First Nations and non-Aboriginal Canadians march for Idle No More
By Christopher Walsh
Victoria Crowchild was holding back tears in front of her father’s memorial inside City Hall Monday, as 50 Idle No More protesters and others gathered around the Tsuu T’ina elder to hear her thoughts on the First Nations movement that continues to gain momentum across the country.
Her grandson, Bronson Crowchild, had led the group down MacLeod Trail and into the lobby of City Hall as they beat on drums and chanted traditional songs.
“I don’t know much – I’m only human. But I know this is right,” he said to cheers, before introducing his grandmother.
The elder Crowchild explained to the crowd that she had to get involved with Idle No More after seeing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s omnibus budget bill, known as Bill C-45, that relaxed federal protections on waterways and other environmental priorities, as well as other proposed unilateral changes to the federal Indian Act.
“I feel the origin of this protest … was one that was brought about by Stephen Harper,” Crowchild told the crowd. “Prior to that, there was no Idle No More, there were no First Nations that were able to express their views and concerns.”
She added that changes to the Indian Act will affect generations of First Nations people to come.
“It is not our problem, it’s Ottawa’s problem. They should be gathering all of us together and learning about these amendments to the Indian Act, because a lot of us are all lost.”
Standing in front of her father – Chief David Crowchild’s – memorial, Crowchild recounted the pain she’s been put through over the past month while reading inflammatory columns by Sun Media “personalities” on Idle No More.
“There’s a lot of hate regarding us. If you pick up the Sun, it’s full of it. How they put the people of this nation who were here first…” she broke off to hold back tears. “I remember those words because when I went to school, what I had to go through, how I was mistreated and abused by the system that said, ‘it’s good for you’…”
Crowchild then stopped briefly, as a tear ran down her cheek.
“Well, it wasn’t good for me. I still carry those scars and those scars come very much alive when I read that newspaper, that I felt back then. Alone, hurt, angry, and in a lot of pain. I still have those scars and what they did to me. And how they used to call me stupid, dumb, ignorant, dirty savage … But I lived through it!”
The foyer erupted in cheers and the drums beat on, ushering the group across the street and into Olympic Plaza where they were met by 250 or so other supporters.
This event had started 45 minutes earlier at four different locations across the city – and even earlier by the First Nations Consul, that marched to different symbolic locations throughout the city all day. It was billed as the Idle No More International Day of Solidarity, which saw events held in 30 different cities across the country and throughout the world. Supporters in Calgary met at locations in the north, south, east and west and converged downtown on Olympic Plaza for a rally before ending at the Peace Bridge.
Marching down MacLeod Trail, Isaac Warne, a 36-year-old non-Aboriginal carpenter from Lethbridge, said he was participating because he had researched the movement and wanted to show solidarity.
“There’s some pretty big issues. For me, it’s the environmental issues,” he said.
“I don’t agree with violent protests whatsoever. This is a really good thing. [It’s] raising awareness. Everybody counts. One person, one person, one person; all of a sudden people start raising awareness and issues get confronted.”
Another non-Aboriginal, 33-year-old Calgary artist, Dylan, was marching with a sign on his back that read, “Settler in Solidarity.”
“Bringing First Nations up to the quality of living as the rest of Canada [is important],” he said. “As well as environmental issues. I think we need to protect waterways.”
The crowd detoured off MacLeod Trail and marched to Calgary Alpha House – a drug and alcohol detox centre – where Bronson Crowchild addressed a few First Nations and non-Native men outside the facility, imploring them to have their voices heard.
“Fill out this census, you will be heard!” he said. “You won’t be fighting with one another no more, because on paper, our opinions don’t fight. Put it on paper, we can stand together without having to be in the same room. We can be heard. Or we can continue on the way we are. We can vent and then walk away! And the problem is still there!
“When you guys walk away here today, I pray that you feel satisfied that you contributed to something greater, that we’re not walking away empty-handed again. That at least our opinions stay as a group, as a nation.”
It was 11 Ave. S.E., when Calgary Idle No More co-organizer Summer Stonechild joined the group, handing out painted banners. Stonechild was pleased with the turn-out, which she said was solid at all four points across the city.
“This is raising awareness for the future of all of us. It’s not just about First Nations,” she said, while marching down MacLeod Trail. “There’s been a lot of talk about who’s doing what and who’s backing what up, but we’re getting a lot of support from non-Aboriginal groups, so that’s really important.
“This is just the beginning of many more [rallies] to come.”
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The scene at Olympic Plaza was celebratory. The smell of sweetgrass wafted through the air as First Nations people accepted the sacrament in order. Others danced to the beat of drums and sang traditional songs.
“It’s time we stand up! This Idle No More movement has awakened the people, but it can’t stop there,” said Idle No More co-organizer Autumn Eaglespeaker. “We have to take further action. We have to empower ourselves! Educate yourselves to understand what is really going on – what the government is doing to our democracy!
“It’s about all of us. It’s not what nation you’re from. It’s not the colour of your skin. It’s about human rights!”
Category: First Nations