PORT HARDY—Joining fellow aboriginal peoples and other supports worldwide, more than 100 members of the Kwakiutl, Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw and Quatsino First Nations joined Friday for a march and rally in support of the Idle No More movement.
Singing and dancing their way from the Tsulquate River bridge, the marchers stopped at Port Hardy Secondary School to address students and School District 85 administrators, stopped near Port Hardy Hospital for a moment of silence, then made their way to the memorial totem pole at Rotary Park for speeches and the sharing of bannack, the traditional native fried bread.
“I’m so proud of all of you,” Betty Walkus said to the participants assembled at the park. “You’re beautiful people; you’re strong people. You remember that.”
The Idle No More movement emerged in November in response to the federal government’s passage of Bill C-45, an omnibus package of legislation that environmental activists and many first nations leaders say strips away environmental protections and treaty rights.
“Prior to this legislation, every body of water in Canada was protect if you could float a boat on it,” said Dean Wilson, who served as master of ceremonies for Friday’s Port Hardy event. “As a result of this legislation, less than 200 Rivers, lakes and the three oceans are protected now. Amazingly, not one river on the unbridge pipeline is on that list.”
The local tri-band rally was organized by Tammy Hunt of the Quatsino First Nation, with support from Cathy Swain of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw.
Another rally was held the same day by the ‘Namgis First Nation, culminating on the steps of the former St. Michael’s Residential Indian School on Cormorant Island.
The North Island rallies were part of a much larger day of action that saw similar gatherings across North American and even overseas.
It served as a backdrop for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s meeting with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and other aboriginal leaders in Ottawa.
Idle No More, which quickly garnered international attention following its creation, also stands in support of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attowapiskat First Nation. Spence has been engaged in a hunger strike for more than a month while demanding a meeting with both Harper and Governor General David Johnston.
“I honour Chief Spence, and I’m grateful to the women who created Idle No More,” said Coreen Child, Kwakiutl Band councillor. “This event is married to so many events across Canada, across North America, even Europe. Everyone wants a place in this world, to feel the beauty, to walk the beaches, to have a home for the future. That’s what we all want. It’s not much to ask.”
Friday’s North Island rally not necessarily a call for specific action or legislation; rather, it was used as an opportunity to share information and convince the nations of their need to stand together for what may be a longer-term struggle.
At PHSS, speakers encouraged children to avail themselves of educatonal opportunities, and SD85 Superintendent Scott Benwell assured the bands they had a partner in the school district.