Though not officially sanctioned by the Idle No More campaign, First Nations chiefs and activists have picked up the momentum and are rallying across Canada Wednesday as part of a national day of action in solidarity with the ongoing environmental and indigenous rights campaign.
Chiefs unsatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s slow response to First Nations demands have declared the day to assert their rights and hopefully hasten official recognition and legislative action.
Demonstrations, round dances and rallies occurred across Canada while roadblocks of local railway lines and a large demonstration at North America’s busiest border crossing have also been confirmed.
“We’re sending the message very clearly with the railway blockade that [there’s] going to be no more stolen property being sold until such time that they come to the table and deal with the original owners,” said Terry Nelson, a former chief of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba.
APTN National News reported Wednesday: “Rail blockaders in Manitoba. CN confirms regional traffic has been shut down.”
Also, the Global News announced earlier:
Posts on social media Wednesday morning called on supporters to meet at the Red Sun Smoke Shop and Gas Bar just northwest of Winnipeg to join a convoy headed to the intersection of the Trans-Canada and the Yellowhead highways near Portage la Prairie. A blockade of a railway near the intersection is planned.
Occupy Carlisle (@occupycarlisle) tweeted: “Via Rail says blockade between Belleville, Ont. and Kingston, Ont. has forced company to stop trains #IdleNoMore”
Another large grassroots group led an “economic slowdown,” targeting the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich.
Organizer Lorena Garvey-Shepley was clear to point out the action was “not a blockade,” adding, “we don’t want to inconvenience people too much. But we want to be in places that are going to get us noticed and allow us to get our information out.”
Organizers held a “peaceful walk” towards the bridge concluding with a rally at the base on the Canadian side.
Organizers reiterated that today’s actions are expected to be peaceful though protesters are prepared to get arrested.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation said that if the indigenous movement’s demands are not recognized soon, more dramatic actions, including roadblocks, can be expected.
“The people are upset with the current state of affairs in this country and things are escalating towards more direct action,” he said.
Across Canada, protestors marched the streets–often blocking traffic–banging drums and carrying banners blatantly displaying “Idle No More.”
More pictures from today’s actions can be seen here.
CBC News has listed a partial overview of the solidarity actions planned for Wednesday.
Though inspired by the Idle No More movement, Wednesday’s actions–particularly the bridge and street blockades–highlighted protest tactics not condoned by the campaign’s founders, marking potential divisions as the movement grows beyond itself.
“If you have an impromptu blockade that doesn’t follow the legal permits, then you’re irritating the public and that’s not the purpose behind Idle No More,” said Sylvia McAdam, one of the movement’s four originators. “A lot of our children and elders are involved in the [Idle No More] activities, so their safety is our priority.”
The movement leaders are instead focusing on a Jan. 28 Idle No More International Call-to-Action during which they will protest at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill as “MPs return to the legislature after their winter break.”
In a recent interview, McAdam specified that, despite heavy media attention given to co-founder Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s recent hunger strike, Idle No More has no one leader, saying:
The grassroots movement of Idle No More is the face of all grassroots people…The founders might be considered guides or maintaining the vision, but Idle No More has no leader or official spokesperson.
A recent press release on the Official Idle No More website echoed this sentiment:
This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.
January 11th’s official Day of Action and meeting between First Nation leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper exposed a rift in leadership when Idle No More leaders, namely Chief Spence, rejected the meeting on the basis it did not meet their demands while a number of other Chiefs partook despite the protest.
A poll on the official Idle No More website asks “Do you think the media is playing up the perceived divisions within IDM?”
The poll will run for a month, but thus far readers have responded 56 percent voted ‘Yes, we are stronger than ever!’, 14 percent responded ‘I’m not sure’ while 30 percent said ‘No, there are divisions and the media is playing it just right.’