On January 16, six Cree natives, led by 18-year-old David Kawapit, inspired by the Idle No More movement, began a walk to Parliament Hill that was to take two months.
One of the original six was his friend and 49-year-old guide. Another was an 11-year-old girl. They set out from their tiny native community on the far northern shores of Hudson Bay, relying on the goodness of people all along the way. It was -50 C.
Nevertheless, each day people joined the walk, inspired both to protect native rights and the environment. They carried the various flags of their First Nations in the strong, cold winds. They slept huddled in tents. Their tuques froze into helmets.
When they arrived on Parliament Hill on March 25, they were nearly 300 strong and were greeted by more than 1,000 cheering people. Just as the celebration began with speeches from the participants in the march, a giant eagle soared overhead, circling behind Parliament.
Where was PM Harper? –Off welcoming two pandas from China in Toronto! Clearly trade with China is more important to the PM than human rights in either China or Canada, certainly more important than environmental protection in Canada.
Is it no wonder that the First Nations see Harper as a roadblock to environmental protection and native rights?
Those rights are what motivated David and these determined marchers to endure this 1,600 kilometer trek in mukluks and wooden snowshoes. Specifically, the two recent conservative budgets were the final irritating straws.
More walks are being planned by First Nations, because the most recent Budget of March 21, dubbed the “Austerity Budget,” provides nothing for education on the reserves and ironically links welfare to natives and the disabled to mandatory jobs, when there are no jobs available on the reserves, and natives being lumped with the disabled is strange at best. The natives want an education that includes use and practice of their native languages and culture. But above all, they want treaty rights respected for both their benefit and that of the vast lands and waterways on their reserves.
Because the affected First Nations were not even engaged with prior to Bill-C45, even though a joint process with the Assembly of First Nations was in place to do just that, all three opposition party leaders agreed that this was insulting to First Nations. Only after the bill was introduced were First Nation Chiefs and Councils informed. The Liberals proposed amending the bill, but Conservatives rose as a block to defeat that amendment and then to pass the bill.
But Idle No More continues to mobilize not only aboriginal people, but people of all backgrounds concerned with the environment.
This grassroots movement started by four women activists in Saskatchewan has caught fire, especially in reaction to the conservative government’s time warped bills. To date, all the protests have been peaceful. But as Liberals, NDP, and the Green Party point out, the negative impact of these bills on environmental protection, the outrage is increasing, and ordinary Canadian citizens are joining the Idle No More (INM) movement or are joining organizations in solidarity with INM.
INM is more focused on human rights and the environment than the former Occupy movement. INM leaders from Canada and the United States have been opposing both the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline connecting Alberta oil sands with the West Coast and the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would send bitumen all the way to the U.S. Gulf Coast. And they continue to protest even though the XL has passed the U.S. Senate.
The alliance of Canadian and American First Nations leaders intends to fight these pipelines not only in the courts, but through direct action, including civil disobedience if necessary
Will the recent horrendous oil spill from the pipeline running through Arkansas encourage President Obama to hold his seat against the pressure from Republicans and oil corporations who want to see the XL become a reality?
As of now, this is not known. But suddenly there is a great deal of talk about sending oil through new Canadian pipelines from Alberta eastward to New Brunswick!
However, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation confirmed that natives are determined to block pipelines, adding, “It’s going to be a long, hot summer.”
As Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whot’en First Nation of northern B.C. said, “We’re the ones going to save whatever we have left of this earth.”
Phil Lane Jr. of the U.S. Yankton Sioux agreed, saying natives south of the border were going to stand with Canadian Sioux against the pipelines. “We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another,” he said.
As the grassroots movement gains momentum, more protests, fasts, marches, disruptions of transportation, and other forms of direct action are planned when legal action fails. This is because in the forefront of INM is protection of the environment for future generations—generations not only of human beings, but for all living beings.
This is why from the Maritimes in the east to British Columbia in the west, there has been an outpouring of support from ordinary Canadian citizens, who have aligned themselves with INM.
Locally, non-aboriginal allies in the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia alone include members from: Clean Nova Scotia, Common Causes, Council of Canadians, Dalhousie Student Union, NDP and Liberal MPs, NSPIRG, and Solidarity Halifax.
This is an example of how and why solidarity with INM may be the greatest hope for environmental protection in North America.
More articles on this topic from Linda Lewis:
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Ed: Brianna Bemel