An estimated 3,000 people marched on Ottawa, Canada’s capital, today while threatening to disrupt the national economy unless Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to greater rights for Native Canadians.
However, there are fractions within Canada’s aboriginal community, with some leaders turning on each other just as meetings between native chiefs and the prime minister began.
As one chief vowed to “block all the corridors” of Ontario next Wednesday if Harper skipped out, other natives elsewhere tried to stop the meetings from even happening.
That was all complicated by the very public “Idle No More” movement scheduling marches across Canada.
“Canada cannot give certainty to their investors any longer,” Chief Gordon Peters said, according to Reuters. “That certainty for investors can only come from us.”
The demonstrations stem from Harper and his Conservative government’s efforts to change environmental protection laws while making it easier to sell native lands, Reuters reported.
The right-leaning government is streamlining environmental approvals for energy projects, for example, while altering laws that govern fisheries and waterways.
It brought about a hunger strike from at least two native leaders, the most high-profile being Chief Theresa Spence who has lived on fish broth and tea since Dec. 11.
Spence’s plight lent greater energy to Idle No More, a grassroots effort designed to “stop the Harper government from passing more laws and legislation that will further erode treaty and indigenous rights and the rights of all Canadians.”
Spence demanded Harper and Canada’s governor general, David Johnson, meet with native leaders today on Indian land.
The governor general the Queen’s official representative in Canada, but serves a purely ceremonial role now that Canada has distanced itself from English ties.
He declined, but invited elders to his official residence tonight; that wasn’t enough for Spence, who vowed to continue her strike.
“We were never respected as First Nations people of this land,” said native elder Raymond Robinson, himself fasting for 30 days. “They’re always saying what’s good for us. We know what’s right for us.”
Spence wanted the governor general there because it was England that many natives first signed treaties with – in 1793.
The issue became even more complicated when audits leaked this week showed Spence’s impoverished reserve cannot provide full documentation on how it spent more than $100 million in government money.
There are 630 First Nations in Canada, and their national chief is pleading for unity.
“This is the fork in the road,” Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo said, CTV News reported. “This is the moment of reckoning and the tipping point that for so long we’ve said was coming.”
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