Thousands of First Nations demonstrators and their supporters rallied for a ‘national day of action’ across Canada on Wednesday.
The protests are part of the ‘Idle No More’ movement against abuses of indigenous treaty rights by the current Conservative government in Ottawa.
In Ontario, indigenous people and their supporters blocked roadways and bridges, including the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ontario with Detroit in the United States. Protesters also managed to halt rail traffic between the main eastern cities of Toronto and Montréal. Demonstrations in Toronto and Ottawa also took place.
In New Brunswick, demonstrators rallied outside the residence of Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas, playing drums, chanting and singing and displaying banners. Indigenous leaders handed over a letter they want delivered to the Queen, the Governor-General and Prime Minister Harper. In Miramichi in the north, some 175 protesters marched across the Centennial Bridge. Police, who said the demonstration was peaceful, re-routed traffic.
In Quebec, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake slowed traffic along Highway 117.
In Manitoba, protesters gathered outside the provincial legislature and blocked a vital railway near Portage La Prairie. Terry Nelson, former chief of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba, told the CBC that the aim of the protests was to educate Canadians about indigenous treaty rights and land disputes between First Nations and the government.
“We’re sending the message very clearly with the railway blockade that there’s going to be no more stolen property being sold until such time that they come to the table and deal with the original owners,” Nelson said.
In Alberta, Papaschase First Nation demonstrators and their supporters blocked the QEII Highway south of Edmonton. Members of the Cold Lake First Nation demonstrated peacefully along Highway 55 north of Ardmore, and members of the Lubicon Lake Nation manned information checkpoints on roads through the oil sands region. Protesters are angry that the government has issued thousands of resource extraction licenses on Lubicon land without permission. Some $14 billion worth of natural resources have been stolen, say Lubicon leaders.
“It is time for industry to recognize that we are awake, and we are not going to let this type of exploitation continue around us without serious changes,” Lubicon Lake Nation Chief Bernard Ominayak warned.
In British Columbia, members of the Tsawout First Nation marched and blocked a highway connecting the Swartz Bay ferry terminal with Victoria. Protesters also shut down the Vancouver Island Highway. A group calling itself the Gitxsan Warriors blocked a railway in the northwestern part of the province. There were also multiple events in Vancouver.
This may not be a complete list of all the day’s protests.
At the heart of the ‘Idle No More’ protests is Bill C-45, passed by the Harper government, which alters the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) and Fisheries Act in a way that indigenous Canadians and environmentalists say will cause great damage.
Under the old NWPA, which dates to 1882, consultation and approval was required before any construction could occur in or around any navigable body of water. Under Harper’s new Navigation Protection Act (NPA), the approval process will only be required for bodies of water designated by the Transportation Minister. Many of the deregulated waterways pass through First Nations territory.
“Now, instead of 30-some thousand lakes being protected under the old law, only 97 lakes will be protected,” writes attorney Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet nation.
“The days when Canadians take an endless abundance of fresh water for granted are numbered,” MP Kirsty Duncan (L-Etobicoke North) warned.
“Bill C-45 is going to affect our waterways, and it is going to destroy our land and our resources,” 22-year-old protester Courtney McKay told the Regina Leader-Post last month.
Supporters of C-45 say it is good for Canada’s economic development.
“[Bill C-45] includes wonderful initiatives to grow our economy, create jobs, support Canadian families and communities when they need it most, promote clean energy and enhance neutrality in the tax system,” Conservative MP Shelly Glover said in parliament.