The Idle No More movement arrived in Sudbury on Dec. 21, as First Nations communities from across Northern Ontario marched in downtown Sudbury to protest federal government legislation that removes environmental protections of thousands of lakes in Canada.
The 400-strong crowd also was there to support Attawapiskat First Nations Chief Theresa Spence, who is on a hunger strike until she gains a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“I’m just here for the children, for Theresa Spence, for all our people, for First Nations across Canada,” said Sarah Assinewe of Wikwemikong, who came to the march with her sister, her daughter and her nephew. “She’s a woman and she’s showing her strength and she’s sacrificing for her people. In times like this, it’s so important that someone is able to do that for us.
“We have to give our support to her, and that’s why it’s important to be in places like this today.”
The Idle No More movement has gained momentum in First Nations across Canada. In part, it’s a response to the federal government’s omnibus budget Bill C-45, which, among other things, removes environmental protections of waterways and makes it easier to sell reserve lands to private corporations.
The movement also supports Spence, who began her strike to force a meeting with Harper over housing, education and other issues in Attawapiskat.
Wahnapitae First Nation Chief Ted Roque said First Nations are tired of being ignored.
“Prime Minister Harper doesn’t want to listen to us — he doesn’t want to listen to our treaty,” Roque said. “Bill C-45 will not just affect First Nations, it will affect everyone.”
“It’s a grassroots initiative — the people want to be heard,” Miller said. “And with social media, once people start talking about something that really hits home, it becomes something powerful and there’s something unique that’s happening here.”
It’s a peaceful movement, he said, aimed at getting the attention of the public and government, and to bring First Nations into the decision-making process.
“Politically, we’ve been trying to get the government to listen,” he said. “It’s hard to control your feelings at times, when you know families are hurting out there. But we try to be peaceful, to band together, and with one strong voice to move things a different way.”
The peaceful protests are expanding, with talk on Facebook and other social media that First Nations plan to shut down Highway 6 and 17 in Espanola on Dec. 22.
Isaac Day, a member of Serpent River First Nation who attended the Sudbury rally, said the legacy of governments and corporations in dealing with Aboriginal people has been devastating.
“First Nations are very angry,” he said. “You’re going to see more of this down the road.”
He says Canadian governments and private corporations have profited from natural resources on First Nations lands, but haven’t shared that wealth fairly with them.
“It’s our DNA that’s in that forest. So when legislation is passed without input from First Nations, it’s like a slap in the face.”
He said the peaceful nature of the protests and the power example set by Spence’s hunger strike is galvanizing people across Canada.
“I really admire Chief Spence for the stance she’s taking. From what I understand, there are elders guarding her, and it’s a very spiritual quest that she’s taking.”