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Home » The Scene

Idle No More sees First Nations divided no more

Submitted by on January 13, 2013 – 9:07 pmNo Comment

A nasty mix of snow and rain is falling from an overcast sky on an unseasonably warm yet dreary day in the capital. Thousands are gathered and the crowd is growing exponentially, moving in waves up and down a small strip outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Wellington Street office. Droves of people, still, are moving in north from Metcalfe, invading the grounds of Parliament. Vehicle traffic is at a standstill.

Young and old gather en masse. Some have driven to town. Others have flown or bused in from across Canada. Local demonstrators are a minority. Protest cries of “Idle No More” ring out over the smell of sweet grass, to the drone of the ceremonial drum. There are flags flying representing near every First Nation tribe in the country.

A crescendo of sorts to the first chapter in a story that could rightly be titled Harper vs. Them is being written. The rally starts on Victoria Island early Friday morning. By midday the movement sweeps through the nation like wildfire, as similar protests alight in rural outposts and urban centres across the country. This is a day for action, it seems. Nearly 150 years after the first treaties were signed, two months since the start of the Idle No More campaign and 25 days after Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence commenced her hunger strike, Friday Jan. 11 marks a day of high hopes for natives and non, nation-wide.

Rather than a movement even, remarks one young demonstrator, the day is merely a checkpoint of a revolution, “because it keeps moving.” In the 27-year-old Manitoulin Island man’s view, the revolution is a continuum of change with no conclusive start or end point in sight.

The crowd’s enthusiasm is infectious. The prospect of real change less palpable. Smoking a cigarette her back to the crowd, Anita Decoursey stands a proud participant in the protest, alongside 11 of her family members. A former band councilor of the Michipicoten First Nation, Decoursey has made the three-hour trek from Barriere Lake, a small Algonquin community in northern Quebec. An admittedly traditional aboriginal matriarch, Decoursey points to Bill C-45 as one of the primary reasons she and her family are here. The over 400-page document introduced by the Harper government Oct. 18 will see confounding changes made to the Indian Act and other sensitive agreements. Many of the moves, believes Decoursey, will negatively impact native rights, land and water.  Being able to bring the truth, or something like it, back to her community, she says, is another of the reasons she is here.

“My family, we’re really traditional people, and we see what’s happening. Around the world people are waking up now and they’re remembering to go back to the old ways of our ancestors,” she says. “From the stories that we’ve heard from our ancestors and our grandfathers, our fathers, our parents, when I’m out here I’m comparing the stories I’ve heard and hopefully be able to tell people [in my community] what’s happening out there.” Shortly after 1:00 p.m. a microphone begins to boom from the staircase leading to Parliament. Moosefactory’s Edmund Heatherington breaks down in tears in an emotional tirade for peace, followed by his brother’s short “stop the cycle of confusion” speech. One chief preaches, “We fight not because we hate what’s in front of us, but because we love what’s behind us.”

A peaceful resistance by all accounts, Spence’s keepers, tribe matriarchs, elders and chiefs from across the country take to the stage with themes of kindness, generosity and, most of all, unity. Parallels to one’s mother and the nation’s land and water are drawn as a game of Simon Says breaks out: “United we stand,” says the speaker, with the crowd answering: “divided we fall.”

Annette Pelletier and her teenage daughter are parked on the runway leading to of the staircase holding a lengthy anti-Bill C-45 banner. The Northern Ontario mother-daughter team has made the trip from Wikwemikong, a small reservation on the eastern edge of Manitoulin Island. Coy and wanting nothing to do with this reporter’s recorder at first, Annette claims her call to action came from Chief Spence’s courage in putting life on the line for the cause. “I never knew, and I never cared, honestly, until she did that. And I think that’s what happened to everybody. To me that’s the motivation, and that’s what brought everything to the surface, and that’s what brought awareness to the whole issue,” she says, closing strongly. “It’s fucked that she’s willing to die for other people. It’s a really selfless act, and it’s something you don’t see anymore.”

Sporting a native headdress and clothed in traditional garb, Calvin Sanderson, Anishinaabe chief of the Chakastaypasin First Nation, a reserve north of Kinistino, Saskatchewan, is vocal. His presence is hard to ignore his voice even more so. His passion borders on the angry. An elder with respectable stripes and unity at heart, Sanderson is here lobbying for change through social movement. But, he warns, if nothing does come of this day, there will be more disruptive demonstrations to follow. Desperate times, says Sanderson, call for desperate measures.

“If nothing happens, there’ll be more of this going on across Canada. We’re not going away; we want to be heard, we want to be self-sufficient and we want to look after our own First Nations people,” says Sanderson. “I’m wearing my regalia today because my great ancestors signed treaties in 1876 in Fort Carlton, SK. And I’m here to honour what they left us in their will. That’s where I stand.”

Story by Remi L. Roy; Images by Christian Roblin

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