With drums beating, signs held high and war cries echoing through the stone courtyard, more than 300 people gathered outside the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) office to take part in Sechelt’s Idle No More event Jan. 4.
The grassroots protest, organized by SIB councillor Ashley Joe, started with traditional drumming and singing from the SIB’s Xwamtsut group. Once all were gathered, Xwamtsut performed a war song to start off the march that saw hundreds parade along Highway 101 to the Tsain Ko shopping centre where a large fire was lit to gather around.
Signs like “Resign Harper,” “honesty and transparency for all people,” and “protection not destruction” could be seen among the large crowd gathered.
Joe said she was “humbled by the turnout.”
“It was very encouraging to see so many people from both the shíshálh Nation and the greater community of the Sunshine Coast come together and stand in unity to support the Idle No More movement that is sweeping across Canada,” she said. “I feel very proud to have been a part of the Idle No More movement and would like to thank everyone who participated and showed solidarity at this historical event. ul-numsh chalap (thank you).”
The Idle No More protests have been happening in First Nations communities throughout the country in response to Bill C-45, an omnibus bill passed in December that, among other things, reduces the number of federally protected bodies of water and makes changes to the Indian Act.
Through Bill C-45, Aboriginal people can now sell or lease their land to non-Natives.
The changes were made without any First Nations consultation, which is at the root of the problem, according to SIB Chief Garry Feschuk, who fears more omnibus bills will be passed in the future.
“These omnibus bills are being passed and it’s going to be the destruction of our resources in every respective community across Canada. To me, with no consultation with anybody, it’s not right,” he told the crowd gathered Jan. 4. “It’s the law to consult with First Nations and [Prime Minister Stephen Harper] has to be reminded of that. The government has to be reminded. It’s the law to consult.”
SIB member Robert Joe brought up the fact Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was still on a hunger strike nearby Harper’s office, but that Harper “won’t go down there to see her.”
“It’s been 25 days and he hasn’t spoken with her yet, so that shows what kind of man Harper is,” he said to shouts of anger from the crowd.
There was obvious hostility towards Harper and his government at the event, but Feschuk said the prime minister had finally agreed to meet with First Nations leaders to talk (on Jan. 11), which is what Chief Spence was calling for with her hunger strike.
“The prime minister has agreed to meet next week with First Nations leaders, but all I want to say is if he’s going to meet, it’s got to be more than words this time. There’s got to be action behind his words,” Feschuk said. “If there’s no action behind his words, then we just have to escalate what we’re doing.”
West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country member of Parliament John Weston was on the Coast this week. He gave Coast Reporter his thoughts on the Idle No More protests and the upcoming meeting with Harper.
“Any decisions that are made or words spoken will be done consistent with over-arching principles that unify our country and have a long-term perspective in mind,” Weston said.
“And I would suggest those principles should include self-sufficiency, certainty, accountability, transparency and equality,” Weston said. “I use an acronym to keep those principles in mind in the world of settling and reconciling with Aboriginal peoples. The acronym is SCATE, and I’m hoping that our country can, over the next 100 years, adhere to principles like those SCATE principles in order to bring about the kind of unity and reconciliation and fairness that most Canadians desire.”
Regardless of what happens at the meeting with Harper Jan. 11, it’s obvious First Nations communities around the country are going to push for change. And if the Jan. 4 rally is any indication, many non-Natives will stand with them.
Of the hundreds gathered, at least half were not of Aboriginal descent.
Sechelt Elder Barb Higgins found the show of support encouraging.
“I’m happy to see you all here. It’s about bloody time that everybody, regardless of colour or creed or nation, all joined their hands together. Let’s be one and show Canada that we are one and we’re bloody well not going to take it any more,” she said.