Idle No More rally comes to Vancouver

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A rally is set to take place on Sunday (December 23) at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of what organizers are saying is a growing grassroots movement. Protests have taken place across the country under the banner of the Idle No More movement, which was initiated by four women in Saskatchewan.

Dalannah Gail Bowen, one of the organizers of the local event, said the rally will focus on Bill C-45, one of two federal-government omnibus budget bills. Aboriginal activists have voiced concerns about changes to laws including the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which were included in the bill.

"The indigenous people across Canada have said that this is enough," Bowen told the Straight in a phone interview. "This is an arbitrary, imposed bill that does not address the history of the indigenous people of this country, and the agreements that have been set in place and have been part of the working order of that relationship between indigenous people and the rest of the people of Canada."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the Idle No More movement is "growing exponentially". He noted that while the movement was sparked by concerns over the two federal budget implementation bills, it has grown into a widespread protest against other policies of the Stephen Harper government, in the face of what he described as worsening socioeconomic conditions in aboriginal communities.

"It’s finding fertile ground in the deep frustration as a consequence of the crushing poverty our people are forced to endure on a daily basis," he said in a phone interview.

Phillip noted some of the concerns around omnibus bills C-38 and C-45, including what he called the "gutting" of the environmental assessment process.

Bowen said that while Bill C-45 has already been passed by the Senate and is set to become law, protesters are still hoping to change the legislation. Bill C-38 received royal assent in June.

"It is unfortunate that it has gotten to this extreme, but I am so glad that people are standing up," she said. "We need every woman, man, and child to stand up and fight against this initiative, and the bill has been passed, but I don’t think that this is over by any means. We’re just getting started."

In a statement, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan said the government too is "impatient to see more change that will benefit First Nation communities".

"For instance, First Nations are calling for discussion on the treaty relationship between the Crown and First Nations," he said in the statement. "We agree that on this point more work is required."

The Vancouver protest Sunday follows other smaller local events that have been organized in relation to the Idle No More movement, including an aboriginal student march that took place on December 10. Phillip expects to see the movement continue to expand.

"There’s no question that it’s going to continue to grow in size and scope over the winter into the spring, and I would suggest we’re going to have a very politically active summer next year," he stated.

The rally is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.

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