On December 20, the Nuxalk and Ulkatcho communities united in the latest wave of the ‘Idle No More’ movement that is sweeping across our country. It has seen drumming flash mobs dominate shopping centres, rallies disrupt public spaces, and freeways paralyzed by determined marchers.
In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill by four First Nation’s women in Saskatchewan has expanded to include First Nations across the country.
Harper’s omnibus Bill C-45, passed into law last December, is a massive 400-page bill that changes some 60 pieces of legislation. It has been heavily criticized for the sweeping changes it will bring to areas such as environmental protection, the Fisheries Act, the Indian Act, and Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Proposed amendments brought forth by the Official Opposition and First Nations Chiefs were ignored, and the bill was fast-tracked through parliament.
The multitude of issues that have ignited the Idle No More movement have been simmering for decades, but Bill C-45 is turning out to be the tipping point for protesters, who claim it eliminates treaty and aboriginal rights set out in the Constitution.
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike near Parliament Hill since December 11, has received international attention. She is demanding a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss aboriginal issues, which so far has not been granted. Chief Spence has publicly stated many times that she is willing to die for her people.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo says that the relationship between First Nations and the government is reaching a “moment of reckoning.”
Atleo said that the ongoing hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and the growing Idle No More movement are signs of the frustration and anger over treaty rights and the poor conditions on reserves.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan has dismissed the escalating protest movement, saying, “that’s social media, so we’ll just have to see where that goes.” He told international media that relations with First Nations are “very good.”
Duncan has, however, expressed concern for the health of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. In a Christmas Day letter released to the media, Duncan urged Spence to end her hunger strike and said his office has made attempts to set up a meeting with her, but received no response.
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, who has made improving aboriginal education his main focus since leaving public office, recently made some scathing comments about the Harper government’s approach to dealing with First Nation’s issues.
Martin said Canada is ‘starving its First Nations of the funding they need for proper health care and education and, even today, is fixated on assimilating aboriginals into a culture that is not theirs.’
Martin stated that Canadians must understand why such a rich nation has allowed this to occur. “We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power,” he said.
Martin’s conviction has been echoed many times before among First Nations leaders and activists.
“Canada has not committed itself to addressing the colonial relationship it still has with indigenous peoples,” wrote Metis blogger Chelsea Vowel last November. “I think it’s fair to say that most Canadians believe that kind of relationship no longer exists. We are trying to tell you that you are wrong.”
Locally, Nuxalk are hoping the movement will be the final catalyst for a radical transformation of their community. The ‘Nuxalk Resurgence Movement’ recognizes the existing colonial relationship and its resulting injustices, but it differs in its approach to the continuing impasse.
The Resurgence sees the solution arising from the engagement of ‘self determination,’ through the revival of Nuxalk diet, way of life and government system.
In a notice issued at the December 20 gathering, the Nuxalk Resurgence Movement stated that, “It is time to admit that colonizing governments will not fund our decolonization, our healing and our re-awakening. We must take this upon ourselves.”
For the Nuxalk community, the pushback against Bill C-45 does not dig deep enough get to the heart of the issue. The hope is that their own Resurgence Movement will inspire their community to look beyond that battle and back into their own traditional way of life.
“Bill C-45 is a red herring for sovereign indigenous Nations,” said former Chief Councilor Spencer Siwallace. “If we focus on the Queen’s laws, we forget our own.”