Hundreds of First Nations, Métis, rally against Bill C-45
Published Monday, December 10, 2012 2:23PM MST Last Updated Monday, December 10, 2012 6:49PM MST
Hundreds of people in Edmonton joined countless more across the country on Monday for a rally in opposition of the federal government’s Bill C-45.
First Nations, Métis and supporters in Edmonton came together for an ‘Idle No More’ demonstration downtown Monday afternoon.
Police estimate more than 1,500 people attended the demonstration, which coincides with International Day for Human Rights.
Protesters say First Nations lands and treaty rights are being infringed upon through the government’s contentious omnibus budget bill.
“The reason we’re gathering as one nation is because the Government of Canada, Stephen Harper, has put through an omnibus bill that will affect the treaties and the ability for the people on the treaty territories to make decisions in regards to land, resources and minerals,” said Elder Taz Bouchier.
Bill C-45 was more than 400 pages long and, like its predecessors, made changes to a myriad of rules and regulations.
First Nations groups are concerned over changes to the Indian Act, some of which may affect the leasing of reserve lands and how decisions involving band territories are made. First Nations are also opposed to amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which removed thousands of lakes and streams from federal protection under that law, something the Conservatives said would help remove red tape that held up projects along waterways.
Opposition parties argue that it removes environmental oversight of some of Canada's most valued lakes and rivers.
“Bill C-45 specifically attacks the treaty statuses and treaty rights around lands in Canada and therefore we as a people have decided there needs to be mass movements across the nation, helping this government understand we are still here, the treaties are still alive and they need to be abided by,” Bouchier said.
A group of First Nations chiefs frustrated with what they say is a lack of consultation over measures in the bill attempted to get in the chamber of the House of Commons last week and had a brief confrontation with security staff.
Pam Palmater, chair of indigenous governance of Toronto’s Ryerson University told CTV’s Power Play last week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper specifically promised First Nations leaders that his government would not approve any unilateral changes to the Indian Act, but “he has broken that promise with at least eight pieces of legislation since.”
Palmater said aboriginal groups are considering “all options,” including seeking a court injunction.
Locally, protesters also voiced concerns over the way the amendments to the bill were presented, saying First Nations members were not properly consulted.
“He has had no consultation with the aboriginal community and that’s part of the discussion he needs to have with us as a people, with chiefs and treaty status people,” Bouchier said.
“For too long in this country there has been no consultation with the aboriginal community. We need to be consulted in every level of government.”
Monday's rally and march in Edmonton included a pipe ceremony, singers and speakers.
Many of the demonstraters came from all across northern Alberta, and many included youth.
"I’m glad to see we have a lot of participation especially from the youth," said demonstrator Orlando Alexis.
"They realize through talking to their families, the implications associated with what they’re (the government is) trying to do will affect not only them but their children and their children in the future."
David Janvier came down from Cold Lake to participate in the rally.
"The omnibus bill they have is going to hurt our future generations," Janiver said.
"We've always been sovereign to our land we will be sovereign to the end. We will continue to fight."
In Calgary, hundreds gathered outside Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constituency office to protest the bill.
Both Edmonton and Calgary's rallies coincided with 13 others taking place across Canada.
First Nations members tell CTV News Monday’s rallies across the country were just the beginning.
“This is the first of many other gatherings we will have to combat what Stephen Harper is doing with his omnibus bills,” Bouchier said.
With files from CTVNews.ca and Susan Amerongen