Tk'emlups elder meets senator, chiefs

'This is not a protest at all. We're here to stand side by side with each other'

JASON HEWLETT / Kamloops Daily News
January 6, 2013 01:00 AM

Tk'emlups elder Evelyn Camille joined area First Nations chiefs in a round-table discussion about the Idle No More movement and the federal government's omnibus Bill C-45 on Saturday.

Camille stepped out of the sweat lodge on her West Shuswap Road property on Saturday morning, four days after she began depriving herself of food and water to raise awareness over First Nations issues and the perceived threats on traditional rights contained in the bill.

She had vowed to remain as long as seven days if necessary but decided to agree to meet with Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod and Senator Nancy Greene Raine when they reached out to her.

On Saturday afternoon, a representative for McLeod delivered a copy of the 430-page bill and a summary to a group of chiefs from the surrounding area that had gathered outside Camille's home.

McLeod was supposed to be at the meeting, but her flight to Kamloops was delayed. Greene Raine said she came to listen, but had no comment.

Also joining the group, albeit late, was Tk'emlups Chief Shane Gottfriedson.

Prior to his arrival, a tired Camille wondered aloud to the more than 20 people in attendance why her chief and council hadn't joined them.

"This is not a protest at all," said Camille. "We're here to stand side by side with each other."

Camille apologized to everyone when Gottfriedson arrived, saying, "My chief is here."

The other chiefs, who represent a variety of bands including Neskonlith, Whispering Pines and the Skeetchestn, also welcomed him.

Gottfriedson said he's taken some heat for not joining Idle No More protest or allowing rallies on band land. But he wants people to know he does support the movement and what it represents.

He reiterated that Tk'emlups has instigated legislation against government in relation to day schools, land claims and title rights. He said Camille has been a big part of those processes.

"I think our work is really sitting down, not just talking about it, doing the actions," said Gottfriedson, adding the efforts took years. "It just didn't happen overnight."

The surrounding area chiefs who spoke at the gathering said that Idle No More is about protecting the environment and claims to traditional First Nations lands and rights.

While the chiefs believe next week's meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and aboriginal leaders is a start, more needs to be done. The land must be protected and traditional rights preserved.

Prior to the discussion, Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson said Harper only cares about the economy and pushing through pipelines. That needs to change.

"I think that really has to be looked at. He's pushing ahead with economics before the environment," she said.

With one fast ended, Camille is prepared to return to the sweat lodge for another two days in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who is fasting in Ottawa; only this time she will allow herself a liquid diet.

Meanwhile Spence, who has gone without solid food for close to a month in a bid to force renewed talks between First Nations and the federal government, is an inspiration to all Canadians, says former prime minister Paul Martin.

Martin visited Spence at her camp on Ottawa's Victoria Island on Saturday.

He told CTV's Question Period Sunday that it was a good meeting.

"I just told her that she'd become really an inspiration for all Canadians and that we were obviously concerned about her health and that she's got to talk care of herself," Martin said.

One of Martin's final acts as prime minister was the brokering of the Kelowna Accord, a deal between the government and First Nations that would have seen $5 billion in new spending over 10 years.

The money would have been used to improve education and health outcomes, as well as housing.

But Martin's Liberal government fell and was replaced by the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the accord was never implemented.

Resetting the treaty relationship was Spence's goal when she began her self-proclaimed hunger strike on Dec. 11, giving up solid foods in favour of a liquids-only diet.

Spence was seeking a meeting between the prime minister, Governor General and First Nations leadership.

Her strike came as aboriginal activists also began a national protest movement called Idle No More in response to the Conservatives' latest budget bill.

The Idle No More movement feels the bill threatens their treaty rights with the changes it makes to regulations surrounding waterways.

Without acknowledging Spence's strike or the protest movement, Harper announced Friday that he will meet with First Nations leadership this week.

The talks will focus on two elements: the treaty relationship and economic development.

Those two are part of six broader themes that Harper and First Nations leaders agreed to work on following meetings last January.

A spokesman for Spence reiterated Sunday that she will remain on her strike at least until the meeting takes place, and possibly longer.

"We're very cautious and she wants to wait based on the outcome of that meeting," Danny Metatawabin told CTV. "We want positive results."

Martin is the second former prime minister to meet with Spence. Former Tory prime minister Joe Clark went to see her at the end of December.

Idle No More protests continued over the weekend with groups blocking rail lines and border crossing throughout the country.

A blockade of Via Rail lines near Kingston on Saturday held up trains on the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor, affecting about 1,000 people. Via Rail said service would be back to normal on Sunday.

A protest at the Seaway International Bridge near Cornwall, Ont., prompted police to close the border crossing as a public safety precaution.

The usually busy crossing, which connects the southeastern Ontario city and Akwesasne, Ont., to Massena, N.Y., was closed for more than three hours on Saturday as demonstrators marched across the toll bridge.

Cornwall Sgt. Marc Bissonnette said police estimated there were about 150 to 200 protesters participating in the action, which was peaceful.

A statement posted Friday on a website that's become a hub for the movement said the protests would continue until the goals of indigenous sovereignty and social and environmental sustainability were met.

"Once we reach these goals, we will continue to work to protect them," the statement said.

"In essence, Idle No More is here to stay."


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