An Idle No More march held in Yarmouth on Saturday, Jan. 5 concluded at the Yarmouth Mall where participants joined hands in performing a round dance to the beat of Mi'kmaq drums and chants. Drummers from throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick came in response to calls from rally organizer Sonya Isaac-Surette.
The Canadian-spawned movement is picking up international support. Its aim is to mobilize people to take action to protect land and water resources and indigenous rights. It is a response to the passage of Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill passed by the federal government in the fall. Among its provisions are sweeping changes to legislation governing environmental protection of Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams.
Henry Augustine, a member of the Mi'Kmaq nation from the Moncton area helped lead the drummers. He urged Mi'Kmaq youth to educate themselves about the treaties he said his people respect. In addition to the treaty with the British, he said his people have a pact with nature.
"We have a treaty with mother earth because she provides for us," he said.
"It is important for the young people to learn to live the treaties," he said. "And then they have to learn to protect the treaties."
"It has to do with love and understanding of all human beings on mother earth. Everybody has different cultures. Learning about all cultures is a good thing because you get to learn to have respect."
Participants rallied at noon at the Acadia Band offices on the airport stretch. The march proceeded along Starrs Road to the Yarmouth Mall with a police escort.
Mi'kmaq elder Evelyn Francis opened the ceremonies with a Mi'Kmaq prayer. Acadia Band chief Deborah Robinson said band chiefs across the province supported the Idle No More movement and were working at the political level to address concerns that have arisen regarding Bill C-45.
Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill pledged to support efforts to address concerns.
"I'm very proud to stand with you all in opposing BIll C-45. It is very scary to see a lot of the values we have developed as Canadians being peeled back by the current government in Ottawa," he said.
Isaac-Surette told the Vanguard last week that the bill should be a cause of concern for all Canadians.
She said the bill is particularly threatening to indigenous people, as it reduces autonomy over their land and undermines treaty rights.
“Native people, for the most part, have never really rallied … but people really need to understand what that bill will do,” she said.
She believes the bill’s provisions will ease regulatory checks on resource development.
“They want to drill for oil. They want to get the pipelines through. On the native side of it, they want to give themselves access to our lands,” she said.
The movement has gained international attention since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike early in December as a means of securing a meeting between First Nations leaders, the prime minister and Governor General. She wants a discussion about the treaty relationship and how it would be impacted by Bill C-45.
There have been several other Idle No More demonstrations in Nova Scotia in December, including a flash mob at Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth just before Christmas and several information pickets at Mill Brook and the Canso Causeway.
A contingent from the Maritimes made the trek to Ottawa just before New Year's Day to meet with Chief Spence.