PARRY SOUND - Get the word out and don’t forget to vote, was the message from an Idle No More panel discussion last week.
Idle No More discussion.
Johna Hupfield, left, with her six-month-old daughter, and, right, John Rice spoke at a Teach In Thursday night to discuss some of the many issues around the Idle No More movement.
Roland Cilliers/North Star
Roughly 70 community members came out to the Parry Sound Friendship Centre Thursday night to hear a variety of speakers voice their thoughts on the movement. The event addressed questions about where the movement will go from here and what can be done about the controversial bill that inspired the protests.
Idle No More kicked off back in early October with a stated goal of fulfilling Indigenous sovereignty while protecting the land and water. Specifically, the movement has positioned itself as a staunch opponent of Bill C 45.
John Beaucage, a former chief and current councillor at Wasauksing, spoke at the panel as the political representative. He encouraged attendees to make sure politicians hear their voices.
“I think the reason Idle No More has taken on this life is because many of our politicians have failed,” Beaucage said. “They failed to listen to the people. They failed to listen to the people when we talk about the environment. They failed to listen to the people when we talk about our treaty rights and implementation of treaties.”
Part of the federal omnibus budget law, Bill C-45 includes provisions that affect treaty rights and remove protections for lakes and rivers across the country. Native groups have called the legislation colonial and paternalistic while the government has said it is essential to Canada’s economy.
Political opponents of Bill C-45 have criticized the process used to bring it into effect. They say there was no consultation on the bill and no chance for average Canadians to understand all the changes.
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence had become somewhat of a figurehead for Idle No More over the course of a 44-day hunger strike that ended roughly two weeks ago. Questions have been raised about whether the movement can sustain its momentum over the coming months.
Idle No More has been compared to the Occupy movement against social and economic activity which began in September 2011. That movement, which saw large scale protests all over the world, had largely run its course by early 2012 when the last high profile sites were evicted.
Beaucage said he believes Idle No More has several advantages over Occupy that will enable it to maintain momentum for months to come.
“They made a mistake,” said Beaucage of the Occupy protests. “They started their movement in August and September and what happens there is you get into winter and it gets cold and uncomfortable. It gets miserable to go out and protest, and it’s a huge discomfort for people doing it. Here, with Idle No More, we started in the winter. We showed how tough we are.”
The winter start to the movement had the added bonus, Beaucage said, of reminding the protesters of the harsh conditions many people in the country have to live in.
Johna Hupfield, one of the event’s organizers, said she also believes Idle No More and it’s message will carry on.
“I am scared that the message is going to be lost and the momentum might be, but I dont feel like that right now when I look at the room and I see you people sitting here with us,” Hupfield said. “I do wonder, does it have to take something like Ipperwash for their to be a change? I hope not.”
In 1995, a protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park by members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band resulted in the Ontario Provincial Police killing an unarmed protester.
Across the Parry Sound region a number of Idle No More protests have taken place. Protests have taken the form of road blocks, downtown marches and various demonstrations - w have been peaceful.
At an Idle No More demonstration held in early January outside MP Tony Clement’s New Year’s Levee, a heated discussion began between the MP and NDP riding association president Clyde Mobbley.
John Rice, who was at that event, said the comments made by Clement reinforced the need for First Nation’s people to become more involved in politics.
“One of the things he said to us on that day was 56 per cent of the people voted for me, and he kept throwing that at us. That was his badge of honour - 56 per cent. To me he was saying he only looks after 56 per cent of the people,” said Rice.
“We know one of the things that has happened here in the Americas is they brought this great democracy and there’s is sort of a dissatisfaction with it right now. Not many people get out and vote, and Idle No More should be all of us getting out there and voting and making our voices heard.”
Rice encouraged those in attendance to become politically active to make sure the people in power hear their voice.
“We have to bring a resurgence in participating in the political process. I know at one point, our traditional lodges used to say don’t participate in the vote that’s not ours. We’ve grown. We understand now. It’s a multi-faceted approach that’s going to change this world,” said Rice.