The Prince Albert protest was part of a national day of action organized as part of the “Idle No More” campaign, a grassroots effort to combat forthcoming legislation affecting First Nations people as well as the country’s land and water in general.
“This is the big picture,” local organizer Jasmine Dreaver said. “I’m here for my treaty rights, but first and foremost I’m here for what my title is as a treaty person to protect this land.”
Existing treaties stipulate the government must consult with First Nations before making decisions affecting native lands.
Passed by Parliament last Wednesday, the massive omnibus bill C-45 makes changes to a wide variety of federal rules and regulations.
“It’s 400 pages plus and it’s really complex and there has been little consultation with First Nations,” organizer Aleyna Morin said.
Gathering at the Indian & Métis Friendship Centre of Prince Albert, local protestors set out for the office of local Conservative MP and Bill C-45 supporter Randy Hoback.
Hoisting their placards high, the assembled crowd parked in front of Hoback’s office and endured the cold as passing motorists honked their support.
Environmental groups have strongly protested the weakening of environmental regulations in Bill C-45, which reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 2.5 million to 159.
“It’s opening up to the world to basically pollute Canada,” organizer Tammy St. Denis said.
“It’s disregarding ancient culture, which is about living off the land,” Morin added. “What if there is no land? Then what are we going to do? It (affects) the next generation too.”
The impact on bodies of water is one of the biggest concerns. First Nations fear that the bill’s provisions will leave traditional sources of drinking water such as lakes dirty and polluted.
Another major concern is fracking -- oil pipelines built beneath indigenous land. By eliminating entities such as the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, protestors worry that C-45 may increase potential environmental hazards.
Dreaver urged native activists to educate themselves on fracking.
“All you do is go on YouTube, you type in ‘dangers of fracking’ and it shows animals suffering, gasping for air,” she said. “It shows people with open sores on their bodies and it shows no help from the government. This is in America, where fracking is taking place right now.”
It’s 400 pages plus and it’s really complex and there has been little consultation with First Nations. - Aleyna Morin
With Bill C-45 having already passed, it appears that the fight between First Nations activists and the federal government over the issue will be a protracted one.
Protestors’ chief weapon at this juncture is a petition calling on Parliament to set aside Bill C-45 until the people most directly affected by it have been properly consulted. Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is collecting the petitions.
In the meantime, the Idle No More campaign and its local contingent will be using any and all weapons at their disposal to get the message across.
“There’s certain ways that we can do this peacefully in trying to raise awareness,” Morin said. “We could call upon younger people and we could do it through social media, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, writing letters to Harper, senators and the Queen. We can sign the petition, (which) is what we’re doing today.
“We can inform, inspire, impact, share, re-post it, pass it on (and) talk about it with everyone who can talk or listen.”