PICTOU LANDING FIRST NATION – From coast to coast, thousands of Canadians have been out on the street protesting changes to the way of life for the more than one million aboriginals across Canada.
The Conservative sponsored Bill C-45, a lengthy omnibus bill passed in the House of Commons, proposed changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Indian Act to name a few.
At the Pictou Landing First Nation, residents are angered at what is happening, or not happening, in Ottawa. “[Bill C-45] just sprang up on us,” says James Paul, a resident of Pictou Landing Reserve. “We’re trying to raise awareness that this bill will affect everyone, not just aboriginals.”
These changes have sparked the ire of aboriginals and resulted in an international grassroots movement called Idle No More. The website invites, “all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”
Chief of Pictou Landing First Nation Andrea Paul says after a historic Crown-First Nations gathering in January 2012, things seemed to be moving in a positive direction. “I attended a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” she recalls. “He listened attentively to all of the chiefs’ concerns and needs, but now, we had no consultation and input on Bill C-45.”
“As chiefs, we’re now waking up First Nation peoples in Canada and encouraging them to be ‘Idle No More.’”
The movement has led Chief Tracy Spence of the troubled Attawapiskat reserve in Northern Ontario to launch a hunger strike, demanding to see Harper. Spence has been on hunger strike since Dec. 11 on Victoria Island in Ottawa – a brisk walk from Parliament Hill.
Jennie Stevens has a simple message for the prime minister: “Harper, go see her.” Stevens has been living in Pictou Landing for 69 years. “We just want to be in control of our own land, our own destinies.”