Idle No More hits the highway on eve of Harper meeting

Matt Gardner
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s long-awaited meeting with native leaders may be set for Friday, but local supporters of Idle No More aren’t resting on their laurels.

Instead, Prince Albert activists kept up pressure on the government Thursday by holding a traffic “slow down” on Highway 2 near 48th Street West.

A tactic inspired by similar actions across the country, rally organizers embraced the idea of a “slow down” barricade as an alternative to blocking traffic.

“I was reading up on what’s been going on across Canada, and in Regina they just recently had one where they slowed down the traffic on the highway,” organizer Colleen Whitedeer said.

“They kind of went on the side and protested with their signs and their flags, so I just thought I’d kind of do that because the last couple of (protests) were all … downtown, and I figured that I’d kind of move it on the outskirts because this is a pretty busy highway here.”

The RCMP helped facilitate the protest by parking a police car at the side of the road with flashing lights turned on to slow oncoming traffic. A Prince Albert Police Service vehicle could also be seen near the demonstration.

Whitedeer contacted the RCMP on Monday to alert them to the protest ahead of time. She described a co-operative attitude as prevailing among law enforcement and city officials.

“The first (protest) we had on Dec. 21, there was a bit of hesitation with the mayor and the city of Prince Albert, or the city police,” Whitedeer said. “But they … seem to be (giving) more support and it’s all working … for both sides.”

One of the protesters along the highway Thursday was Whitedeer’s sister Bie Charlette, attending her first Idle No More rally. Charlette had previously wanted to attend one of the flash mob round dances in Saskatoon, but had no way of travelling there.

Much of the media focus around Idle No More in recent weeks has turned to the hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and her desire to meet with the prime minister and governor-general. But Charlette’s thoughts on the meeting reflected the tempered expectations of many grassroots Idle No More supporters.

I’m hoping that something serious happens for our people. Colleen Whitedeer

“Just because they’re going to meet with the prime minister and the government and all the chiefs and stuff doesn’t really mean we should stop this,” she said. “This is a movement, and even though everything’s settled, it’s just (about) really waking up people and realizing what we have to protect in order to survive future generations … not only us, but our kids and grandchildren as well.”

If Harper’s meeting with native leaders fails to lead to concrete change, protesters expect the demonstrations to continue and possibly even expand. Charlette noted the increasingly global reach of Idle No More, with solidarity protests taking place as far as away as Australia and New Zealand.

Nevertheless, activists remain optimistic.

“I’m hoping that something serious happens for our people, for the benefit of Canadians, First Nations people, because their bills and how they're coming across just totally infringe on Aboriginal rights and Canadian rights, period,” Whitedeer said.

She added, “I have cousins who live … in northern communities. They continue to hunt, they continue to fish, they continue to practise the traditional lifestyles, and if you have (an) international company come inside and try to disrupt the land and kill the land, it affects them -- and then that becomes my business.

“That becomes everybody’s business, because at the end of the day, we all need water to survive. It’s just a natural law, regardless of how you look at it. We human beings need healthy water to survive and that’s what this is about, is saving our water, saving our planet.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, RCMP, First Nations

Geographic location: Canada, Regina, Saskatoon Australia and New Zealand

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