A national movement protesting the federal government's omnibus budget legislation Bill C-45, will be making its B.C. debut outside the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday, Dec. 23.
Organizers of the Vancouver version of Idle No More say it is just the beginning of a number of direct action campaigns planned for the area, which include blockading Lower Mainland border crossings on Jan. 5 if their concerns about the bill’s sweeping changes to the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act aren’t addressed.
Protest organizer Steven Kakinoosit says Prime Minister Stephen Harper has essentially forced the hands of First Nations people after what Kakinoosit called a disregard for their constitutional rights.
“But this is not just for so-called Indians, this affects everybody because not only are there provisions in there about the Indian Act, there’s provisions about our waterways,” said the 22-year-old. “It also goes against Section 35 of the Constitution which states that we, as indigenous people, are supposed to have a fair and equitable say in this sort of process. In a sense, this is going against the very constitution of the country and there are a lot of people across Canada who are riled up because of this.”
All Canadian waterways previously had federal protection under the act, but recent changes limit protection to the three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers. Activists fear waterways could now be threatened ecologically by major industrial projects such as interprovincial pipelines and power lines.
The other main are of concern involves land rights and the process of selling reserve land. Currently a majority of all eligible First Nation band members had to vote in favour of leasing or selling land to outside stakeholders. With the changes in the bill, which was approved earlier this month and takes effect in January, only a majority of band members who attend any given meeting on the matter is required.
Over the past few weeks, Idle chitchat via social media has sparked dozens of protests in cities across the country and giving rise to what some have dubbed a “Native Spring.” In Ottawa, Theresa Spence, the chief of northern Ontario's remote Attawapiskat First Nation, is in the second week of a hunger strike demanding the federal government start showing more respect for aboriginal rights and treaties.
Several hundred people turned out for a flash mob protest at West Edmonton Mall on Tuesday, and similar events are planned for Burnaby’s Metrotown mall and North Vancouver’s Park Royal Mall.
Kakinoosit, a student at Native Education College in Vancouver, said closing border crossings on Jan. 5 will be a last resort.
“We decided to give Harper a bit of a chance to talk with Chief Therese Spence but, if nothing happens within that time, we will go ahead,” he told the Courier. “We’ve been going along for a long time thinking oh, well, we have to act a certain way when it comes to our rights. When you look at any people who have fought for their rights, they’ve never cared about the perception. Look at the people in Libya — they were called rebels for a long time, now we are calling them freedom fighters.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated the protest was planned for Dec. 21, the day several other Idle No More protests are planned in cities across Canada, rather than Dec. 23. We regret the error.