Idle No More rallies St. Albert
"We want to send a powerful message to the Harper government"
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 09, 2013 06:00 am
A St. Albert woman hopes local residents will be Idle No More and learn about new laws that threaten the environment and treaty rights.
About 33 people rallied in front of St. Albert Place Sunday afternoon in support of Idle No More, an international grassroots movement meant to raise awareness of aboriginal treaty rights and environmental degradation.
Waving placards, handing out pamphlets and singing traditional songs to the beat of a drum, they sought to teach others about aboriginal culture and Bill C-45, the budget implementation bill that became law in December.
City resident and Treaty 6 First Nation member Mary Wadham said she organized the rally to raise awareness of C-45, which made many controversial changes to the Navigable Waters, Environmental Assessment, and Fisheries and Indian acts.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act became the Navigation Protection Act, for example, removing federal protection from all but 162 lakes, oceans and rivers.
Water bodies such as the Sturgeon River are now solely protected by provincial law, meaning developers no longer have to prove to the federal government that they will not harm the river if they build, say, a pipeline over it.
These changes affect everyone, Wadham said, not just First Nations. “It’s affecting future generations and everybody’s children, with the land and the water and the animals,” she said. “These things are all at risk of destruction.”
The Idle No More movement started last fall when four Saskatchewan women organized a rally in Saskatoon on Nov. 10 in protest of Bill C-45.
The movement took off, inspiring a national day of action on Dec. 10, a hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, and rallies around the world. The campaign’s Facebook page had received about 61,000 likes as of Tuesday morning.
Taz Bouchier, an Edmonton-based elder with the Treaty 8 First Nations who was at Sunday’s event, said the changes in C-45 seemed to be an attempt by the Harper government to fast-track pipeline construction. “We’re going, no, you can’t do that.”
The Harper government is obliged to consult First Nations on these changes under treaty and international law, she said, and it hasn’t. “We are probably the only entity in this land that can legally stop Harper from destroying the water and the land that is still here.”
The Mikisiw Cree and Frog Lake First Nations launched a legal challenge to many of these changes Monday, arguing that the federal government had not adequately consulted aboriginals before making them.
Few city residents seemed aware of these changes Sunday, Wadham said. “We had three people giving us the finger!” she said, with a chuckle.
But others gave honks of support, said Bouchier. The movement itself is helping to preserve native culture and showing government that aboriginals will not sit idle any more. “We will be asserting ourselves.”
She and Wadham hoped to raise awareness of these changes and press the government to reverse them.
“The government is not acting on its obligations to the aboriginal people,” Wadham said. “We want to send a powerful message to the Harper government to meet and consult with our aboriginal leaders.”
In response to Spence’s strike, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to meet with a delegation of First Nations leaders, including Spence, this Friday to discuss aboriginal issues.
It’s a start, Bouchier said, but much more must be done to live up to the government’s treaty obligations.
Wadham said it’s inspiring to see how people around the world had rallied to this cause. “That in itself is awesome.” She planned to hold a second rally in St. Albert later this month.
See Idlenomore.ca for more on the rallies.