Dyan Ruiz, TRNN Producer: The aboriginal people at an Idle No More protest in Toronto made it clear that they’re taking back the power stolen from them in what they describe as false treaties and hundreds of years of oppression in Canada.
Jamaias Dacosta, Idle No More: We’re drawing attention to the fact that we are here, we are demanding, we’re not asking, we’re demanding, and we’re taking our treaty rights into our own hands.
Ruiz: The protest began with a smoke ceremony, speeches, and drumming in the west end of the city at Trinity Bellwoods Park. This was followed by a nearly three kilometer parade on a major street, Dundas, that went through the heart of the city, through areas including the Financial District and Chinatown. The day of action coincides with the 250th anniversary of a British legal document called the Royal Proclamation, which transferred ownership of North America to King George III. At the same time, it acknowledged the rights of aboriginal people to the land the British occupied, allowing the Crown to take land only if done so by treaty.
The Idle No More movement reflects a newly visible sense of frustration among Aboriginal people that erupted through protests throughout Canada in December 2012. They drew international attention to the concerns of Aboriginal people and similar protests internationally.
The Toronto protest on the evening of October 7 was part of an international day of action, with protests taking place throughout Canada and countries such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Giibwanisi, Action and Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp: I think that people are starting to realize—and they’re starting to think that we can’t just rely on other people to create our voice and to ask permission to do things, because, like, obviously they are not listening. They’re not following the agreements that they made with us in the first place.
Ruiz: Prime Minister Harper sees the relationship between the First Nations and the government as less fraught. In a statement issued when he met with First Nations leaders in January 2012, he stated, “The Government of Canada and First Nations have an enduring historic relationship based on mutual respect, friendship and support. The Government of Canada is committed to strengthening this relationship.”
One demand highlighted during the action was that First Nations should undergo talks and negotiations with the Canadian government nation-to-nation.
Aaron Detlor, Haudenosaunee Development Institute: Right now essentially the federal government tables outcomes and they basically take a take-it-or-leave-it approach. We’re more than happy to leave it. And part of the negotiation is what we’re going to do when we walk away from the negotiation tables that aren’t respectful. And that includes direct action, and that includes exerting our own jurisdiction over our own lands.
Ruiz: Some of the ways that the Haudenosaunee are exerting their jurisdiction is creating their own land titles, managing their land exempt from government taxation, and controlling resource extraction if it’s permitted.
Resource extraction, particularly how waterways may now be more easily prey to corporate interests in Canada were also a concern of the protestors. In December of last year, the majority Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, passed a bill that removed extensive environmental protections through an omnibus bill called Bill C-45. Earlier, other environmental protections were removed through Bill C-38.
Dacosta: It’s a really, really dangerous situation when you have a prime minister who is changing the laws to suit corporations. So that’s the first thing we need to address. You have Bill C-45, Bill C-38, which have been attacking environmental protection laws.
Ruiz: The protection of the environment is fundamental to the movement as it is fundamental to the beliefs of Aboriginal people.
Andrea Chrisjohn, Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre: Land is a real estate to society, but to us it’s our mother. You know, it’s a resource. It’s a resource that we have to be good to. Otherwise it’s gone.
Ruiz: The protest strived to bring awareness to Canadians of the past and ongoing injustices among aboriginal people that include genocide, violent cultural assimilation, lack of protection for women, and poor living conditions on reservations.
Giibwanisi: What I would hope is that the people that are on the street that are still oblivious to this, they come and they see, and when they experience the truth of it themselves, they want to join us.
Ruiz: The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people is now in Canada. The nine-day tour of James Anaya will include meetings with Aboriginal people, the Canadian government, and even representatives of natural resource extraction. Anaya will be seeing how much progress has been made since the last UN report ten years ago.
Meanwhile, people at the protest this evening in Toronto and across Canada are making it known that the Canadian government can no longer interfere with the lands and lives of Aboriginal nations.
This is Dyan Ruiz for The Real News Network.