Idle No More marches into Halifax

Crowd advocates for environmental protection and indigenous land rights

(Video: Alison Chiang)


“Treaty rights are human rights! Idle No More!”

A crowd carrying flags and beating drums marches across the Macdonald Bridge.

The Trail of Fire march was organized in solidarity with a group of First Nations Youth walking from northern Quebec to Parliament. It began on Sunday at the Shubenacadie residential school grounds with a march to Indian Brook First Nations.

Monday brought the march to Halifax.

Supporters want the government to repeal Bill C-45, which changes the Indian Act without consulting First Nations. The bill also reduces the number of protected lakes from 32,000 to 97 under the Navigation Protection Act.

“It doesn’t matter what group you’re part of or what you believe we all have the right to a healthy environment,” said Ali Vervaeke.

Vervaeke, who is studying international development at Dalhousie University, is also the Atlantic Organizing Assistant for the Council of Canadians. She said Idle No More brings together many groups that share common interests.

The House of Commons meet on Monday after a six-week break. Vervaeke said that it’s important to send a message to the government that the people are paying attention. She said the “Harper agenda” values corporations more than social wellbeing and believes that profit is the bottom line.

“We don’t believe in that, ”said Vervaeke.

“We want to find a system that incorporates economy and society and the environment in a healthy way that promotes the interests of all.”

Miles Howe marched holding a sign that read, ‘Harper can kiss my treaty ass.’  He said the treaties offered peace and friendship. The Mik’maq never intended to surrender their land to the British.

“We’re not acting in accordance with peace and friendship or on a nation to nation level at this stage,” said Howe.

He said Harper overrode the treaties when the omnibus bill was passed and Bill C-45 was approved. Howe believes the government should be working with native Canadians to rewrite the Indian Act. He also wants the government to raise their standard of living.

“You can’t keep kicking somebody in the face and now just get up and sit at the table with me and now lets figure it all out,” he said.

The group stopped at Citadel Hill for a short prayer.

Michael Stephens recalls that governor Edward Cornwallis founded the Citadel on Mik’maq hunting grounds. Cornwallis issued a scalping proclamation in 1749 which rewarded settlers with 10 Guineas for killing a Mik’maq. This proclamation was legal until the 1990s.

“This kind of history is stuff that we’re not learning in our schools.”

Shelley Young is one of the organizers for Idle No More and she also wants people to know the history of her people. She said her grandmother went to a residential school and the effects were passed down through her family.

“What we’ve been trying to do is empower our children, empower our people.”

She instructed the crowd to hold hands and dance in a circle, a round dance. Then there’s drumming,  throat singing, and presentations.

Erin Wunker, director of the Canadian Studies program at Dalhousie, spoke on stage. Wunker said non-aboriginals need to work hard to educate themselves about treaty rights and native history.

“Thank you very much to my First Nations neighbours who really are the only people in this country with the constitutional right to stand up for us and we need to stand with them against this government.”

There will be a national Idle No More live video conference on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Students across the country can ask activists questions about the movement, major issues and next steps.

(Slideshow: Alison Chiang)