Photo: Jamie Spence

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Settler In Solidarity #IdleNoMore

A non-indigenous person held a cardboard sign with those words scrolled in black ink as the snow fell gently on a few hundred people gathered on the steps of Parliament Hill.  

A sentiment echoed by the majority of Canadians.

“Over 50 per cent of Canadians now say Indigenous issues are top priority in this country,” said Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

“And there is no better medicine than dancing in a circle with friends and relatives and those from the settler society saying that this is the moment in history when change arrives.”

The gathering on Parliament Hill was one of over 30 Idle No More actions held Monday across Canada and around the world.

“And we will not rest until we achieve this change for our people,” said Atleo.

They’ll continue in the streets. In the courts. At the United Nations. 

They’ll fight for their land, their rivers, their animals, their medicine and the air.

“The land is not for sale,” said Claudette Commanda, Executive Director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres. 

“It’s not for the taking. And it never will be. We own the land. And we have that responsibility to make sure that the land, the water and everything we need to live is here for our children today and those that are not here yet.”

For without the earth, there will be no life. For anyone. 

But the Conservative government wants to push ahead with resource extraction, regardless of the cost to human life.

“And we’re not going to allow that to happen,” said Charlie Angus, NDP MP, Timmins-James Bay. 

“Development has to be sustainable. It has to protect the land and it has protect the right of the people who live on the land. That is how development is going to happen from now on.”

That’s the message the people gathered on Parliament Hill and across the country have for the Conservatives.

To that end, NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced a private member’s bill on Monday in the House of Commons that would require the government to guarantee that Canadian laws are in accordance with the 2007 UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

In 2010, the government officially supported the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

“Let’s see if they can walk the talk,” said Saganash.

As Saganash walked to Parliament Hill on Monday morning, he was reminded of the lyrics of the John Lennon song Imagine.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will be as one.”

Last December, federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair promised supporters that he would go into the House of Commons and ask the Prime Minister how it was possible to respect First Nations’s lands and water.

Then turn around and “destroy” the Navigable Waters Protection Act and “remove” environmental safeguards and environmental assessments.

“You cannot destroy thousands of lakes and rivers and pretend to be respecting First Nations territorial fishing and hunting rights,” said Mulcair.

The NDP leader decried the housing conditions on many First Nations reserves. That First Nations children have 30 per cent less per capita than other Canadian children. 

“We will fight with you and demand the government finally act and respect the promises of the past.”

The promise to work on a nation to nation basis with First Nations.

“And thank you all for being Idle No More,” said Nina Wilson, Idle No More co-founder. “We’re all a part of a family called humanity.”

A relationship based on sharing.

“No matter what happens, I can tell my kids that I did everything that I could do to protect them,” she said.

“And that’s how I can sleep.”

Clayton Thomas-Muller grew up in Winnipeg.

“The biggest reservation in the world,” said Thomas-Muller of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation also known as Pukatawagan in Northern Manitoba, Canada, an activist for Indigenous rights and environmental justice.

“That’s what they call it.”

In 2008, CBC News reported that one in 10 Winnipeggers identified themselves as aboriginal in the 2006 census — the largest percentage of any major city in the country. The Manitoba capital also has the largest aboriginal population at 68,380. 

Surrounded by reservations, Thomas-Muller was able to benefit from the knowledge of his elders who helped him learn the traditional ways of First Nations peoples.

“And we have a responsibility not just to protect our children,” he said. “We have a responsibility to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves.”

Like the birds. The fish. The bush plants. And the trees.

“We have our sacred responsibility to protect these beings at all cost,” said Thomas-Muller. “Sacred responsibilities that Creator has given us.”

Responsibilities that go far beyond transfer payments and revenue sharing. 

“We cannot let the discourse in the media become one about us just trying to get a piece of the pie and raise our standings in this class system that’s been oppressing us since the founding of this country,” he said. 

“We want another world. The world that our ancestors died so that we could protect. And we will share that world in a good way with all living things including these greedy corporate people.

“But those who knowingly cause harm against our people. Who knowingly cause harm against the sacredness of Mother Earth. Creator is quick to punish those who know better.”

Those with complete disregard for Canada’s environmental laws and protections.

Those who decided that out of millions of lakes and thousands of rivers in this country only 97 lakes and 65 rivers will be protected after the revisions are made to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

“It’s absolutely shocking and it’s illegal,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “We will be Idle No More. We will work together in peace and harmony and love.”

In that spirit of cooperation, Council of Canadians national chairperson Maude Barlow announced the formation of a new organization called Common Causes.

Their goal is to created a strategic, coordinated plan amongst the various movements with the ultimate goal of replacing the Conservative government in the next election.

“We come from all walks of life and all over the country,” said Barlow. “And we’ve decided not to be fighting in our silos any more but to be fighting together.”

Barlow called Stephen Harper the most right-wing, anti-democratic Prime Minister in Canadian history.

“He’s dismantling public services and social justice,” she said. “He’s taking the federal government out of medicare, attacking workers, women, refugees and the poor and gutting our environmental laws.”

And he rammed through Bill C-38 and Bill C-45.

“The worst pieces of legislation in Canadian history,” said Barlow.

“Well Stephen Harper, you have awakened a sleeping giant.”


Photo: Jamie Spence 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.