Sunday, January 06, 2013

Nationwide Protests in Canada Express Solidarity With First Nations

VIA trains blocked again by native protests

By Meghan Hurley, Teresa Smith
The Ottawa CitizenJanuary 6, 2013 12:18 AM

OTTAWA — First Nations protesters shut down tracks on the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor Saturday night, affecting travel over a second weekend.

In an announcement on their website, VIA Rail said travel between Ottawa and Toronto, and Montreal and Toronto has been affected due to a blockade of tracks in Marysville, near Kingston. They were not sure when the blockade would be lifted. A tweet from their Twitter account late Saturday said they hoped trains would be moving as scheduled by Sunday.

On Saturday, VIA Rail brought in 20 buses to accommodate affected passengers from four trains stalled by the blockade.

“That’s our priority, to get passengers to their destinations,” Annie Marsolais, a VIA Rail spokeswoman, said Saturday night. “We’re making sure that we have enough buses to get them to their destination.”

Rail tracks were blocked by ‘Idle No More’ protests in the same area last Sunday, hampering the movement of over 2,500 VIA travellers and several freight trains during the peak season.

The Idle No More cause, which began last month, is in protest of the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45, which First Nations groups claim threatens their treaty rights set out in the Constitution.

VIA Rail spokesman Malcolm Andrews said last Sunday’s protest began after 5 p.m.

Protesters at the December action initially said it would last about two hours, although tracks remained blocked for more than four hours for many travellers, some of whom cashed in their tickets and found other ways to travel. In some cases, VIA Rail arranged buses for stranded passengers. At least 12 trains were affected.

Earlier in the day the U.S. border crossing and bridge at Cornwall were closed for several hours during a peaceful protest by others in the same movement.

Estimates of the crowd by police and organizers ranged from 350 to 400 people who marched from the U.S. side of the bridge to Canadian territory. There were ‘round dances’ and other activities that are becoming a well-known part of the protests.

“We knew something was going to take place in the last day or two,” said Sgt. Marc Bissonnette of the Cornwall police.

He said they closed the bridge around 10:30 a.m. “for the safety of the public and the safety of the protesters.”

The border was reopened shortly after 2 p.m.

Protesters from the Akwesasne reserve, which spans the border and includes both American and Canadian citizens, started on the U.S. side, and walked across the bridge to the Canadian side.

It is part of the Idle No More movement, which has seen increasing protests, blockades, peaceful round-dances and rallies over the past month.

Some supporters are demanding the government repeal parts of Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill, which they say contravene their treaty rights.

Protesters with drums and flags were singing as they walked north across the bridge at 11:30 a.m.

Jorge Barrera from The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reported that the Canada Border Services Agency was attempting to “process” the hundreds of protesters before entering Canada. He tweeted that border guards wanted to “break them up into small groups,” but protesters marched through the stop.

-With files from Canadian Press

Idle No More: Aboriginal women, children gather at Peace Arch border rally

By Tiffany Crawford, Vancouver Sun
January 5, 2013 7:08 PM

Hundreds of Idle No More movement protestors rally at the Peace Arch border crossing for an hour long prayer ceremony and drum circle in Surrey on Saturday, January 05, 2013. Idle No More is protesting the Harper governments treatment of First Nations groups and supporting Chief Theresa Spences hunger strike.

Armed with a drum and a song, hundreds of aboriginal women and their supporters gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing Saturday to rally in support of the growing Idle No More movement.

The solemn sound of a conch boomed amid a cacophony of clapping, yelling and chanting demonstrators as they gathered at the Peace Arch provincial park in Surrey to protest Conservative legislation which they say eliminates treaty rights set out in the Constitution.

The event was organized by five indigenous women from the Indigenous Action Movement, a Vancouver-based group that fights for social justice, but it was in concert with similar Idle No More rallies held across Canada on the weekend.

Thick sage smoke filled the air as indigenous people from many different nations in B.C. and the U.S, including Coast Salish, Cree, Inuit and Mohawk, banged on drums marked with the Idle No More logo and sang songs in their native languages.

Small children perched on parents’ shoulders took in the festival-like atmosphere, watching elders dressed in traditional robes give speeches and prayers with a common theme: To save mother Earth.

Speaking on behalf of organizer Kat Norris, Musqueam First Nation elder Shane Pointe explained how red ochre and eagle feathers on the ground symbolized strength and the hope that everything will happen in a positive way.

Many of the kids held signs calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to protect their future. “Please protect mother Earth,” read one sign, while another said: “I am fighting for my future.”

Lorelei Williams, 32, from the Skatin Nation and her daughter Saiyaka, 7, held a sign that said: “When sleeping women wake mountains move.”

Williams said she wanted her daughter to attend the rally so that she could develop a sense of empowerment and strength.

“It’s very important for her to see us sticking up for our culture. I want her to see it with her own eyes,” she said. Idle No More is a grass roots movement that has gained momentum over the past month, with participants urging the prime minister to meet with First Nations to talk about treaty rights.

Many groups were pledging to block bridges across the U.S. and Canadian borders, while other peaceful demonstrations were being held across the country and south of the border, including Fort Erie, Ont., Buffalo, N.Y., and the Queenston/Lewiston Bridge in Niagara Falls.

Jerilynn Webster, an organizer of the Idle No More rallies in Metro Vancouver, said on Friday that the rallies would continue despite Harper announcing he would meet with a delegation of First Nations Chiefs, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who has been on a hunger strike for 26 days.

Some of the demonstrators at Saturday’s Peace Arch event expressed outrage that Harper is waiting until Jan. 11 to hold the meeting when Spence grows weaker, her only sustenance water and fish broth.

“Why wait another week? It makes me so angry,” said Williams. “All (Spence) wants is a meeting. She is growing weaker by the minute. It messes with my mind.”

The Idle No More movement was triggered by Conservative changes to several federal laws through the recent omnibus budget bill, C-45, which became law in December. But it also draws on long-standing complaints about poverty on Canadian reserves.

Williams, who lives in Vancouver with her daughter and son Caleb, 4, said her family’s reserve in Pemberton doesn’t have telephone access so it’s difficult to keep in touch.

Previously in the Indian Act, a majority of voting members of an Indian band had to approve leasing of reserve land. That threshold has been reduced so that only a majority of voting members at a meeting or referendum are needed to approve major changes to reserve land.

Participants of the movement are also upset by changes to environmental protection of waterways that make it easier to build industrial projects such as pipelines.

“It is of significant importance for First Nations people to stand up now and be recognized as protectors of the sacred lands, the waters and to keep the government from continuing to harm them," said Marlene George, of the Killer Whale clan of the Kitselas Nation, who was attending with her toddler granddaughter Isabella.

Michelle Pineault, whose daughter Stephanie Lane was one of many aboriginal women slain by serial killer Robert Pickton, was attending Saturday’s rally to “stand up against injustice” against women and lend support to a group she says is growing stronger by the day.

“What else can we do? We can’t just sit back and not participate. You think this is Canada and everything must be so great but women are still being raped on reserves... and some reserves don’t have clean drinking water,” she said.

She’s also confident that if the movement keeps growing, it will garner enough support from Canadians to help stop projects they consider harmful to the environment, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat.

“What gives (Harper) the right to sell off our land,” said Pineault.
With a file from Kevin Griffin and The Canadian Press

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