The Media Co-op – First Nations Protest Harper in Ottawa #IdleNoMore March
Ottawa – Treacherous slush from the season’s first snowstorm filled the streets of Ottawa Friday, but over a thousand First Nations protestors, many who had travelled from hundreds of kilometers away, were undeterred.
“It is out time rain or shine. The creator is good and prophesy is being fulfilled,” said a female elder woman inaugurating the Idle No More march on Parliament Hill. A group of women in Jingle dresses were called to lead the way with native chants and pulsating drums.
Friday was the largest series of nation-wide Aboriginal protests in two decades, with dozens of First Nations protests held in cities across Canada, the UK and US, and messages of solidarity coming form the four corners of the world.
The #IdleNoMore campaign is demanding respect for First Nations treaties signed with the Crown of England and the Canadian government, and demanding to negotiate with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston about recent legislation they fear would fast-track the sale of their land to polluting extractive industries.
Many First Nations are managing to stop the expansion and export of the Canadian Tar Sands oil through protest and by taking companies like BP and Shell to court, but the recent federal government’s decision to cut environmental regulation of most Canadian lakes and rivers in order to fast-track pipeline approvals, and a series of unilateral changes to the Indian Act, had caused unprecedented pushback from Aboriginals who see the Harper government reneging not only on efforts for Canadian First Nations reconciliation, but on the Canadian constitution itself.
While many Canadians have expressed outrage at the Harper government’s use of Omnibus budget bills to force through unpopular legislations without proper Parliamentary debate, the public’s reaction hasn’t moved beyond muted indignation.
But First Nations communities, many of whom are at the frontline of the environmental fallout of Harper’s economic agenda, have reached a tipping point.
The Idle No More campaign, started a couple of weeks ago by four women, has been driven by a young generation of Indigenous peoples plugged in to social media while deeply committed to preserving their land, language, culture and way of life.
It took on new urgency with Theresa Spence, Chief of one of the most famously poor Aboriginal communities, now 12 days into her hunger strike.
Speaking to the frozen cheerful crowd outside Parliament, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, thanked Chief Spence, the women and the young leaders demanding change, saying “it is time to be idle no more – we better listen when we’re told by the aunties and the grandmothers and the women who give us life.”
Clayton Thomas Muller, a Manitoba Cree and the Tar Sands campaign director for the Indigenous Environmental Network announced that the Mikiswe Cree Nation today announced that they will lead the legal challenge to Omnibus Bill C-45.
After listing the endorsement #Idlenomore has received from communities across the country, Muller said “even the Mayans in Guatemala are fighting against Harper’s policies and fighting for their lives against Canadian Mining companies HudBay and Goldcorp.”
For many, this shortest day of the year, was no Mayan apocalypse, but the beginning of a new era. Edmund Bellegarde, a Treaty 4 spokesperson from Saskatchewan carrying an eagle staff says the future depends on today, “if our collective voices aren’t heard now they’re going to be legislated out of existence.”