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'Idle No More' Actions Sweep Canada

Protest movement takes message to Canadian capital and beyond

- Common Dreams staff

Idle No More protesters gather in front of Canada's Parliament on Friday. (Photo: Twitpic via Samson Cree Nation)

A movement spawned by First Nation activists over indigenous rights and environmental protections in Canada has spread far and wide as Idle No More's Global Day of Action spurred round dances, speeches, and rallies as thousands took to the streets across the country Friday.

“The goal is to raise the profile of the movement, demonstrate our global presence, and give visibility to the growing momentum as a people’s movement first,” announced one solidarity group associated with the movement.

A major rally outside Canada's Parliament building occurred as a meeting between some First Nation leaders and representatives from the Canadian government began in Ottawa.

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The Idle No More movement swelled to international prominence over the last month as Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, now on the 32nd day of a hunger strike, gave voice to anger over new government laws that undermined long-standing agreements with First Nations.

Though some leaders agreed to attend a "nation to nation" meeting between First Nation Chiefs and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Spence is boycotting the meeting saying it would not meet the demands declared by the Idle No More movement.

“I clearly stated from the beginning that the meeting has to include both the Governor General and the Prime Minister in attendance," Spence said in a statement. "We continue to push for justice, equality, and fairness for all Indigenous peoples."

Despite evidence of friction between some First Nation leaders, the Idle No More movement has in many regards outgrown specific earlier demands as a broader movement for indigenous and environmental rights has grown up around it.

As Canadian activists Maude Barlow and Ken Georgetti explain: "All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Theresa Spence's and Elder Raymond Robinson's hunger strikes. These individuals are calling attention to an intolerable situation among First Nations communities. They are also highlighting concerns common to many Canadians about dangers posed by unilateral government actions to the natural environment and the state of our democracy."

As part of the international day of action, indigenous people were encouraged not to buy anything Friday unless they do so on a reserve, CBC reports.

Supporters in the United States were among those across the globe participating in the #J11 Global Day of Action events. Other solidarity actions were also planned in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

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In Ottawa, over 3,000 of demonstrators overtook Parliament Hill and blocked the main entrance to the prime minister's office ahead of a meeting between the Harper and members of the First Nations community.

CBC News reporter Julie Ireton tweeted that protesters closed streets in the capital city, drumming and dancing as the swarm of people swelled as they made their way towards the Hill.

The demonstrators began their march on Victoria Island, where Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been camped for more than a month during her hunger strike protest.

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London, Ont.:

Hundreds of First Nations protesters took to the streets Thursday in London, Ontario. Speakers rallied up the crowd, calling for unity and demanding greater respect for the planet, before a massive round dance kicked off, blocking traffic in the downtown area.

In one particularly fiery speech, a demonstrator announced that the "genocide is near complete people," adding:  

We don't have anymore luxury to sit around. And we're not in this alone. You can't drink the water, you can't breath the air and there's hardly any food to eat. We're in this together; we're each others people. She's our mother, the Earth. How do you own her? How do you continue to rape her without any just cause besides your own greed? It's not right.

It's not right to burden our mother, the Earth, with our own stupidity. Up yours Stephen Harper.

Independent media team, The Indignants, put together this time lapse video of the London round dance on Friday:

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Vancouver, BC:

In Vancouver, demonstrators set off from the Native Education College at 1pm PST and head to a rally at Vancouver City Hall after which a flash mob is scheduled to take place.

Protestor Harsha Walia writes, "Over one thousand at #idlenomore vancouver."

(Photo: Chris Brown/CBC)

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Montreal, Quebec:

In Montreal, a round dance spanned two city blocks as over 1,500 gathered outside the Palais des Congrès.

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Yellowknife, Northwest Territories:

Demonstrations spread far as this crowd gathered in the Northwest Territories on Friday afternoon.

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New York, NY:

In New York, a predominantly female crowd  braved the rain in Washington Square Park and joined hands around a drum circle. According to Citizen Radio host Allison Kilkenny, who was live tweeting from the demonstration, Idle No More representatives thanked the Occupy Movement for help organizing the event.

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San Diego, Calif.:

Protestors gathered on the beach in San Diego on Friday in an event the local Idle No More chapter announced:

CALLING ALL DRUMS, GOURDS, SINGERS & DANCERS. STAND UNITED on the many issues in Indian Country—water, land, sacred sites, coal, NGS, uranium, save the confluence, protect the peaks, etc.

EVERYONE WELCOME. Let's Round Dance again.

A live stream of the drum circle can be watched here.

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Alaska, US:

In a show of solidarity with their neighbor, Alaskans stood in falling snow declaring "I will fight until I melt!"

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Paris, France:

Street art goes up in solidarity in Paris, France.

(Photo: Solguy via Twitter)

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London, England:

In the UK, protestors flocked the British Museum where "vast volumes of loot from the British Corporate Empire are held—to acknowledge the ongoing relationship between colonialism and the Government of Canada's attempts to push through legislation that seeks to rip up the treaties first signed with the Crown."

Protests will continue tonight at the Canadian High Commission.

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To Meet or Not To Meet?

First Nation women standing in solidarity with the Idle No More movement tried to block Matthew Coon Come, Chief of the Cree Nation, from joining the meeting with the Prime Minister and then voice outrage as he enters the offices:

Chief Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), also attended the meeting. Like Chief Coon Come, he received scorn from some and threats that his ongoing leadership might be challenged.

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Promises of more to come:

The Toronto Star reports that many First Nation chiefs are committed to continuing their campaign of protest regardless of what comes out of today's meeting in Ottowa:

The threat comes as First Nations are calling for a national day of action on Jan. 16 that could fill streets with protesters and shut down rail lines and highways.

“We’re going to rally on Jan. 16 right across Canada,” said Wallace Fox, chief of the Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. While it’s billed as a peaceful protest, it also promises disruptions similar to what Canadians have seen in recent weeks from the Idle No More movement. “You’ll see more of that. Highway blockades, rail lines,” he said.

The meeting with Harper was cast in doubt as angry chiefs voiced their frustration with the prime minister’s refusal to meet on their terms.

“We’re not going to meet with Harper on his agenda because we initiated this as chiefs,” Fox said. Instead, Harper has dictated the terms of the meeting “on my terms, my turf,” he said. “We’re not agreeing with that.”

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Idle No More's promo video for #J11:

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