It was only a few weeks ago that Sylvia McAdam and three other Saskatchewan women friends were so frustrated with Bill C-45 and the lack of discussion that they decided to do something about it.
In a matter of weeks, the Idle No More movement swept across the country and is even beginning to spread around the globe, including protest rallies, roadblocks, a shoving match on Parliament Hill and a high-profile hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation.
“From that conversation among those four women, this Idle No More movement has exploded across this country. As we stand here today, there are thousands of people that are marching on Parliament Hill in Ottawa,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “We have heard that there are Idle No More rallies as far away as Egypt, as far away as London, and the circle continues to broaden and this movement continues to ripple out across the world, because of what it represents.”
Phillip was speaking at a rally in Penticton’s Gyro Park on Dec. 21, a rally which drew 300 people in support of the movement, including the grand chief, six Okanagan chiefs, hereditary chief Nkwala, elders and other representatives, to talk about the effect of omnibus Bill C-45 on aboriginal communities and the environment. They were also gathered to honour and support Spence in her hunger strike, which Phillip said epitomizes one aspect of the movement, the battle against the eroding of the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government.
”The prime minister promised to reset the relationship between the Aboriginal people of this country and his government,” said Phillip. “That promise has been completely betrayed and you are seeing the backlash of that, not only through the Aboriginal people but through Canadians in general who absolutely take issue with omnibus legislation, the contempt of Parliament and the absolute disrespect of the democratic process.”
Phillip told the crowd at Gyro Park how those four women in Saskatchewan — two First Nations, a Metis and a non-native — talked about the tragic dimension of poverty in indigenous communities, the suffering of the people, and they talked about the “oppressive, heavy handed agenda of the Stephen Harper government in Ottawa.”
“And they decided that it had to stop. They decided that we had to, as people, stand up to that oppressive attack on our rights and interests. We had to stand up to that attack on the land on the environment and all things that are important to all people,” said Phillip.
As well as rewriting parts of the Indian Act without consultation, Phillip said Bill C-45 guts Canadian environmental regulations, removes habitat protection from the Fisheries Act and federal responsibility for thousands of waterways.
“It’s a complete sellout of Canadian values to the corporations. It’s the same battle that our ancestors have been fighting since the beginning and that is the fight we have before us,” said Phillip. “The legacy we leave our grandchildren will depend on our willingness to stand up and be Idle No More and to speak out.”