Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence isn’t alone in her fight against the federal government.
Hundreds braved the cold and gathered at Prince Arthur’s Landing’s spirit garden for the city’s own Idle No More protest Friday. Many carried signs that read “Assimilation is Racism," “Harper It’s not you it’s us. Just kidding it’s you,” and “Stop Harper. Save Canada.”
The protest was part of a national campaign to protest Bill C-45.
Many vocalized their support for Spence who has been on a hunger strike for 11 days in an effort to force a meeting with the prime minister.
Mona Karen Neekan sat and watched as protesters spoke about the damages the Bill C-45 will do to First Nation rights. The grandmother said she’s never seen a moment like this before.
“We stand as one,” she said.
“Living conditions need to be improved. The federal government is trying to wipe us out. That’s basically what they are trying to do. I have children. I have grandchildren and I am thinking of them. I’m not going to be here forever. What is my future generation going to be left with? That’s why I am here.”
Sharon Johnson also attended the rally. She had heard about the first protest outside of the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development office on Fort William First Nation earlier this month and wanted to know more about the issues.
She said she want to come to learn, listen and educate herself.
“I’m still learning what’s going on like the big picture,” she said.
“We’ve been doing the Full Moon Memory Walk for missing and murdered women since 2005 so I do my part that way. I was told that the grassroots movement was going to get the most attention so I just do my part.”
Natalie Legarde, an organizer of the event, said the omnibus bill waters down treaty rights and if passed could devastate First Nations.
“It will pretty much lead to First Nations being converted into real estate and sold off,” she said.
“A lot of the treaty rights are attached to that land. Our way of life will be gone. It just paves the way for foreign investment to come in and exploit the lands.”
She believed that the Idle No More movement has picked up steam as more and larger national media outlets begin to recognize and provide news coverage to the cause. But despite the attention, the government has not agreed to the meeting.
She said Harper would rather comment on the NHL than mention Spence.
“It’s not the government’s style or fashion to be seen as recognizing Indians in anyway,” she said.
“This movement will keep on organizing and drawing more attention to the public. Hopefully, we can gather public support and stop the legislation.”
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno also showed his support at a media conference held at the Victoria Inn that same day. He and other First Nation representatives, including Fort William First Nation chief Peter Collins, voiced opposition to the federal government's bill.
He said they are waiting to see what happens with Spence, but suspect the chiefs would need to meet to discuss future plans. Yesno has heard rumours of possible blockages and roadblocks, but the main point he stressed was that they wanted to get their message across to people.
“We want to be as respectful as we can be,” he said. “We’re calling on the general public to get on board because there’s some pieces of the legislation that doesn’t just impact First Nations.
Yesno said he was glad that the grassroots initiative of Idle No More has taken off and community leaders are showing their support by being a part of it.
He added that they are all worried about the health of Spence as she continues her hunger strike but leaders are prepared for the extreme case if the worse should happen.
Yesno said at the moment they aren’t ready to speak about those plans.