Freezing temperatures last Friday morning didn’t deter the Nuxalk community from uniting once again to demonstrate their continued dedication to the national Idle No More movement.
Amid boycotts and large-scale protests, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with a number of First Nation leaders in Ottawa. That same morning, the Nuxalk community were marching, drumming, singing, dancing, and reaffirming their declaration that they are a sovereign nation.
The Idle No More movement, which began in November and quickly spread, is largely a national protest against Bill C-45, the federal government’s omnibus bill that proposes changes to the Navigable Protection Act as well as the Indian Act, raising fears it will breach aboriginal treaty rights.
Divisions remain among First Nations chiefs and leaders, some of who refused to attend the talks with Prime Minister Harper unless the Governor General was also in attendance.
However, the Assembly of First Nation’s National Chief Shawn Atleo said last Friday’s meeting with the prime minister had achieved “some movement” and that Harper, “for the first time, provided a clear mandate for high-level talks on treaty implementation.”
Locally, Idle No More has inspired the Nuxalk community to ‘exercise their rights and responsibilities as a sovereign nation,’ and to ‘stand together and share a common voice.’
Elected Chief Councillor Andrew Andy expressed support for the Idle No More movement and Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence, who is entering her fifth week of a hunger strike.
“The Nuxalk Nation Chief and Council is encouraged by the high level of interest and participation in the Idle No More movement,” said Andy in a written statement. “Like Chief Spence’s community of Attawapiskat, the Nuxalk Nation community needs improvements to housing and basic services for our people.”
A recurring theme among the Idle No More movement is the duty upon First Nations to speak for the land and ensure that their resources are protected for future generations.
Hereditary Chief Deric Snow said that, for Nuxalk people, Idle No More is waking up the community and reminding them that they hold traditional rights to this territory, something Bill C-45 threatens to erode even further.
“Bill C-45 takes away our rights as First Nations people,” said Hereditary Chief Deric Snow. “And the impacts of this bill don’t just apply to First Nations, they apply to everyone in Canada.”
Bill C-45 could be said to bear special significance to the Nuxalk due to the fact that they are categorically ‘non-treaty,’ meaning that they have not entered into treaty negotiations with the federal government and remain strongly opposed to the process.
Hence, Bill C-45 has the potential to impact decisions made over land and resources located in territory that, in their eyes, unquestionably belongs to the Nuxalk people.
This places them in a unique position, as Canadian and international law does recognize the Nuxalk as having jurisdiction over their land as a sovereign nation, and the Royal Proclamation of 1763 legally protects their rights and title.
In practice, however, Nuxalk control over their resources remains limited and negotiations with various levels of government have yet to result in any meaningful agreement.
Snow went on to say that Idle No More has been the catalyst to bring the community together and remind them that they have a voice to speak for their land.
Additionally, the Nuxalk community can identify with the problems plaguing reserves across the country and is hoping the movement will bring understanding to the challenges facing First Nations people.
Referring to the 1995 standoff at Ista, Snow said, “We are a political people, and this is not the first time we have come together and attracted international attention.”
Part of Friday’s march included hand-delivered letters from Hereditary Chiefs to various government offices, reminding them that they are operating within Nuxalk Traditional Territory.
“We certainly did not request that anyone leave our territory today,” said Snow. “We are simply reminding them that the Nuxalk have never ceded, sold, or relinquished their land to anyone.”
Idle No More shows no sign of slowing down. Organizers with the grassroots movement are calling for a World Day of Action on January 28, when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons.