Idle No More blockade causes standstill
by Phil Ambroziak
It may seem out of place for a First Nations person to offer his appreciation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the midst of the ongoing Idle No More movement, but that is exactly what Ministikwan Cree Nation member Sidney Chief wants to do.
“I’d like to thank Stephen Harper personally for waking up my people,” Chief said during an Idle No More rally that saw Ministikwan (Island Lake First Nation) members block Highway 21 west of Loon Lake Jan. 16 – a day described by First Nations as a National Day of Action.
Idle No More is an ongoing protest movement involving Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, as well as their non-aboriginal supporters. It has consisted of a number of political actions nationwide, inspired in part by reaction to alleged abuses of indigenous treaty rights by the current federal government. The movement takes particular issue with the recent omnibus bill, Bill C-45.
“The Idle No More movement is gathering momentum, and we are too,” Chief continued. “We support all the other (First Nations) groups in Canada – the people in this territory are not being left out.”
After the May 2, 2011 federal election, the Conservative government proposed a number of omnibus bills, which introduced numerous legislative changes. The perceived nature of the changes proposed in Bill C-45 raised concerns amongst First Nations people, particularly Bill C-45’s alteration to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) of 1882. Bill C-45 renames the Act the Navigation Protection Act (NPA).
According to reports, the NWPA mandated an extensive approval and consultation process before construction of any kind could take place in or around a body of water. Under the new NPA, the approval process would only be required for development around a list of waterways set by the minister of transportation. Many of these newly deregulated waterways pass through traditional First Nations land.
“The government doesn’t tell us everything,” Chief added. “These environmental issues would impact not only First Nations, but all of Canada. They just push all this legislation without any consultation – there’s never any consent from First Nations people.”
Chief also said aboriginal people are not properly represented by the Assembly of First Nations or the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
“That is why the grassroots people are standing up for the rights of their territories,” he said.
With a series of colourful signs and placards in hand, participants in last week’s protest barricaded the highway to traffic heading east and west.
Essential services and emergency vehicles were granted passage in what both Chief and the local RCMP described as a peaceful demonstration.
“Sidney gave us a shout on Monday to let us know what they would be doing,” explained Loon Lake RCMP Sgt. Shawn Carter. “Everyone is being good and they’re letting essential services through, so we’re just here to say hello and to see how things are going.”
As for why the Ministikwan group chose a blockade over a march or some other form of protest, Chief said it serves as an indication of how Canada as a whole would be impacted if First Nations from across the country decided to “stop everything for a day.”
Band member Dorothy Crookedneck said part of the reasoning behind the Idle No More movement is to ensure a brighter future for today’s young people.
“We’re also doing this for the younger generation,” she said. “This way, they will know what to do if they come across this sort of treatment in the future.”
Meanwhile, Chief said the Jan. 16 blockade was only the first of a series of actions that will be taken by his people.
“Something has to happen,” he said.
At the same time as the demonstration near Loon Lake, a similar blockade was held by Waterhen Lake Cree Nation members on Highway 903. Once again, band members were on hand to protest Bill C-45, other forms of legislation and proposed changes to the Indian Act.
“The purpose of the Day of Action is to provide education and awareness of the issues, vision and outcomes at the community level,” remarked organizer Sid Fiddler. “This community based initiative is stepping up action to show the seriousness of these issues.”