Bundled up and braving the cold, thousands of First Nations peoples from across Canada converged on Parliament Hill in a national day of action on January 11, 2013. The day of action was to protest the omnibus budget Bill C-45, and bring awareness to mainstream Canadians about the wrongs our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done to all Canadians, not just First Nations peoples.
Bill C-45 has been a huge focal point for the movement Idle No More that has swept across Canada and the international stage in the latter part of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. The 457-page omnibus budget legislation bill (also known as the Jobs and Growth Act) that was introduced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government will make changes to several Canadian laws and enactments that include the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Navigable Waters Act. When you break down Bill C-45 further, it includes the following:
Bill S-6 First Nations Election Act
Bill S-8- Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act
Bill S-2-Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
Bill C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
Bill S-207- An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act
Bill S-212- First Nations Self Government Recognition Act.
Bill C-45 will only see 97 of Canada’s approximately 32,000 major lakes protected by the stripped down act. The changes in the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act will also allow companies behind major pipeline and interprovincial power line projects to no longer have to prove that they will not damage or destroy navigable waterways in Canada. This will not only affect our current generation but generations behind us.
First Nations peoples are upset with Stephen Harper and his government for his blatant disregard for First Nations peoples and their rights. They are upset that there has been no consultation with First Nations peoples and their leadership in regards to the amendments suggested in Bill C-45, because these amendments are outlined in our treaty rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In particular, I quote Article 8 and Article 40 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 8 states:
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture, and
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action, which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action, which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer, which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
And Article 40 states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to access to and prompt decision through just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective remedies for all infringements of their individual and collective rights. Such a decision shall give due consideration to the customs, traditions, rules and legal systems of the Indigenous peoples concerned and international human rights.
Harper’s refusal to negotiate means he is not considering First Nations people, their distinct nations and their ownership of what we all know as Turtle Island. The refusal is also an affront to international law, the Constitution of Canada, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
While thousands protested on January 11, a working meeting took place between Stephen Harper and various Assembly of First Nations delegates. Those in attendance included Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and other representatives from the Assembly of First Nations. Treaty Chiefs from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and elsewhere boycotted the meeting in anger. Although Governor-General David Johnston did not attend the working meeting with the Prime Minister and the AFN, Johnston held a later gathering and addressed a ceremonial meeting of Chiefs that included Chief Theresa Spence.
What will happen next is up to the people and our leaders. We all need to work together, and make sure that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government know that “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” and during this highly political time, the Canadian government needs to acknowledge the ongoing systemic nature of Canada’s colonial past and present before First Nations/Metis and Inuit Peoples see and believe that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government are sincere about paving a path forward together.
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