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Native activists 'Idle No More'

Grassroots movement a call to action

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First Nations activists are gearing up for a week of rallies as a growing grassroots movement known as Idle No More continues to draw communities across the country together thanks to a powerful presence online.

Supporters say they are upset about the effects of the Harper government's policies on aboriginal communities.

They want First Nations to be recognized as sovereign stakeholders in decisions affecting the country's land and resources.

"There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well," says a manifesto published on the group's website ( idlenomore.com).

"We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them."

The movement has quickly gained momentum, particularly amongst a new generation of young, social-media savvy activists. Thousands have used the idlenomore hashtag on Twitter to debate issues and spread information about upcoming protests.

Events across the country -- from Halifax to Red Deer, Alta., -- are detailed on the group's website and on Facebook.

After a round of protests on Dec. 10, more events are planned for this week, culminating in a rally on Parliament Hill on Friday.

This past Saturday, Manitoba's Sandy Bay First Nation organized a protest on the Trans-Canada Highway at the intersection of Highway 16 west of Portage la Prairie over Ottawa's omnibus budget bill C-45, which they say imposes on their rights. The highway fully reopened early Saturday evening after traffic was rerouted around the blockade for part of the day.

Meanwhile, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak is heading to Ottawa to support a week-long hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence.

Nepinak called on First Nations people across Canada to support Spence and pressure the federal government to meet her demands.

"Fly, drive or otherwise and demand that the conditions of breaking the fast be met by this prime minister. If this prime minister fails to meet the conditions and this powerful Attawapiskat chief passes, the long-silent war drums of our people must ring loudly in the ears of everyone," Nepinak said.

Spence has promised to continue her strike, which she started Dec. 10, until the Conservative government starts showing more respect to First Nations' concerns and aboriginal treaties.

She wants a meeting between the Crown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders.

Attawapiskat made international news last year for its poor housing conditions.

The hunger strike has become a cause celebre for some First Nations activists and Spence has drawn support from all regions of the country.

The Assembly of First Nations issued an open letter to Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Harper on Sunday calling for a meeting to discuss Spence's demands.

"All First Nations across Canada stand united and in solidarity in advancing this urgent call for action and attention," the statement said.

Jan O'Driscoll, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan, said the department has made efforts to consult with aboriginal leaders.

He said they continue to work on pressing issues on reserves such as education, clean drinking water and housing.

"While we've made significant strides, there is still work to be done," O'Driscoll said in an email.

"We'll continue to partner with First Nations to create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient communities."

O'Driscoll said Duncan has also tried to reach out to Spence.

He offered to meet with Spence and have his parliamentary secretary tour the reserve to ensure it has what it needs for winter.

Tanya Kappo, an Edmonton aboriginal activist who sent the first message with the idlenomore hashtag, said discontent with the federal government has been simmering for some time and all it took was a spark.

"I've been feeling this sense in our communities of this great unrest," Kappo said in a weekend phone interview.

The campaign was started by four women from Saskatchewan who were protesting against a number of bills before Parliament.

They are particularly critical of Bill C-45, which they say weakens environmental laws.

"We started discussing that and felt that we need to bring attention to this legislation," said Jessica Gordon, one of the four, who lives in Saskatoon.

 

-- The Canadian Press, with files from staff

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2012 A9

History

Updated on Monday, December 17, 2012 at 11:43 AM CST: Changed art.

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