First Nations Continue Struggle Across Canada in Sub-Zero Temperatures
Idle No More protest closes streets in downtown Edmonton
400 activists join marchers nationwide in support of treaty rights
EDMONTON - Idle No More protesters shut downtown streets Friday as they marched from Walterdale Bridge to Canada Place and held a round dance in the middle of Jasper Avenue.
About 400 aboriginal activists and supporters marched the distance in -20 C temperatures with a stiff wind, as more people followed in vehicles and joined the group along the way.
The grassroots movement, organized locally by teachers and law students through social media, was echoed in cities across the county, in the United States and even London, England. More than 1,000 protesters descended on Ottawa, and many of the regional protests shut down significant intersections and highways.
“We’re doing this peaceful, non-violent. There will be an escalation of peaceful, non-violent methods after this,” said Gitz Crazyboy, a member of the Piikani First Nation who drove to Edmonton from his job in Fort McMurray for the protest.
“We’re already seeing it across the country,” he said, pointing to numerous temporary highway blockades. “If Theresa Spence dies, I can’t tell you what will happen.
“If (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) is willing to let one of our beautiful leaders starve, what does that say about what he thinks of the rest of us?” said Crazyboy, after leading the group chanting its support for Spence outside Canada Place.
Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11.
She is living in a teepee just off Parliament Hill, calling on Harper and the Queen or her representative to meet with First Nations leaders and renew a more respectful relationship.
Idle No More supporters have been calling on the federal government to amend Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that delisted many rivers from environmental protection.
Protesters say the bill also made significant changes to the Indian Act without consultation or support from First Nations leaders.
Organizers in Edmonton said Mikisew Cree Chief Steve Courtoreille announced on Friday that his nation will start legal action against the bill. Courtoreille was not immediately available for confirmation or clarification. The Mikisew Cree are located north of Fort McMurray near Alberta’s oilsands.
Neither Harper nor Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan were available for comment Friday.
“The Government remains willing to work with Chief Spence, and all chiefs, to deliver better outcomes for First Nations communities. Minister Duncan has repeatedly offered to meet with Chief Spence but has not as yet received a response from her,” said Julie Vaux, spokeswoman for Harper, in an email.
“Regarding the idle no more protests, our government will continue to respect the right to peaceful protest. We recognize that more work is required to achieve our shared goal of healthier, more self-sufficient First Nation communities, but we believe the best way to do that is by working together,” said Duncan, according to an email sent by his spokesman.
Signs at the downtown Edmonton event read, “Hey Harper, Your ‘Check Injun’ light is on,” “One nation, one tribe, one fire” and “Stop bill C-45.”
“I am here to support my people and keep my treaty rights,” said Caroline Houle, a nursing assistant who wrapped herself in a blanket to march.
“It’s so cold. It’s amazing to see the people standing here united,” added Melina Laboucan, a member of the Lubicon First Nation who also works with Greenpeace.
She helped organize the rally. “It’s amazing to see people across the country saying no, enough is enough,” she said.
Many non-aboriginal people joined the march, lending their voice to ask for change.
“It’s not just a First Nations thing. The treaties are signed by two entities. Everyone has the right to be indignant,” said university student Fraser Mah.
“It feels as if these things are coming to a head and starting to move forward,” added his friend Alix Krahn.
Occupy Edmonton members handed out free hot chocolate as the group passed McDougall United Church on 101st Street.
Michelle White said she was at the first protest earlier this month and she sees the movement growing as people share the news and become excited. “It (the news) spread like wildfire,” she said, crediting social media.
She comes from a long line of aboriginal activists, she said. Her sign read “Bill C-45 sparked the revolution #idlenomore.”
Friday’s rally followed rallies across the country Dec. 10, as well as a week of highway blockades and shopping centre flash mobs.