As the voices of Canada’s Indigenous peoples have grown louder since Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began her hunger strike December 11 in opposition to Bill C-45 and other federal government attacks on First Nations, the “Idle No More” movement has rippled across Canada and beyond. Now people in Val d’Or are joining in.
They responded to a call to Natives across the country to gather December 21 to beat their drums, protest and join into the symbolic round dances that have become synonymous with the Idle No More movement.
Making sure that their voices were being heard in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre (VDNFC) organized their own protest and round dance on just 24-hours notice.
“We definitely felt compelled to do this because we felt that we just needed to do something in solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters across the country. We feel like we are part of this and so we didn’t think twice,” said Edith Cloutier, Executive Director of the Friendship Centre.
Despite the short notice, Cloutier said that approximately 50 people, both Natives and non-Natives, came together for the event at noon in coordination with events across the country.
They began with opening prayers led by their Elder and VDNFC President, Oscar Kistabish, who also provided some traditional drumming for the event. Cloutier then explained the purpose of hosting the public event to the participants and local media. The event was capped off by a round dance in the Centre’s parking lot.
Due to the heavy amount of traffic on the street where the VDNFC is located at lunchtime, Cloutier said that the event was actually able to drum up a lot of attention in the community. Considering that the Idle No More movement and Chief Spence’s hunger strike had not been widely reported on in the francophone media of the north prior to their demonstration, Cloutier said she was quite pleased with the way the message of the event was heard in the community.
“We also want to show our opposition to the Harper Government’s indifference towards First Nations,” said Cloutier. “Yes, it started with C-45 and that will have major impacts on the Indian Act itself. This will also restrain some First Nations in their capacities to function and then there is the whole issue of reducing environmental protection for rivers and lakes. The impact that this will have on the environment should not just concern First Nations but the entire population of Canada.”
At the same time, Cloutier said that Idle No More has prompted her to delve deeper into the history of the relationship between federal government and Canada’s Indigenous peoples so that she could better explain this movement’s origins to those who may not understand its purpose.
What Cloutier found was that though it has now been 20 years since Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is as though the recommended reconciliation process was never initiated.
And, despite Harper’s promises of rebuilding and entering into a new relationship with First Nations after his government’s apology in 2008 for the residential school system, this too has yet to materialize.
“He used words like ‘respect’ and ‘partnership’ but we are not seeing this. We keep saying enough is enough and as we stand up as a united front this is becoming more and more interesting to look at throughout this movement. It has been a long time since we have seen this kind of solidarity where we are all committing ourselves as First People to this movement and saying that if we stand together we are stronger,” said Cloutier.