Members of the Sea to Sky corridor First Nations communities of the Squamish and Lil’wat had many reasons to speak out on Friday (Dec. 28) and Tuesday (Jan. 1) in Whistler at the busy base of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
The crowd of 75 to 100 held signs in support of the Idle No More campaign on Friday and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, signs that called for environmental protection for waterways and signs that asserted their land rights claim in the 2010 Winter Olympic mountain resort.
On Tuesday more demonstrators showed up and marched through the Village to Whistler Olympic Plaza, continuing their show of support for the movement.
Amanda Nahanee of the Squamish nation spoke out against the omnibus budget Bill C-45 along with the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline.
“Basically I first got involved with this because the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is in my territory, so I started getting involved in these types of actions,” Nahanee said. “We need to start coming together now as Canadians, all of us coming together with better solutions, we all want a stronger economy, we all want to live in a nice clean home with running water and electricity.”
The Idle No More movement has been growing throughout the month of December in Canada. It has seen First Nations members and Canadians in general oppose the recently passed omnibus legislation, Bill C-45, and accuses Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives of eroding treaty rights and threatens First Nations autonomy over their land.
Nahanee said she is in very concerned with the effect on Canadian waterways. Among Bill C-45’s provisions are sweeping changes to legislation governing environmental protection of Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams.
“I know that our people are waking up and all of these things like bill c-45, the tarsands expansion, the pipeline expansions, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge, all of those things are really impacting our way of life,” she said. “When is enough enough? If species go extinct when will that be enough, if we have no more clean water, when will that be enough?”
Lil’wat Nation member Eva Maria (Maya) Joe said she helped organize the demonstration of support for Spence’s efforts to get Harper to meet with her and other First Nations leaders to discuss the issue of aboriginal treaties.
“What inspired me to start all this was seeing all the rallies across the nation and hearing all about Theresa Spence and her community,” Joe said, adding Attawapiskat is just one example of what is happening in First Nations communities across the country.
The isolated community in Northern Ontario came to the attention of Canadians in 2011 when a housing crisis that saw residents living in makeshift tents without electricity or plumbing.
She said with the Idle No More movement people are speaking out and expressing a desire to be part of the decisions that are being made.
“With all the rallies it is quite something because rather than letting things happen to us as First Nations who live on reserves, we are doing something about it. We want to be heard, we want equality, we want fairness, we want compassion,” Joe said. “We’re many nations who want to be heard, who want to be involved in the decisions that are being made.”
She said as a First Nations member she feels marginalized by the actions of the federal government and is spurred on to take action by what Spence’s efforts since Dec. 11 through a hunger strike to get the Prime Minister to meet with leaders about treaty rights.
“She is a leader and she believes and it just takes one person to believe, one person to make a change,” Joe said. “I know some people are thinking she is not being a good role model, but if it has to come to this, it has to. That is the only way we will be heard and that is how it has always been and it has to stop.”
For Lil’wat member James Louie, he was at the demonstration to bring attention to the fact that the his Nation does not have a treaty with the federal government, something he is fighting at an international tribunal with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The tribunal case is being assisted by the International Human Rights Association of American minorities.
Louie said the Lil’wat needs to go through the process of restitution, reparation and reconciliation with the government before a treaty can be negotiated.
He said he would like Chief Spence to also know that she doesn’t have to deal with the government in the Canadian court system, like the Lil’wat she can use an international tribunal.
“We need to be able to … tell her we are taking steps to get Canada to cooperate with us,” he said. “We are where we need to be right now to get Canada to come to the table.”
Nahanee added that social media like Facebook has been integral to the Idle No More movement and helping First Nations communicate with each other and get their message out to Canadians.
It has really been helping us,” she said. “I don’t know if many people know in Canada that aboriginal people are a small minority, but we are also the poorest people in Canada. We live in fourth world conditions in most parts of Canada, so social media has helped promote these actions and helped gather people, but not only that but to educate each other on what is happening in each other’s communities.”