Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said he did not share photos of a ceremony he participated in with Algonquin leaders on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation out of respect for their traditional customs.
Poilievre shared two photos on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday with a post about joining Algonquin elders and leaders at the eternal flame on Parliament Hill to mark the occasion.
The women in the photos were not Algonquin but Inuit, including Manitok Thompson, who was a cabinet minister in the Northwest Territories and then in Nunavut after the territory was created in 1999.
Sebastian Skamski, a spokesman for Poilievre, said Saturday the Conservative leader had been at an earlier event with Algonquin leaders to commemorate the day on Parliament Hill.
He said Poilievre had also spoken with other Indigenous Peoples there, including the Inuit women in the photos, whom he did not name.
“It was a beautiful touching ceremony that I was able to participate in with Algonquin leaders,” Poilievre told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.
“The reason we didn’t put pictures of that ceremony is because based on their traditional custom, photography is not allowed, and so out of respect for them, we did not photograph that ceremony,” he said.
“Instead, we photographed other Inuit leaders, an Inuit knowledge-keeper in particular who was present, and who also participated in the Algonquin ceremony.”
Skamski did not provide more details about the ceremony that Poilievre participated in, including whether it involved any sacred customs.
But the Conservative leader was seen Saturday on Parliament Hill speaking with Claudette Commanda, a well-known elder and residential school survivor from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, an Algonquin Anishinaabe community in southwestern Quebec.
Commanda is also the chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
Asked Tuesday whether those participating in the ceremony had requested that photographs not be taken or shared, Skamski referred to what Poilievre had told reporters earlier in the day.
An Indigenous protocol guide for the University of Ottawa related to elders and knowledge-keepers advises against presuming that a traditional knowledge-keeper can be photographed or recorded.
“Traditionally, ceremonies such as smudging are not photographed,” says the guide. “Ask for permission to shoot photographs or video in advance.”
The main commemorative event Saturday on Parliament Hill was broadcast live on television. Poilievre had left by the time it had begun.
The discrepancy between the text of the post and the photos, which featured women wearing traditional Inuit clothing, did not go unnoticed online Saturday, including by Liberal cabinet minister Marc Miller.
Thompson, who praised Poilievre after their meeting for taking the time to listen to her priorities, quickly criticized Miller on Saturday for his X post pointing out that the photos did not match the text.
She said that if politicians could work in a non-partisan manner, implementing the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examined the history and legacy of residential schools would be a quicker process.
On Tuesday, she posted a photo of her office wall, where she had placed a printout of the photo of her standing head-to-head with Poilievre near the eternal flame, with her hand placed on his shoulder.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, adapted from the grassroots Orange Shirt Day, recognizes the abuse suffered by thousands of Inuit, First Nations and Métis children forced to attend government-funded, church-run residential schools in Canada, as well as those who never made it back home to their families.
Residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders were among the crowd of thousands who converged on Parliament Hill for the commemorative event, which was also attended by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.