it’s just up to the security here and the management. I don’t think it’s just up to the police. We have to be involved and do our part. That’s what you’re seeing here: a community saying, 'This is our mall. We want it to be safe.'"

Portage Place opened 30 years ago and was trumpeted by urban planners as a way to revitalize downtown and draw shoppers away from the suburbs. Metro is awaiting comments from the mall's management about the weekend protests.

More on Metronews.ca

Metro Savers