The grassroots Idle No More movement is not just about First Nations, but protecting every Canadian’s right to healthy waterways and lands, said local organizer Shawn Decaire.
That was the message as Idle No More hit the streets of Campbell River Saturday morning, with a march from the Big House to the ferry terminal. A group of 10 police officers and several RCMP cruisers briefly blocked traffic along the way to allow the rally to move safely.
The march was one of several held by First Nations across Canada in response to the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45 which First Nations fear will radically change the Indian Act and the Navigation Protection Act (formerly the Navigable Waters Protection Act).
Decaire said although the movement has been spearheaded by First Nations, it affects everybody.
“This is not a matter of First Nations people, this is a matter of our lands, our waters,” he said. “It was once said if man killed the water, he would kill the lands and would therefore kill us. It’s time we put a stop to this action. It is time we stand up for what we all want.”
Bill C-45 proposes to change the Indian Act to allow First Nations to hold a simple majority vote on leasing out their reserve lands and the majority would rule, no matter how many people actually participated in the vote. Currently, the majority only wins if it represents the majority of eligible voters.
The bill also seeks to change the Navigation Protection Act to make it easier for major pipeline and power line projects to advance by not requiring the proponents to prove their project won’t destroy or damage a waterway.
Finally, Bill C-45 would change the Environmental Assessment Act by cutting down on the number of projects that require an Environmental Assessment and speeding up the approval process for those that do.
Four women – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean – were the first to hold rallies in protest of the bill and on Dec. 10, 2012 a National Day of Solidarity and Resurgence was called. The event has taken off from there and marches have been held nation-wide.
In Campbell River, protesters gathered last Friday – the day Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Assembly of First Nations to address resolution of land claims and other aboriginal issues – on the lawn in front of city hall and on Saturday the movement continued.
Participants stood in the middle of the road and handed out informational leaflets to motorists along the Island Highway at the traffic lights by the ferry terminal.
Decaire said it was not to inconvenience drivers but to educate them.
“Look at those mountains,” said Decaire, pointing towards Quadra Island. “Twenty years from now they will be bare. They will look to the fish in the oceans – they will be no more. That is why we are here today to pass that word to the public. Not to stop the public but to pass that message on, to please understand that we’re doing this to help protect our country.”
James Quatell, Campbell River Indian Band elder, said he hopes that message gets through.
“We’re going to move this, and this is what we are continuously going to do,” Quatell said. “Those three words, ‘idle no more’, we are going to idle no more. That is what we want the community of Campbell River to understand.
“We are not being forceful against anything. They need to understand out there when we make the biggest move they’re going to be behind us, they have to. They know it, you know it, I know it.”
Meanwhile, First Nations across the rest of the country are planning to ramp up Idle No More protests today, as activists are calling it a day of protest.
Demonstrators plan to continue circulating informational pamphlets to educate Canadians.
In Campbell River, the next Idle No More rally takes place Saturday, at 11:30 a.m. at the Campbell River Big House.