Drumming, singing and dancing demonstrators gathered outside the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada office in downtown Vancouver today (January 28) for a rally aimed at sending a message to the federal government as politicians returned to the House of Commons.
The local Idle No More protest was part of a “global day of action” that included rallies in cities across the country as Parliament resumed following a six-week break.
“It is the first day back for the members of Parliament in Ottawa, so we have taken it upon ourselves to welcome them back with thunderous marches, and furious uproar,” said Steven Kakinoosit, one of the organizers of the event.
Among the issues at the centre of the protest were concerns about federal omnibus bill C-45, one of the pieces of legislation that initially sparked the grassroots Idle No More movement. Protesters say changes under the bill to laws including the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act will erode environmental protection and aboriginal rights.
Rally organizer Dan Wallace vowed that Idle No More protests against the legislation, which received Royal Assent on December 14, will continue.
“We’re not going to give up…we want to get rid of this bill,” he said in an interview. “I can be grateful and thankful for at least one thing that’s come of this, is that Harper has brought people together, and that’s the silver lining. So whether he likes it or not, he’s actually given us a reason to be stronger with each other.”
Paul Faoro, vice-president of CUPE B.C., told demonstrators that Bill C-45 “should be rescinded” and put to debate.
“Mr. Harper, it’s about more than just one meeting—it is about having a series of conversations…in a respectful, open debate,” he said, referring to the meeting between First Nations leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper that took place on January 11.
Jerilynn Webster noted the movement has not subsisted following the end of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, which many Idle No More protestors had demonstrated their support for.
“It may feel like the Idle No More movement has slowed down because the hunger strike has lessened, but I think J28 is really going to show the world that we’re still here,” she told the Straight. “We’re still here and we’re going to continue to come together and gather and march in the street and rallies, and have teach-ins and bring the message, to not only our communities but all across Canada.”
Spence’s hunger strike and Idle No More actions across the country also drew attention to issues including poverty in aboriginal communities.
“We’re sending a message to the Conservative government: help us to fix the problems that are in our communities,” Kakinoosit told a crowd of over 200 people assembled at the corner of Thurlow and Melville streets.
“We know we have longstanding issues in our communities, and we want to deal with these issues in a good way. But if you do not do it soon, I will guarantee this: it’s going to be a long, hot summer.”
Idle No More rallies were also held today in cities including Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Halifax.