By Matt Rabey
The Idle No More movement marched on Parliament Hill on Jan. 11.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said this in regards to why the first nations peoples were in Ottawa: “We want to meet and have a discussion, nation to nation, being with first nations and the leader of the Canadian Government, that being the Prime Minister, and also the honourable governor general because he is a representative of the crown where the initial treaty was signed with the queen. We wanted to have a discussion on issues, on reform and of issues going forward.”
The protest on the hill saw more than 3,000 First Nations people and their supporters descend on Parliament Hill to fight for Aboriginal rights. Some of those supporters included Laurentian University’s Pamela Charron, a third-year Political Science Major and Danielle Beaulieu, a FourthYear Social Service Major.
Charron said: “The reason why I attended the protests and rally in Ottawa on Friday was because I really do enjoy going to protests and rallies, they’re empowering and a learning experience. This movement in particular, Idle No More, the reason why I attended is because they have an identity, they have a cause and hopefully they will have an outcome. They’re fighting for what I believe in: social change and environmental change.”
One of the goals of the protest was to bring the sacred tobacco and sweet grass into the House of Commons where the Laurentian University Model Parliament was taking place at the time.
The goal was not to be accomplished as the security only permitted the First Nations chiefs access into the Anti Chamber.
While in the Anti Chamber, Laurentian students representing the First Peoples National Party (FPNP) were permitted to witness a formal exchange of tobacco between Kevin M. Vickers, Sergeant At Arms for the House of Commons and Chief Isadore Day, Serpent River First Nations.
“I myself in my previous career have served the members of the First Nations communities for over 15 years of my life,” said Vickers. “I understand your frustration. I understand the conditions in which you people live and I also understand the importance of tobacco and what it means as not only a gift, but as a sign of respect for your people. My people here in security we have a definitive job to do to maintain the traditions and practices of the House of Commons. Unfortunately those
practices will not allow us to facilitate what you would like to do today. But perhaps with members of parliament that can be facilitated. On behalf of the House of Commons and the members of security we present this tobacco to you as a gift and a sign of respect and thank you for your visit.”
The sacred tobacco was passed from the Sergeant At Arms to Chief Day who then said: “I just want to thank you Sergeant At Arms and just indicate that these are not tokens, they are not novel exchanges. This is a formal exchange and I want to note that we are accepting this as a gesture reciprocating the protocol that will take place here with the Prime Minister when the House resumes via the honourable Liberal member of the House of Commons Carolyn Bennett.
We will draft a statement on behalf of the chiefs here. On behalf of the Idle No More movement, if that is permitted. And these young people to suggest that we must continue to forge that path forward in the spirit and intent of treaties and that we recognize the sacredness of the tobacco and the sweet grass and we give acknowledgement to things like the Kelowna Accord and the Charlottetown Accord and that third order of government that recognizes us First Nations. We thank you.”
Upon completion of this exchange the chiefs were asked to leave the Anti Chamber and returned to the protest outside.Outside of the House, speeches were given by the First Nations Chiefs explaining their reasons for being there that day as well as how the issues are not ones concerning only Aboriginals.
Beaulieu said: “As many chiefs said Idle No more is not a movement that’s strictly Aboriginal or First Nations related. It is all Canadians that should join the movement because it is about human rights and it’s about our environment and where we live. It’s about being sustainable and believing in democracy and things like that.”
The events that took place in Ottawa were not just limited to demonstrations on the Hill, explained Beaulieu: “[We] attended a sunrise ceremony on Victoria Island where Chief Spence is doing her fasting and they welcomed us with open arms even providing us with grass skirts because that is the protocol to do the sunrise ceremony. They showed us how to do the smudging and one guy said ‘would you like to go lay tobacco on the fire,’ it was not a problem. It was the most welcoming thing. So it’s not about creating divisions it’s about uniting people. We’re the next generation so we need to have a broader scope of what we want as a society and what we think is fair and just.”