Protesters hold Idle No More rallies across Canada
Published Monday, October 7, 2013 9:49AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 7, 2013 11:02PM EDT
Dozens of demonstrations took place throughout Canada Monday as organizers of the Idle No More movement called for a day of action.
The demonstrations coincided with the 250th anniversary of the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 -- Canada’s founding document which said that indigenous land rights must be recognized.
The Idle No More movement represents a growing resistance within First Nation communities, says Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and the federal government should start taking note.
Pointing to the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline proposals, Nepinak told CTV News that indigenous communities hold the "trump card" when it comes to the development of the projects
"As Canadian governments find themselves needing to rely more and more on indigenous people to move their energy projects along, they need to start paying attention to the fact that we need to deconstruct some of these fallacies that we've been operating on for too long," he said.
The Idle No More movement began as a Twitter hashtag and spread to communities across Canada last winter, as aboriginal groups protested the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45.
First Nations groups said the bill threatened their treaty rights and demanded that the Conservative government directly address the issue, as well as poor living conditions in many of their communities.
The chief of Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, Theresa Spence, became the face of Idle No More when she embarked on a six-week hunger protest in early December, subsisting on fish broth and tea.
Spence’s protest and ongoing demonstrations from coast to coast led to a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Assembly of First Nations chiefs, but critics say that nothing has changed since.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo told a news conference Monday that the British Royal Proclamation honoured “nation-to-nation agreements,” and mutual respect between Canada’s indigenous people and the European settlers.
He said the 250th anniversary is significant for First Nations and all Canadians, and aboriginal groups must push for a timely resolution to current land issues.
"Two hundred and fifty years later, we still, with every government including this one, are saying the time for First Nations to help drive a future must be led by them," Atleo said. "Not just in land, but in education, child welfare, in all aspects of our lives."
Since the Idle No More movement has garnered national and international attention, “we must seize the moment,” he added.
In addition to the British Royal Proclamation, Monday’s events also recognized the arrival of a United Nations fact-finder who has been tasked with reviewing the rights of Canada’s indigenous people and the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Law professor James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on indigenous rights, will be in the country for nine days to work on his report to the UN Human Rights council. He is scheduled to meet with representatives of First Nations and the federal government.
"I want to hear what aboriginal peoples themselves are expressing concerns about and also hear from government about what they identify as the major issues confronting aboriginal peoples," Anaya said.
He said the Idle No More movement highlights the growing concerns amongst indigenous communities.
"It also highlighted my interest in engaging in a dialogue that I hope is constructive with the government about those issues," he said.
With a report from CTV’s Jill Macyshon