By Shari Narine Windspeaker Contributor Dec. 10, 2012
The rallying cry of “we have had enough” was heard loudly across the country as thousands of First Nations people gathered in cities from Vancouver to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Whitehorse on Dec. 10.
“Idle No More. We’re telling the Harper government they do not have our consent,” said Sylvia McAdam, one of four women who organized the Idle No More movement. McAdam addressed the boisterous crowd of hundreds that filled Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton.
The country-wide rallies were in response to Bill C-45, the federal government’s omnibus bill that threatens to roll over First Nations rights in order to bring in budget changes.
McAdam said she told her fellow-organizers they needed to take action because “acquiescence means, in law, if you’re silent, your silence is consent.” As mothers and grandmothers, she said, they could not accept Harper’s actions, stripping land and rights from their children and grandchildren.
“Harper does not have my consent,” said McAdam.
She said the movement did not exclude men but naturally gravitated around the women.
“This is the power of women,” she said.
Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox, who was instrumental in leading chiefs to Parliament Hill on Dec. 4, the first day of the AFN’s Special Chiefs Assembly, agreed with McAdam’s assessment.
“There was a prophecy many years ago (that) it’s the women who are going to rise and us as leaders we need to stand and support this movement and this is why many of us are here today,” he said.
“This movement that is taking place, Canada doesn’t like because they can’t control it. They can’t control people and most of all they can’t control Indians,” said Bill Erasmus, Dene Chief and Regional National Chief with the Assembly of First Nations. “Why can’t they control Indians? Because we’re free! And because we have treaties. Those treaties are what protect this land.”
Signs throughout the crowd drove home Erasmus’ point: “Our treaty is eternal,” “Honour our treaties,” “Free, prior and informed consent,” “We are sovereign,” and “We don’t own the earth, the earth owns us.”
Erasmus referred to the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recent talks being undertaken by the United Nations to extend the boundary for international waters from 200 miles to 300 miles off a country’s shoreline.
“Canada is not including us in those talks. So what do we have to do?” asked Erasmus. “We have to speak up.”
Chief Cameron Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation pointed out the recent treaty Canada signed with China, which also did not include First Nations in negotiations.
Alexis noted that First Nations’ concerns were not limited to the federal government.
“The premier of this province has not even recognized consultation….Discussions are taking place in a back room and we’re not even part of it. It’s wrong. We need to be there at that table right from the beginning, on day one. Right from the first second it starts, we’ve got to be there. We have not been there because we haven’t been invited as chiefs. It’s wrong,” he said.
Fox was adamant that First Nations were not battling the government.
“We’re going to continue to fight no more. All we’re doing is reaffirming we have an inherent right to this land. That’s all we’re doing today,” he said.
That was also the message McAdam delivered.
“The reason these movements have gained momentum and have become so powerful is not because of leadership … but it’s because of you, each one of you who is gathering together here today,” said McAdam. “We are not fighting… we are defending.”
Other locations for Idle No More rallies on Dec. 10 included Lethbridge and Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Another rally was scheduled on Parliament Hill on Dec. 21, after press deadline.