They marched across the bridge in Halifax. They greeted the sun in Montreal. They jingle-danced in Ottawa and round-danced just about everywhere else.
Idle No More, the grassroots movement that went viral after the passage of Canada’s omnibus budget Bill C-45 in December, is determined to keep pressure on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to repeal the legislation and to address the abysmal living conditions and quality-of-life issues plaguing much of the aboriginal population, especially those on reserves.
In the wake of last week’s resolution of the liquids-only fast of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, Indigenous Peoples everywhere united in a worldwide Day of Action in support of Idle No More on January 28, as the Canadian Parliament went back into session following its holiday break. Non-aboriginals also took up the cause, drawn by the awareness that, with its roots in environmental concerns, Idle No More aims to protect their air and water too.
Across Turtle Island in particular, tribes and bands from both sides of the 49th Parallel were flash-mobbing like crazy, breaking out in round dances all over the U.S., in Alaska, Michigan, Coloarado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, New York, Texas, Washington State, Oregon and elsewhere.
Rallies and demonstrations also took place in London, led by Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam Savsewahum, as well as in Paris and elsewhere in France. Another was conducted in Greenland, according to a Facebook page set up by event organizers, and in Sweden. Idle No More's website listed at least two dozen events worldwide.
Canada, of course, had the biggest show of support, including a mass mobilization of students in British Columbia; a rally in Vancouver, a peace march in Calgary and jingle dancers on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Montreal hosted a sunrise ceremony.
“This day of action will peacefully protest attacks on Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28th,” Idle No More organizers said in a statement announcing the actions. “As a grassroots movement, clearly no political organization speaks for Idle No More. This movement is of the people… For The People!”
In Nova Scotia, at one of two events held in the Maritimes, more than 200 people marched in bitter cold over the MacDonald Bridget between Dartmouth and Halifax, CTV News reported. But support was not limited to aboriginals; non-indigenous took to the streets as well, including members of a student organization in British Columbia, a chapter of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and a new group growing out of the Council of Canadians.
"The Canadian Federation of Students-BC recognizes the right to self-determination of all First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples in Canada," said Katie Marocchi, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-BC, in a statement. "Legislation such as Bill C-45 undermines aboriginal and treaty rights and should be condemned."
And Chapter 846 of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in Vancouver expressed solidarity on Idle No More’s Facebook page.
“We support the fight for Indigenous Peoples and their rightful claim to the land that we are living on and the resources beneath it,” the union stated. “We offer this support and solidarity because of Harper and his Conservative government’s continued failure to honour the Indian Act and the needs of Canadian Indigenous Peoples. This disrespect has been further demonstrated with the Conservative government proposing and passing Bill C-45 that strips the rights of Canadian Indigenous Peoples of their right to stewardship of their land and endangers environmental rights of all Canadian People.”
Demonstrators are demanding the repeal of Bill C-45, the omnibus budget legislation that sparked the movement because of its measures affecting environmental review for industrial projects, therefore interfering with the exercising of treaty rights, indigenous groups contend.
In Lansing, Michigan, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians held a rally, as did those in Petoskey, Michigan. The St. Regis Tribe of Mohawks, loathe to condone any action that could result in the closure of the bridge between the U.S. and Canada, opted instead to sponsor bus travel to the rally in Ottawa.
“That’s what we’re going to support,” said MCA Grand Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell in a statement posted on the tribe’s website. “There may very well be a need for the community to rally together in Akwesasne in the coming months, but this Monday is not the time. We are encouraging interested community members to join the rally in Ottawa to show their support in a unified approach there.”
And in Canada, the Council of Canadians pulled together a coalition of progressive groups to create Common Causes, which timed its launch to the Day of Action and swore support for Idle No More.
“The time has come for Canada-wide coordinated action against the Harper government’s agenda, which is fundamentally changing our society and our country," said Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow in a statement.
The group planned "various actions and events" in Ottawa, Montréal, Saint John, Summerside, Windsor, Oakville, London, Guelph, Toronto, Regina, Saskatoon, Red Deer, Edmonton, Campbell River, Kamloops, Kelowna, Comox Valley, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Sechelt/Sunshine Coast, Winnipeg, Nanaimo, Victoria, and Charlottetown "to bring people together and mark the launch of Common Causes," the group's statement said.
“The vision of Idle No More is rooted in the protection of water, air, land, and future generations and is guided by Indigenous ways of knowing and the rights of Indigenous sovereignty,” added Idle No More co-founder Nina Wilson. “This movement is about education and the revitalization of Indigenous Peoples as both knowledge holders and leaders and aims to achieve this through awareness and empowerment of all people.”
Inside the halls of Parliament, the official opposition was also holding the ruling Conservative government accountable.
“Will the Prime Minister finally agree to consult, and to listen, on the environmental protection of First Nations lands and waters?” New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair asked Harper during question period in the Commons on Monday, according to The Star. Mulcair and outgoing Liberal leader Bob Rae brokered the 13-point Declaration of Commitment that allowed Spence to end her fast with a clear conscience.
“Protection of aboriginal treaty rights and consultations in these various processes are, in fact, enshrined in the very laws that this government has passed through the Parliament of Canada,” Harper said, according to the newspaper. “We will continue to work with those positive partners who seek to make progress.”
He has promised to follow up on the January 11 meeting he had with First Nations national leadership now that Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo has returned from sick leave. He has also pledged to keep treaty implementation and comprehensive land claims issues on his radar and on the table, though he has said he will not repeal C-45 or the other omnibus budget bill, C-38, which also contains environment-related components that First Nations say will undermine the exercising of their treaty rights.