Dec. 10, 2012. Thirteen nation-wide rallies. Thousands of protesters. One missing Ikea monkey.
I bet you were aware of the monkey.
One cute little monkey— that’s what the media focused on while thousands of First Nations people marched in ‘A National Day of Action and Solidarity’ to protest the recent passing of amendments to Bill C-45, Harper’s omnibus budget bill. The day was organized by Idle No More, a grass roots movement which started in Saskatchewan several weeks ago.
Idle No More began with four women: Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, Nina Wilson and Sheelah McLean, who were concerned about the legislative changes introduced by Bill C-45 which they believe is a direct attack on the rights of First Nations people.
I mentioned this bill several weeks ago, when I wrote about the proposed nuclear waste repository in northern Saskatchewan. In my column on Nov. 23, 2012 I spoke of the environmental effects which would likely result if the bill were passed. You can find that column online at the Prince Albert Daily Herald website.
Bill C-45 now eliminates the protection of over two million lakes and 8,500 rivers in Canada, reducing that number to just 97 lakes and 62 protected rivers. Most of those protected bodies of water are now in Ontario. Canada possesses nearly 10 per cent of the world’s renewable water, but now most of that is no longer protected. This means that if our bodies of water stand in the way of mines, dams, bridges, pipelines or construction of any sort, there is now free reign for them to be polluted and destroyed, never mind all the animals and their habitats around the water. If you happen to live beside a beautiful lake or river, take photos now because who knows what will sit outside your window in the coming years.
Not surprisingly, Bill C-45 also reduces the need for thorough environmental assessments, making it far easier for big corporations to move in and poison our lands, waters and animals all in the name of profit.
But first, let’s back track a little. In Bill C-38 (Harper’s first omnibus bill) the government cut funding to places like Environment Canada — over $222 million, with specific cuts to departments dealing with climate change, clean air, waste management and water resources. That should have been a huge clue to the dark cloud coming. Not to mention Canada’s pulling out of the Kyoto accord, which signalled that as a nation we would no longer strive to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
With no one to protest the environmental dangers looming, Bill C-45 made it much easier to hasten approval for major oil and gas companies to move in for exploitation. Take for instance the following situation.
Now that the bill has been passed, we are so much closer to housing a nuclear waste repository. The only thing that is needed now is the cooperation of one community in the north — and it looks like Pinehouse is a willing contender. Though concerns over gag orders with Cameco and Areva have surfaced in the news recently. I predict many more similar scenarios in the future.
So ultimately, what began as a movement to educate people on the drastic changes presented by Bill C-45 has sprung into a nation-wide movement for solidarity amongst First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups. Idle No More has become a slogan for unity and action across Canada, a catalyst for change. If you think it is only about First Nations people, you are wrong. Very wrong.
If it seems like First Nations groups are going haywire across the country, it is only because their patience has worn thin. These are groups who have tried numerous times to meet with the government over their concerns and been ignored and shut out, with decisions being made affecting them — without their consultation.
One example was last week, when 300 First Nations leaders marched to Parliament Hill with the intent to respectfully voice their concerns about Bill C-45. They were denied entry to the House of Commons.
Which leads us to this week, where Idle No More rallies were held in more than 13 locations across Canada, including: Vancouver, Whitehorse, Calgary, Edmonton, Stand-off, Saskatoon, North Battleford, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Goose Bay-Happy Valley. Grassroots speakers presented their concerns and people marched together, gaining strength in numbers.
I’ve heard people comment that if Bill C-45 didn’t affect First Nations reserve lands, they wouldn’t be so ticked off right now. I don’t believe that for one minute. If you gathered all the reserves together, the total reserve land mass of First Nations people in Canada is only about the size of Vancouver Island. That’s it. The Idle No More movement is about much more than that. It is about the state of ALL of the land in Canada, the waters, the animals and ALL the people affected, Aboriginal or not. It is about the future state of Canada and the people who inhabit it and those who will inhabit this land after us. Idle No More strives to find renewable, sustainable development that will create healthy communities all across Canada, not just Aboriginal communities.
But yes, this movement is also about the treatment of Aboriginal people. So long as they continued to be ignored and disregarded and are witness to attacks on the Indian Act, treaties and sovereignty, you will see more people on hunger strikes like Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat and Emil Bell of Canoe Lake. You will see more highway blockades, like the one in Samson, Alta., on Dec. 11, 2012. You will see more rallies by Idle No More supporters, like the ones scheduled for Dec. 21, 2012.
This is not a movement dividing First Nations people and white people. It is about protecting Mother Earth with people of all colors, honouring the spirit and intent of treaties and holding the federal government accountable for its actions.
There is hope though. If a bill can be passed, another bill can be introduced, restoring its changes, or even proposing new and better changes.