Demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Toronto Tuesday in support of the aboriginal movement known as Idle No More. The vocal protest stopped traffic at one of the city's busiest intersections.
Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday afternoon in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, many of aboriginal heritage but nearly as many not, joining hands in round dances and lighting candles to honour Chief Theresa Spence, who was on day 22 of her hunger strike demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with aboriginal leaders.
The gathering attracted aboriginal peoples calling for greater consultation on changes to reservation land management and the Indian Act, but also environmentalists and government critics charging that the federal omnibus budget bill is bypassing vital public debate.
Started by four Saskatchewan women, the grassroots Idle No More movement has gone viral, with supporters across Canada and internationally holding protests, blocking rail lines and launching hunger strikes. While national chiefs support the effort, organizers are resisting any effort to hand over leadership to their elected representatives.
The movement’s immediate aim has been to force the Harper government to withdraw Bill C-45, a budget implementation bill that passed in December and includes changes to Species at Risk and Navigable Waters legislation that opponents claim will put resource development ahead of environmental protection.
But organizers are also taking aim at a slate of some 14 pieces of legislation, including some still pending, that they say will diminish their treaty rights and ensure they continue to be left behind in the country’s economic development. And they want acknowledgment from Ottawa that first nations are sovereign and must consent before any development can proceed on their traditional lands.
“I don’t think it’s one issue any more,” said Toronto rallier Krystal Maietta, an Ojibwe of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation. She arrived at Dundas Square aiming “to come together as a people – it doesn’t matter what culture – and say we’re taking a stand, and we have a say in what happens in our country. I feel like Prime Minister Harper is not answering to anybody, and he has to, to all of us.”
Then on Wednesday, Idle No More protesters filled Vancouver's Waterfront Station in an effort to draw more attention to their concerns.
Chief Stewart Phillip says he hopes the grassroots movement will continue to gain momentum as it protests soaring poverty rates in aboriginal communities.
"Clearly it's about social justice, it's about human rights and human dignity and in many ways it's a protest against the Harper government selling out the democratic and environmental values of all people in this country on the altar of big oil, big industry and Harper's obsession of becoming an energy power in the world context," he said.