The Idle No More movement in Kamloops is showing some strain as a First Nations leader is being criticized for what appears to be a lack of support.
But the criticism itself is being called out for planting seeds of dissent in a movement meant to unify.
Around 80 people gathered for an impromptu Idle No More rally at Aberdeen Mall on Sunday. The activity was in conjunction with rallies across the country in opposition to the federal government's omnibus Bill C-45, which passed through the Senate on Dec. 14.
Opponents say the bill violates First Nations' treaty rights as well as human rights.
But the topic of discussion among many locals was over Tk'emlups Indian Band Chief Shane Gottfriedson's refusal to allow such rallies on the band's land.
"My comments were very, very clear that we've already set our own processes on how to deal with government in our different tables and settings," Gottfriedson told The Daily News.
As well, proper protocol involving a formal letter of request was not followed, he said.
Gottfriedson's response elicited rebuke among posters on the Facebook page of Richard Wagamese, a local Aboriginal writer.
"For a First Nations leader to say that his interests or the interests of his band and their relationship with federal government come before the overall aspirations of the people is grossly not only negligent, but disheartening," said Wagamese, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award winner.
Gottfriedson said he supports the right for people to be heard and believes Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, who started the movement 21 days ago by fasting and demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is a "hero" and "an honourable and noble woman."
"I also think that she's made her point. I think that Canada needs to do the honourable thing and sit down with First Nations," he said.
Gottfriedson added that it's "very unfair" and "actually quite ridiculous" to say he doesn't put aboriginal interests first given the litigation TIB has instigated against government in relation to day schools, land claims and title rights.
He also said band council's past motions clearly indicate that the TIB leadership is not allowed to engage in any types of protest.
And infighting will not solve the challenges First Nation peoples face.
"I don't think that people targeting me for not going to an Idle No More rally is really the answer. Our greatest strength is working together not criticizing each other," he said.
But Idle No More is not a protest, counters Wagamese. It's a unity movement among youth, and the youth need support.
"They're not protesting. They're just trying to raise the political consciousness of their mainstream neighbours," he said. "And actions where someone says 'No we're not going to allow you to conduct this rally here,' that's the divisiveness. That's the disunity."
Michelle Good, a Kamloops lawyer originally from the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, said she believes the tension is borne out of the uniqueness of the phenomenon.
"(First Nations people) are rising independently of our own institutions so it's kind of baffling I think to some of our own institutions, so they're not sure how to respond," she said.
The way Good sees it, Gottfriedson did what he believed was right for his community and dissension only bolsters the real source of the problem.
"While we're duking it out with each other, the agendas of government and industry go on around us," she said.
"I cannot think it a positive thing to draw lines between people that are standing up and saying 'Yes, Theresa Spence should continue her fast,' and people saying 'No, we should continue with the same old endless dialogue with government.' "
The real issue, she said, is the federal government's omnibus Bill C-45.
"I think there just has to be a lot of education about exactly what this is and what's happening with Bill C-45 is not the same old same old," she said. "Part of Bill C-45 works to nullify what constitutional protections that we have."
Good said she's working to summarize the problems with the bill and intends to hold an education session in the future.