Former Nunavut and Northwest Territories cabinet minister Manitok Thompson has found herself at the heart of a controversy involving Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, and asserts the situation has been misrepresented by the media.

The controversy stems from an appearance Poilievre made on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Conservative leader met with Algonquin Elders and leaders at the hill’s eternal flame, and later shared two photos from the day on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The caption for those photos mentioned his meetings with Algonquin Elders and leaders, but featured photos of two Inuit women – one of whom was the Coral Harbour-born Thompson.

Poilievre’s detractors were quick to accuse him of confusing the country’s Indigenous communities, but Thompson contends the reality of the situation has been misconstrued, and is eager to “clear the air.”

“The statement is being misinterpreted by the media,” she said of Poilievre’s post on X. “One photo was taken, which I approved. He knew exactly who he was talking to as he referred to me as a former minister of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. He knew I am Inuit. We talked about Inuit issues.”

After the incident, Poilievre spokesperson Sebastian Skamski told reporters that the Conservative leader refrained from posting other photos from the proceedings out of respect, as the Algonquin Elders and leaders on site were participating in cultural practices like smudging, which are not generally photographed or filmed.

Thompson said she accepts that explanation.

“We had over a hundred Algonquin people on Algonquin land and they were doing their prayers and smudge,” she said. “You don’t take photos of the people praying and hurting.”

Thompson said she has been the target of online harassment in the days after the incident.

“I am being harassed by the liberal public,” she said. “I’m being told off.”

Despite the backlash Thompson has received since Poilievre published his photos on X, she said she will not hesitate to meet with Canadian leaders again in the future, no matter which party they are affiliated with.

“I never give up,” she said. “I serve people no matter what.”

“I will always show up wherever there is a leader who can make a change in Inuit lives,” said Thompson. “If [Justin] Trudeau was there, I would have done the same thing, but he wasn’t there with all the other Liberals on an important day. We were on the grounds of parliament but none of them showed up.

”I used the opportunity to put Inuit agenda with a man who might be prime minister,” she added.

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