Under the banner of Idle No More -- a campaign seeking to protect native treaty rights and resources against new federal legislation -- local indigenous activists and their supporters joined protesters across the country last week to mobilize against the recently passed Bill C-45.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Local Idle No More supporters (left to right) Gabrielle Lee, Jasmine Dreaver and Tammy St. Denis are helping organize another protest against Bill C-45 in Prince Albert on Friday, Dec. 21 as part of a continuing national campaign to protect native treaty land and resource rights.
Far from a one-time event, organizers are determined to keep the issue in the public consciousness by continuing their protests until they see action from Parliament.
They are currently gathering signatures for a petition demanding that the government set aside the bill until it has provided due consultation with First Nations who have provided their informed consent.
“The entire nation is keeping the home fires burning, basically,” local Idle No More supporter Gabrielle Lee said.
“Everybody’s standing in solidarity in a continuous fashion. Everybody is focused. First Nations people who are aware are praying, they’re gathering, they’re organizing … they’re trying to educate … they’re trying to get people excited about it and impact them and get them informed and honest.”
Another Idle No More protest is scheduled in Prince Albert for Friday, Dec. 21. While locations may change depending on turnout and building capacity, the current plan is for supporters to meet up again at the Indian Métis Friendship Centre of Prince Albert.
An info session is expected to last from noon until 1 p.m., and a solidarity rally will take place from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Idle No More supporters have expressed particularly vehement opposition to Bill C-45 because they hold that it violates treaty rights governing native land and resources, as well as the stipulation that First Nations must provide free, prior and informed consent to such legislation.
Negative environmental consequences affecting the health and well-being of native communities are their biggest concern. Lee asked readers to imagine what life would be like if they couldn’t wash their children in the bathtub or drink tap water due to contamination from mining activity.
“For some far north communities this is already a reality, so it shouldn’t be that hard to imagine,” she said. “Mining companies with loosened standards and new government policies that fast track the environmental assessment process for natural resource development projects can now take advantage of the now unprotected waterways, potentially contaminating the system.
“That’s what Bill C-45 is allowing them to do. This could mean our waterways will be contaminated for hundreds of years. At best, this would mean we would have to move from our homes to a different area where clean water would be more accessible.”
But Idle No More sees plenty of other threats on the horizon other than C-45, now set to become the law of the land after the Senate passed it on Friday.
All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water, and we welcome indigenous and non-indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities. Gabrielle Lee
Another major concern is the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project seeking to channel oil from Alberta through Saskatchewan to the Gulf of Mexico.
Idle No More supporter and local organizer Jasmine Dreaver pointed to skyrocketing cancer rates in native communities living downstream from the tar sands.
“People right now are dying in Fort Chipewyan because of this, and it’s not even in the paper,” she said as tears welled in her eyes.
She added: “Their drinking water is toxic and children are getting cancer. People as young as 30 are dying from cancer and they’re calling it a ‘strange disease,’ like a mysterious disease. OK, Stephen Harper shuts down XL Foods because a couple people get sick from E. coli, and he doesn’t … shut down this pipeline and how many people are dying?”
For the moment, Bill C-45 is the main target. Despite being passed by Parliament, activists hold out hope that the legislature will listen to their concerns and shelve the law until it has carried out proper discussion with native leaders.
Failing that, they hope to take their concerns to the United Nations. Arguing that the legislation is a violation of treaty rights between sovereign nations, Lee referenced Article 19 in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which reads: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”
Although Idle No More is a movement started by Aboriginal activists, Lee emphasized that the environmental damage resulting from the legislation affects all Canadians.
“Everyone should be worried about the decrease in environmental protections of water, because it will affect everyone,” she said. “All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water, and we welcome indigenous and non-indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities.
“Our future depends on the preservation of the treaty land and resources and the application of free, prior and informed consent.”