Local protesters expressed support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s decision to boycott Friday’s working meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the basis that the governor-general would not be present.
“I don’t disagree with that point, because if the treaties are signed between the First Nations and the Crown and there are people absent from the table, then is it a true meeting?” asked protester Beverly Boe.
“My concern is, if there’s somebody absent from that table, somebody’s going to come back and say ‘This wasn’t done right and we’re going to have to start all over again’ … That’s the concern of everybody: Is this just another photo-op?”
Protesters met around noon on Friday at the corner of Second Avenue and 15th Street West to wave signs and flags. They received plenty of supportive honks from passing motorists -- though protesters reported that some drivers preferred to extend their middle finger instead.
After demonstrating at the intersection for an hour, protesters moved into St. Alban’s Cathedral to warm up with a teach-in featuring speakers and refreshments. Scheduled speakers included the daughter of Nina Wilson (one of the four women who founded Idle No More) and elder Calvin McArthur.
The bitterly cold weather may have negatively affected turnout, but event organizers appeared happier with the demographics of the protest.
“It’s pretty cold out there and … it’s a pretty small turnout,” organizer Tammy St. Denis said. “I think that we still need to keep the momentum going because there’s a lot of youth here today, and that’s what I like to see.
“I’m … really, really, really happy about that, because the youth are starting to stand up now, and once the youth get in there, I think this momentum will take (off).”
City-dwellers weren’t the only ones present. Protester Laurie Waditaka hails from Wahpeton Dakota Nation. As a resident of a northern community, her lifestyle depends on natural resources that may be threatened by Bill C-45.
“I live off the land,” Waditaka said. “I pick berries. I go to the ceremonies, and without our water and without these ceremonies … our land is going to get tainted and what’s going to happen to everything? We’re all dependent on water. Water is life. We need our water.”
That’s the concern of everybody: Is this just another photo-op? - Beverly Boe
Her sentiments were shared by fellow protester Randy Anderson, who carried a sign reading, “I am for WATER, not Harper.”
“I believe water is the basis of life,” Anderson said. “Water is the basis of all our culture in the north … Once we pollute it, it’s gone forever.”
“There’s always an angle to make money,” he added. “But remember, we need a future.”
From a focus on the effects of Bill C-45, the media narrative of Idle No More took a more complicated turn this week as the government released an audit indicating mismanagement of federal funds in Attawapiskat.
One of the rally organizers, second-year university student Samantha Waditaka, defended the chief against the accusations.
“Theresa Spence, she’s pretty much a role model for everyone to follow,” she said, adding, “I don’t think people have the full information, and before they choose sides, they should know both sides of the story.”
More photos from Friday's Idle No More rally may be viewed here.