Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence will continue her fast from solid food if her and other First Nations leaders’ Jan. 11 meeting with Prime Minister Steven Harper does not yield concrete results.
Shawna Oochoo, organizer for Treaty Four Grassroots Movement, commends the chief on her bold decision because “for us, Harper’s word is no longer what we want. We want actions,” she said.
Treaty Four Grassroots Movement is a local group that organizes and hosts peaceful Idle No More demonstrations, campaigns, and protests within the Treaty Four area.
The team comprises of nine members and strives to reach and educate Treaty Four area communities about the need to “stand for Indigenous Treaties for as long as the sun shines, the waters flow, and the grass grows,” said team member Claudette Alexson.
According to Oochoo, since Idle No More is a grassroots movement, Harper needs to address both the people and their leaders at the same time, instead of meeting just the leaders in private.
“Our leaders knew about this a long time ago and nobody informed us and we found out when it was already too late, “ she explained.
While she appreciates Aboriginal Leaders’ support for Idle No More and all its endeavors, Oochoo is markedly disappointed with their continual lack of initiative to voice the needs of the people they represent.
“They are in those leadership positions to represent the needs of the people, and if the people are saying ‘no this is not what we want’ then I’m sorry you need to switch gears and uphold the needs of the people,” she said.
Idle No More was started by four Saskatchewan women including Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon in November 2012, in response to the Omnibus Bill C-45 proposed and passed by the Harper government.
Environmental activists have said the bill weakens environmental protection laws and Idle No More protesters want the bill repealed. But the passing of the bill is not the only reason why many First Nations people are enraged.
“It was passed secretly without consulting us,” explained Oochoo.
Alexson added that,“we thought that our treaties would always be a part of our heritage as Aboriginal people, so when we heard that bill C-45 was passed without our knowledge that’s when we opened our eyes.”
Oochoo and her team believe that every Canadian needs to take a stand against what she calls reckless environmental destruction by the Harper government.
“We are seeing the effects of mining and industrial pollution across the land and vegetation is all ruined,” Oochoo said. “There’s no trees, animals are dying, and this affects us all and our children and grandchildren to come, regardless of whether you are Aboriginal or non-aboriginal.”
“That’s where our kukums, our mushums, and our children live. That’s where our sacred burial grounds are, and they want to take those away from us too and turn them into municipalities.” – Claudette Alexson
For Oochoo, since so much of Aboriginal livelihood is tied up with the land, destroying the land consequently destroys the lives of the Indigenous population. As well, she added, the treaties which were signed by the Indigenous forefathers very many years ago, it is the duty of First Nations People to protect the land.
According to the Treaty Four Grassroots Movement, there is growing concern that the government might be planning to do more harm to Aboriginal peoples by taking away parts of their reserve land.
“That’s where our kukums, our mushums, and our children live. That’s where our sacred burial grounds are, and they want to take those away from us too and turn them into municipalities,” said Alexson.
One of the team’s main goals is to teach Aboriginal people within Treaty Four communities about the importance of voting.
Pamela Horsefall, another team member and first year Social Work student at the University of Regina, believes that one of the main reasons why Aboriginal people don’t usually go out and vote is because of the backwardness of the reserves where they reside.
“There’s no internet, and therefore no social media out there so people don’t know about Facebook or Twitter. There’s no cable either, so people don’t vote because they don’t know how to vote,” she said.
The team plans to quell this political ignorance that prevails on reserves by holding political teach-ins about what different parties have to offer.
“We are being approached by not only Aboriginal Leadership, but we also have the NDP party, the Sask party, and Liberals all approaching us to educate us about voting so that we can take it out to the communities and educate them as well,” said Oochoo.
“The vote in 2015 really matters and First Nations people should be prepared to vote because really, it might be us who could tip the scale,” argues Alexson.
Alexson compares her reserve, Kahkewistahaw, to a third world country.
“We have extremely poor housing conditions and no clean drinking water. You run a tap and you can’t drink that water – we have to boil our water,” she said.
She added that most reserves still fetch water from wells.
“There are trucks which fill up with water from the wells and come and distribute to houses, and that happens only once or twice a week. If you run out of water you are stuck because you have to wait for the water trucks,” explained Alexson.
The women believe that if they had someone in parliament or in the House of Commons who represented the needs of Aboriginal people, the living conditions on the reserves would not be as dire.
The Treaty Four Grassroots Movement continues to work hard in support of Idle No More and implores everybody to “get active and get involved.”
“This isn’t just about protest or demonstration – it’s about uniting as a country and as one nation, and to understand how these bills affect us all,” said Oochoo.
Treaty Four Grassroots movement is excited about the global support that Idle No More has garnered.
“People from all walks of life are sharing their wonderful pictures in support of the movement through social media, so it seems like a lot of people are pissed off and wanting to support us,” said Horsefall.
Future Idle No More events planned by the Treaty Four Grassroots Movement include a weekly fundraiser at Lulu’s Night Club and Lounge on Victoria Avenue. The fundraisers will run every Wednesday in January and are put on by the Saskatchewan First Nations Potash Issues Panel to raise funds for the movement’s activities, like providing transportation to and from protests.
There will also be a reconciliation walk on Jan. 16 to reinforce that Idle No More is still alive and going strong.
Photo courtesy of thestarphoenix.com