|Herald photo by Caroline Zentner|
Protesters raise their arms to show their willingness to fight for their treaty rights at a rally in Stand Off Tuesday. Protesters marched from the Kainai Sports Centre down Highway 2 to Red Crow Park as part of the Idle No More movement, a Canada-wide First Nations day of action to express opposition to Bill C-45, passed in the House of Commons last week.
Members of the Blood Tribe came out in force Monday, carrying posters and hoisting flags, to demonstrate their displeasure with the federal government and to express their opposition to proposed federal legislation they feel is eroding their rights.
The rally was one of many held across the country in a movement called Idle No More. Idle No More was started in Saskatchewan about a month ago as a way to make First Nations people aware of the negative impact of the federal government's omnibus budget implementation bill, Bill C-45. Due to social media like Facebook the movement has garnered a substantial following.
""First Nations across the country are coming together on this day as a sign of solidarity and as a warning to the Harper government that we will be idle no more," Twila Singer, a rally organizer, told the cheering crowd of at least 200 at Red Crow Park. "What it all comes down to is we're no longer living in a democratic society. Once these bills passed the Conservatives became dictators."
Last week, First Nations chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan tried to get onto the floor of the House of Commons to voice their concerns but they were stopped by security guards. Their concerns include a lack of consultation, legislation that forces chiefs and councillors to make their salaries public, a bill that will slowly replace the Indian Act, changes to land management on reserves and the amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
"Only one per cent of our waters are protected as of last week and the only areas that are protected are in the richer Conservative ridings," Singer said.
Keith Chiefmoon, also an organizer, has written letters to the Liberal and NDP parties to protest the legislation. The reply he received from Carolyn Bennett, Liberal MP and Aboriginal Affairs critic, was read out loud. Her reply offered her support and said "the scope of these changes is truly appalling" and they will have profound impact on aboriginal rights.
Marc Sandilands, who ran as an NDP candidate in the 2011 election, read a message from NDP MP Jean Crowder. Crowder wrote First Nations that depend on the land will be most affected by the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. None of the rivers bounding the Blood Reserve are are among the protected waters in the new legislation and that means the tribe will have to work hard to ensure decisions made by the province and private companies do not have negative affects to the Blood Tribe people and territory.
"Consider this, one week ago Canada had two-and-a-half million protected rivers and lakes. Today we have 82," Sandilands said. "It is probably without precedent but it might be time to consider revoking the honorary title Mr. Harper received here in 2011."
He was referring to the Kainai chieftainship awarded to Harper; the crowd of protesters cheered at the suggestion.
"The question 'When is enough enough?' has been answered today," said Chief Charles Weasel Head. "I believe the provincial government and the federal government are in bed together. They are attacking our treaty, our aboriginal and our inherent rights. We must stand united today just like the other 640-plus tribes throughout the country."
He said the Blood Tribe is developing a plan to deal with the situation and that could include a review to determine legal options and devising a political strategy.
Councillor Dorothy First Rider said chief and council have worked to inform the Blood Tribe people about the affects of Bill C-45.
"We're going to be outlining a political lobby strategy as well," she said. "What the federal government and the provincial government, even industry, has been doing, and - don't fall into this trap - is they will contact individual members of First Nations communities, students, elders and they call that consultation, without contacting the Blood Tribe chief and council to make us aware of what they're doing."
"We're also planning a legal strategy. If we need to take the federal government to court we'll plan on that. We're also going to, if necessary, work with the world court and the United Nations. This government cannot take those rights that were assigned with Treaty 7," said Councillor Mike Bruised Head.