Every time the drum sounded Monday evening outside the Manitoba legislature, the crowd of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people at the Idle No More rally closed in on it. The sound of the beat and the nearly instinctive movement from the crowd of more than 200 in response was almost visceral.
The rally was called to mark the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, but it was the reality of 21st-century Canada many said they were reacting to in Winnipeg. The rally focused on the links between Canada's environmental laws and the historic document.
The Winnipeg event was one many held in cities across Canada to recognize the document that shaped the relationship between Canada's aboriginal people and the British Crown, resulting in protections enshrined in Canada's Constitution.
"These laws aren't just affecting First Nations and Idle No More. They're affecting everybody," said rally organizer Michael Kannon.
He referred to federal policies that dismantled environmental laws last winter. The proclamation affirms the sovereignty of Canada's aboriginal peoples.
"We are going to tell the truth about the lands, the waters and our relationship with each other," Kannon said.
The event drew mostly aboriginal people, but also a number of non-aboriginals, too.
Among the speakers were Manitoba's Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and city councillor Ross Eadie.
"As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, the proclamation must prevail," Wasylycia-Leis told the crowd.
"One of the biggest problems in this country," added Eadie, "is we as non-native people don't understand what happened, what is the history and who owns the land."
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak mounted the legislature steps in a ball cap and black hoodie, his daughter, Rebecca Svens, standing at the foot of the steps as he spoke.
"In the last year since Idle No More picked up steam, it's caused a la lot of people in leadership to take inventory about what we're doing," Nepinak said.
The message of the movement is changing the way First Nations leaders are responding to government and industry, especially regarding resource extraction including mining and the debate over gas and oil pipelines, he said.
"We have the power as indigenous people to make a final determination on any energy project," Nepinak said.
Organizer Ashlyn Haglund said if it weren't for Idle No More, she wouldn't even be aware there are no consultations planned for Winnipeg under proposed plans to build the Trans-Canada East pipeline, even though it's to be built within 50 kilometres of Shoal Lake, Winnipeg's water supply.
"There's no consultation even though that pipeline is going that close to our water supply," Haglund said.
Northern Manitoba Grand Chief David Harper, meanwhile, led a delegation in London, England that toured the House of Lords and put on cultural performances, including a hoop dance outside Buckingham Palace Monday.
"We're doing some campaigning, some awareness of our issues in Canada and we're getting a lot of traction," Harper said from London.
The delegation will meet with High Commissioner Gordon Campbell in the morning to discuss opening an office in London for First Nations to pursue trade and investment, such as eco-tourism, Harper said.