Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

400 First Nations protesters march for treaty rights

Rallies organized on social media

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Canada's aboriginal rights activists stressed peace as the watchword for Winnipeg supporters who tuned in to Twitter and turned out for a lunchtime rally.

Michael Champagne, a North End community organizer, told a crowd of 400 that Monday's event at the legislature was the start of building an active grassroots movement from one end of the country to another.

"We are demanding to be taken seriously as one nation by the government of Canada," said Champagne, who spent the last year leading rallies at the Bell Tower on Salter Avenue to build up community spirit. "And we will not be ignored."

The message is stern but the methods aren't, said the slight young man with the engaging grin.

"We will stand together in a peaceful revolution... This is our land and we are not going anywhere," he declared.

Under the banner Idle No More, a grassroots movement used Facebook and Twitter to call for simultaneous rallies across the country Monday. Attacks on aboriginal rights galvanized the buzz for rallies in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Toronto.

The intent is to use social media to mobilize and draw attention to threats to land and treaty rights. The round of rallies wraps up with a rally on Parliament Hill on Dec. 21.

The Winnipeg crowd waved flags and sang on the steps of the legislature about an hour after the rally started at noon.

Community leaders and rights activists took turns at the microphone. Many of the province's aboriginal leaders attended, but for the most part, they stood behind the organizers.

The task was to lay out the details of a suite of federal bills that alter aboriginal rights. Chief among them is the federal omnibus budget bill that would erode land and treaty rights and laws that once protected the environment.

The sharp tang of sage filled the air as Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak joined a drum group in a rendition of The Longest Walk, the anthem of the American Indian Movement. AIM led an armed standoff that ended in the death of two FBI agents in Wounded Knee, S.D., in 1973.

One of the Idle No More organizers cautioned the crowd that the federal government may try to cast the rallies as radical.

"They are trying to make us look like radicals but that's not what we stand for," Jerry Daniels said.

Master of ceremonies Wab Kinew urged people in the crowd to work at home to make a better life.

"Take the energy you have here today back to your community so we truly will be idle no more," he said.

Among the crowd were university students and band members bused in from First Nations outside the city, such as Sandy Lake First Nation, 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

Arron Levasseur, from Sandy Bay, carried a sign that read, "If you don't want to honour our treaty rights, go home, Harper."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 B3

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