Amid calls by Chief Garry Feschuk to “ramp it up,” Sunshine Coast activists joined forces with the Sechelt First Nation last Saturday in the second major Idle No More event of the year.
“This is truly an important day,” environmentalist George Smith said to more than 200 people who filled the Sechelt Indian Band Hall on Feb. 2. “I see the leadership of our community of the Sunshine Coast being moved forward by the Sechelt First Nation people.”
Speakers targeted the federal government’s massive omnibus bills — Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 — with many linking the legislated changes to the Conservatives’ support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposed to run between Kitimat and Bruderheim, Alta.
“To me, those omnibus bills are all about getting that pipeline approved,” Feschuk told the gathering. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about the development of that pipeline so that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper doesn’t have to consult with anybody; he doesn’t have to have the approval of greater Canadian society.”
Feschuk said there had to be “some movement behind the commitments” Harper made when he met on Jan. 11 with National Chief Shawn Atleo, but the PM’s comments since the House resumed sitting suggested it was back to business as usual.
“So nothing’s really changed, and to me that’s why this type of activity has to ramp up now. If it brings no results, then it has to be accelerated. It has to go to the streets,” Feschuk said. “I know it’s a First Nation movement, and I really appreciate that here we stand together, because this Idle No More is for everybody. It’s not First Nation — it’s for all Canadians. I really thank everybody, because it’s a fight for everybody.”
Presenting an overview of the two omnibus bills, speaker Keetah Bryant said the bills include provisions that strip government oversight and environmental protection, cut funding to agencies and infringe on First Nation rights, while also raising the retirement age by two years and weakening Employment Insurance.
Back in the 1990s Harper spoke out “in the interest of democracy” against omnibus legislation, Bryant noted.
“It’s apparent that Mr. Harper understands the threat to democracy inherent in the legislation,” she said, calling on the audience to no longer tolerate the Conservatives’ “pseudo democracy” and “post-colonial disposition of arrogance and ignorance.”
In one of the longest presentations of the day, speaker Richard Till used actors moving around the hall to show how natural gas condensate would be shipped about 14,500 nautical miles by tanker from Kuwait to the Northern Gateway pipeline terminal in Kitimat, where it would be loaded on a CN Rail tanker car for transport to Alberta 1,300 km away.
In Alberta, Till said, the condensate would be mixed with raw bitumen so that the diluted product could flow down the proposed pipeline back to Kitimat, where it would be shipped to Asia for refining into diesel or gasoline.
Since bitumen is “dangerous, toxic material that shouldn’t be transported,” and since only the shipping, railway and oil corporations will profit from the arrangement, “this isn’t necessary,” Till said.
“All that needs to happen is the products need to be refined in Alberta and, if approved and people agree, those products, which evaporate and are far easier to clean up, could be shipped. That means more work is in Canada, with those jobs,” he said. “There’s a way this can be done without toxic materials travelling through this province — and central to this is the protection of water and central to this are the rights that Chief Garry Feschuk and hereditary chief Calvin Craigan have spoken about.”
Among the other speakers, Gail Riddell of Alliance 4 Democracy introduced Common Causes, a coalition of 80 organizations opposing the Conservative legislation, representing unions, social justice groups and environmentalists.
George Goulet, historical consultant for the B.C. Métis Federation, said his organization was “100 per cent behind” Idle No More.
“The big movements of this world start with the grassroots people — and that’s Idle No More,” Goulet said. “They’re out to protect the living Earth, or Mother Earth, and we stand totally behind that.”
Co-organizer Christopher August, a Sechelt Nation councillor, said he ran for council just over four months ago because he noticed there were cuts in many areas and the changes were negatively affecting his children.
Putting himself “in the fire to make positive changes,” August said during his four months on council he “found out it’s not from us, we’re not making the changes; the government is cutting money from us at every corner that they can, with no reason behind it. I see where the problem’s coming from — it’s the government,” he said.
“I’m not doing this for me,” he added. “I’m doing it for my children. They’re attacking my children, my children’s children and their children. So we all need to stand together because it’s not just my children that this now affects. It’s your children, your grandchildren.”
Lead organizer Dionne Paul, an accomplished artist and mother of five, drew applause by translating her shíshálh name, Ximiq, which means The First Eyelash of Sunlight that Comes Over the Mountain to Greet Everyone in the Morning.
Describing the Sechelt Nation’s first Idle No More event on Jan. 4, which attracted up to 600 people, as “huge and magnificent,” Paul said the second gathering was to carry on that work by bringing together a range of speakers to share information and coordinating it with a petition campaign.
As the daughter of Tom Paul, who served as chief and councillor for about 20 years, she said she grew up in a political environment, but “I didn’t consider myself political in any sense until now,” she added.
“Now I definitely consider myself an activist, definitely consider myself an environmentalist … I’m not going to stop until this gets changed.”
Former Sechelt Nation councillor Robert Joe, speaking during an open mike session, said his great-grandfather Clarence Joe Sr. warned him 45 years ago that water was going to become more precious than gold.
“And so it is today,” he said. “We have so many rivers, lakes and streams in our territory. The Americans are coming after it and they won’t stop, and I’m glad to see all you white-eyes here today standing side by side with us to help protect our lands, water, air and the oceans.”
Craigan opened the gathering with a prayer of commonality, asking those present “to call on your ancestors and the spirits of your children to be here to support you today.”
At 68, Craigan said he’s witnessed the Sechelt Nation’s on-going struggle for justice.
“For many years we opened up our hearts, opened up our lands and we shared. And that’s why I’m calling on all of you today and I’m very grateful that you’re all here today, to hear our voice, to share in our voice,” he said.
Craigan also extended his gratitude to “these two young people” — August and Paul, who is Craigan’s niece — for organizing the event.
“I’m happy that the young ones have taken up the talking stick, speaking their minds, continuing to struggle for what’s rightfully ours,” he said.
The speeches were followed by a march to MP John Weston’s constituency office in downtown Sechelt, where drummers played the Honour Song before the crowd peacefully dispersed.
Before the march, Feschuk told the group: “It doesn’t matter where you march, because wherever you march you’re on Sechelt lands and you have our approval.”