The Idle No More protest movement held its first event in Revelstoke on New Year’s Day at the Revelstoke Community Centre.
Just under 20 people gathered in a circle where they held brief ceremonies, sang songs accompanied by drums and delivered speeches. Following the ceremony, the group walked to the Columbia River where they released a spirit plate into the river.
“It’s a very simple gathering of people in support of Idle No More and [Attawapiskat] Chief [Theresa] Spence and our land,” explained organizer Michelle Cole in an interview before the protest.
The Idle No More protest movement began in December, inspired partially by the hunger strike by Spence, who is seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The grassroots movement focuses on ongoing issues with treaty rights and also focuses on the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45, which has been severely criticized for hollowing out environmental laws
“[It’s] just another effort to strip the land of its resources and beaver out,” Cole said of the legislation. Bill C-45 included changes to the Navigable Water Protection Act, removing the vast majority of protected rivers, lakes and streams from the legislation.
“This whole thing about how we can go from 2,500 protected rivers one day and only having 82 the next – that’s just mind boggling,” Cole said.
The movement has sparked protests and demonstrations across the country.
“It’s about sustainable human relationships, that’s what Idle No More is about, and moving towards a fair and reasonable approach to governing Canada,” Cole said.
In a speech at the ceremony, Cole criticized the state of relations in Canada. “Canada is a dysfunctional family. If you can’t come to the table and recognize the important role that the First Nations play in our civilization, then you’re not recognizing what it is to be part of this country, to be part of this land.”
Participant Claude Awad encouraged everyone to take control of their own lives. “I stand here in support of the Idle No More Movement,” he said. “We speak of sovereignty in Quebec, a Huron word for ‘where the river narrows.’ Over there, we talked a lot about sovereignty, but sovereignty begins inside you. When you follow your conscience instead of the trail of money; when you take responsibility for your life and do away with dependencies that are beyond your control, you begin a path to sovereignty. I was born on this land, but the land does not belong to me. It is I who belongs to the land.”
Participant Patti Shonek said she supported chief Spence. “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs that the government can’t step up and even speak to her.”
“It’s time people … step up and really take action and not stand idle anymore,” she said. “I see a lot of momentum and change coming about.”
Cole is the co-chair of the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee in Revelstoke, but said she was organizing the event independently of that role.
It’s hoped the event will raise awareness about First Nations in the Revelstoke area. “This was a very thriving aboriginal community at the time of contact,” Cole said.
Cole encouraged everyone to write to their MP David Wilks or Prime Minister Stephen Harper to express their support for the movement.