Roughly 1,000 people showed up to protest a federal budget bill's impact on Native communities.
Drumbeats echoed off the Eaton Centre as roughly a thousand protesters took over Yonge-Dundas Square on Friday for the Toronto edition of Idle No More, one of the largest Aboriginal protest movements in recent memory.
Idle No More started last month as activists took to Twitter, using the hashtag #IdleNoMore, to protest the federal government’s budget omnibus bill, Bill C-45, which they say includes language that would change the Indian Act. One driving concern is that the bill will loosen legal controls over how reserve lands are managed, making them easier to develop. While C-45 was passed earlier this month, Idle No More has has continued to grow.
The widespread support for Idle No More, both in the Aboriginal community and, increasingly, in the wider world, was evident on Friday. Charm Logan, one of the organizers, said the event was originally supposed to be a flash mob. By Friday, it had become too big to look spontaneous.
“There were so many people, we couldn’t really get that element of surprise to sneak up,” she said.
Joni Shawana, one of Logan’s co-organizers, said the turnout was far better than expected.
“Our Facebook group was up around 1,100 people when we woke up this morning, and we were kind of like ‘Whoa!’” said Shawana.
Nathan Boissineau came from Barrie for the protest, bringing his drum with him. He said that as a Native Canadian, he felt compelled to speak out against the changes contained in C-45, and to show support for Atiwapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence. Spence has been on hunger strike since December 11, refusing to eat until she gets a meeting with Stephen Harper and a representative of the Queen to discuss treaty rights, and, more broadly, Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples. She is currently living in a teepee on Victoria Island, in the Ottawa River, roughly a kilometre away from the Parliament buildings.
“She’s been on hunger strike for 11 days, and there’s been no response from Parliament, other than to say there’s not going to be a response,” Boissineau said. “Whether she continues or not, we’ve done our part and now it’s up to Stephen Harper.”
While Idle No More is a Native movement at its core, one of its goals is to improve Canada’s understanding of the issues facing First Nations.
“We want to engage Canadian citizens,” said Logan. “We want to work together to save our water and our environment and our homelands.”
She said that while the movement has faced a certain amount of racist backlash from non-Natives, there has also been support.
“I think a lot of [the racism] was just due to misunderstanding,” she said. “We’ve had our culture and our history not properly presented in the educational system, so by doing things like this, producing the brochures we did, and talking to people… I have noticed a significant change in people’s attitudes toward us.”
“With these flash mobs, we’re educating more Canadians,” added Shawana. “They’re going to go do their own research and see what it’s all about.”
Logan said that many of the issues the movement is tackling with regard to environmental protection on Native lands should be important to all Canadians. She added that Idle No More Toronto will continue to stage events throughout the city in the coming weeks.
“We need to unite with the rest of Canada to do whatever it takes to put this planet in a healthy condition,” she said. “We need a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy, and we need it yesterday.”