Skip to main content

First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill during a demonstration as part of the 'Idle No More' movement in Ottawa December 21, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Hundreds of First Nations protesters waved flags, chanted slogans and shook a collective fist at the federal government Friday as they gathered on Parliament Hill to put Canada on notice they would be "idle no more."

More than 1,000 protesters, a group stretching several city blocks, marched through the streets of the capital after meeting with Theresa Spence, the chief of northern Ontario's troubled Attawapiskat First Nation, who is on a hunger strike.

"We are tired of having the boot put to our head," Algonquin Chief Gilbert Whiteduck told the gathering beneath the Peace Tower under a steady barrage of snow.

Story continues below advertisement

"We want the government of Canada to come to the table in a spirit of unconditional openness and transparency."

Other rallies were held in various cities across the country. Demonstrations in support of Ms. Spence's cause also took place in the United States.

Hundred of people briefly blocked one of the busiest intersections in Toronto in solidarity with Idle No More, a grassroots aboriginal protest movement gaining traction on social media. Several Manitoba First Nations groups also rallied at the Winnipeg International Airport, congesting traffic.

Idle No More organizers oppose the Harper government's recently passed omnibus budget legislation, Bill C-45, and accuse the Tories of trampling on treaty rights.

Julie Vaux, a spokeswoman for Mr. Harper, said the rallies did not change the government's position. The Conservatives insist they are taking strong action to address aboriginal concerns.

As recently as Nov. 28, Mr. Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and others to review progress to date and discuss a range of issues, Ms. Vaux said.

"Our government hosted an historic gathering of the Crown and First Nations this past January," she also noted.

Story continues below advertisement

"Since then, the government has been working with First Nations leadership to make progress in several areas, most notably education and infrastructure on reserve."

For First Nations people, however, that progress has been far from enough.

And many see Chief Spence as a warrior standing up for all Canadians.

Ms. Spence has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11, living in a tipi on an island in the Ottawa River that many aboriginals consider to be sacred land. Mr. Atleo met with her Friday and said she appeared weak from 10 days of ingesting mainly water and fish broth.

Shelly Young, an aboriginal activist from Nova Scotia, wept during a panel discussion Friday in Halifax as she spoke of how Ms. Spence is inspiring others.

"She is a warrior in our eyes because she's standing up to the government, she's saying the pain is too much," Ms. Young, 30, said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

"I think sometimes we have to do the extreme to get the attention of the government, because they're ignoring us."

Protesters in Nova Scotia also held a peaceful demonstration along Highway 102 in the Truro area, causing about eight kilometres of traffic gridlock.

The Canadian Auto Workers and civil service unions across the country have also shown support for the movement, saying they stand in solidarity with First Nations in a struggle against Bill C-45.

Ms. Spence did not take part in the Ottawa rally, but on Thursday, she wrote to Mr. Harper and Governor-General David Johnston, urging them to start a national discussion about poverty in First Nations communities.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies