Omnibus legislation that should concern all Canadians can be fought and repealed, an Idle No More rally heard in Kamloops on Friday.
“A time comes when people have to stand up,” said Michelle Good, a lawyer who spoke at two information sessions at Hotel 540.
“Idle No More is about resetting the relationship with the Crown. Bill C-45 is a real lightning rod for the issue. It functions as though that relationship doesn’t exist.”
About 100 aboriginal and non-aboriginal people gathered in frigid temperatures at Lansdowne Mall before marching through the downtown in support of a chiefs meeting in Ottawa with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Meanwhile, Chief Shane Gottfriedson, who did not attend the rally, called on the Assembly of First Nations to convene a special assembly of chiefs within the next 30 days to chart a course beyond Friday’s meeting in Ottawa.
“When you look at our relationship with Canada, it’s always been challenging,” Gottfriedson said. “Is it ever going to get easier? I don’t think so. Nobody’s going to hand us a golden cheque.”
But the omnibus legislation is enacted and the issues need to be dealt with, he said.
Chief Ron Ignace of Skeetchestn Indian Band told the crowd that the means to bring about change are already enshrined in the Constitution and in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Ignace said it’s time to stop tinkering and to begin a new relationship with indigenous peoples, to work together in promoting human rights and ending discrimination. He lauded the group for standing up and making “a last-ditch effort to stop the rape of our lands.
“The goal of Canada should be making the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to lands and resources an explicit objective of federal policies,” he said.
Organizers of Friday’s rally repeatedly stressed that Idle No More is an inclusive movement, not confined to aboriginal issues. All Canadians need to understand the implications of environmental protections weakened by bills C-35 and C-45, the omnibus legislation passed in December.
“We’re being very cognizant of the fact that we have a lot of non-aboriginal allies,” said Lenora Starr, a march organizer.
Idle No More is all about making people understand the impact of the new legislation, she told the rally.
“We’re just really thankful that aboriginal people have the constitutional right to be able to challenge this legislation,” said Anita Strong, who joined the march. “The rest of us don’t have that.”
“There should be 5,000 people here, not 50,” said another non-aboriginal who didn’t want to give her name. “What they’re doing to Canada is appalling and unforgivable.”
The Mikisew Cree Nation has declared its intention to bring a constitutional challenge against Bill C-45, Good said. It would take 10 years to fight the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, but if the litigants can demonstrate that the legislation could cause irreparable harm that money could not mitigate, they could obtain a court injunction against the legislation as an interim measure.
“I think it should be a groundswell of Canadian efforts to repeal the act,” Good said. “My hope that the entire bill will be repealed and that, in the interest of democracy, it can be unbundled and Canadians can understand what it means.”
Good also criticized the First Nations Property Ownership Act, omnibus legislation granting aboriginals the right to own private land within reserves. The act became law without sufficient consultation with or the consent of many and makes it too easy to alienate communal lands, she said.
The Tk’emlups Indian Band sees the act as a means to give its members the same economic rights as most Canadians, Gottfriedson said.
“I believe FNPO is good for people,” he said. “The reality is, the current system does not work for us.”
Chief Judy Wilson of Neskonlith Indian Band, said hers is one of eight in the country to sign an agreement with Ottawa allowing it to develop its own land-use code. That will give the community sufficient control over its land base to ensure that it is not eroded, she said.