With thousands expected to join a rally Friday in Ottawa, a wave of support for the Idle No More movement for Indigenous rights is spreading rapidly across Canada and beyond.
In addition to the large demonstration in Ottawa, where Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is now on Day 10 of her hunger strike, solidarity actions will take place in many locations across Canada and around the world. With support rallies as far afield as Egypt and Los Angeles, December 21 is shaping up as a global day of action.
In Canada, the number of individuals and organizations expressing support with Idle No More continues to grow. The Canadian Labour Congress issued the following statement, urging Prime Minister Harper to respect First Nations and to meet with Chief Spence:
"The Canadian Labour Congress supports Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, who is on a hunger strike in Ottawa. She is determined not to eat until granted an audience with the Prime Minister to discuss conditions on her reserve and government actions that compromise First Nations communities, land and water. We urge the Prime Minister to meet with Chief Spence.
The deplorable housing situation at Attawapiskat made international headlines in 2011. Leaders there declared a state of emergency for the third time in three years in response to falling temperatures, and the resulting health and safety concerns due to inadequate housing. Many residents were living in tents, trailers and temporary shelters, and many residences and public buildings lacked running water and electricity. In one case, children, the elderly, and the ill were sleeping in rooms just a few feet away from a 2009 raw sewage spill that had not been adequately cleaned up.
The story is all too familiar for Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities. Chief Spence says that the federal government has embarked on an agenda that flies in the face of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Chief Spence’s action has helped to galvanize a movement called Idle No More, which arose as a result of the federal government’s recent omnibus Bill C-45. The legislation amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act,
which will allow the government to approve projects on more than 160 lakes without consulting First Nations. Bill C-45 also makes changes to the Indian Act, including to land management on reserves that make it easier to lease out land for economic development without consulting band residents. The impact of these changes will be devastating for many First Nations communities. There is also continuing frustration over a lack of action in the cases of more than 600 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing in the past 20 years.
The CLC urges its affiliates and Federations of Labour to extend support to Chief Spence and to those participating in the Idle No More movement."
Earlier this week, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also shared strong words of support for Idle No More:
The Green Party of Canada calls on all Canadians to take part in #idlenomore events throughout Canada. Green Leader Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, specifically invites citizens to take part in the 21 December 2012 rally in Ottawa.
“Harper’s record on Aboriginal Affairs is dishonourable. The C-45 Omnibus bill included legislative changes detrimental to First Nations. I tabled amendments to ensure that the definition of aboriginal fisheries was fully respectful of First Nations and aboriginal treaties and inherent rights,” said May.
“Furthermore, our amendments on the Navigable Waters Protection Act would have ensured the on-going protection of rights to navigation for Aboriginal people, and all Canadians, on all water bodies in Canada, and not just 62 rivers and 97 lakes. The government defeated all the amendments we put forward,” added May.
“First Nations members have every right to be angry at Harper’s Conservatives,” concluded the Green leader.
Lorraine Rekmans, Green Critic for Aboriginal Affairs, will represent the Green Party at the Ottawa rally. “I have a hard time believing Stephen Harper represents the interest and will of Canadians. Most Canadians want improved standards of life for First Nations, not marginalization at the hand of corporations. When injustice becomes entrenched in law, resistance becomes our duty. We cannot stand idly by and watch the erosion of constitutionally protected rights”, said Rekmans.
rabble.ca will have a round-up of this weekend's Idle No More actions, in addition to ongoing live reports on Twitter. Follow @rabbleca and, of course, the hashtag for all this weekend's events is #IdleNoMore -- it's already trending across Canada today.