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Idle No More Protest Halts Trains, 2,500 Passengers for Hours

'First Nations-Canada relations are headed in a dangerous direction'

Beth Brogan, staff writer

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence pauses while speaking with journalists about her hunger strike with elder Danny Metatawabin in a teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa on December 27, 2012. (Photo: Reuters / Chris Wattie)

More than a dozen Idle No More protesters blocked trains in Ontario for hours Sunday evening in support of Northern Ontario First Nations Chief Theresa Spence, who on Monday began her 21st day of a hunger strike to back her demand for a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

About 2,500 passengers and 12 trains were blocked for three to five hours, according to VIA Rail spokesman Jacques Gagnon, the Toronto Star reports.

Spence has subsisted on fish broth and medicinal tea since Dec. 11, and said she will starve herself unless Harper meets with her to discuss First Nations issues including the protection of First Nations treaty rights.

Although Harper shows no signs of agreeing to meet with Spence, more than 20 members of Parliament visited the  Attawapiskat Chief in her teepee in Ottawa on Sunday—which Spence designated a day of solidarity. They and others urged Harper to reconsider his decision, particularly in light of Spence's failing health.

John McCallum, a member of Parliament, said following the visit, "She said to us that the prime minister has a heart," CTV News reports. "Well, if he has a heart, he won't just sit and let her die."

On Saturday afternoon, former prime minister Joe Clark visited Spence, and said that "there is a general concern that First Nations-Canada relations are headed in a dangerous direction ... Chief Spence expressed a humble and achievable vision—one which I believe all Canadians can embrace."

Sunday's day of solidarity also spawned at least six other protests, including one outside Harper's Calgary office in Alberta, where about 400 protesters gathered carrying signs, playing drums and performing a round dance. A flash mob round dance in Eatons Centre in Toronto drew hundreds.

Spence has demanded to meet with Harper to discuss treaty rights including Bill C-45, which includes changes to the Indian Act about how reserve lands are managed and removes thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water.

The campaign also aims to draw attention to dismal conditions faced by many of the country's 1.2 million indigenous people including poverty, unsafe drinking water, inadequate housing, addiction and high suicide rates, Reuters reports.


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In a statement released on Monday, Spence said

To unilaterally change the conditions of the treaty is not legal ... A failure by your government to protect our treaty rights allows us to protect those rights ourselves. Our ancestors promised peaceful co-existence but we will not wait forever for the government to complete their obligation under the treaty.

Celine Cooper, a PhD candidate in sociology and equity studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, wrote Sunday in the Montreal Gazette that the Idle No More movement is forcing Canadians to "acknowledge the uncomfortable legacy of Canada's complex colonial history ... and the shameful history of Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women ... It is difficult to deny that issues of aboriginal rights are often treated as secondary..."

Internationally, Cooper wrote, Idle No More, the Occupy movement and other such actions suggest "that we are stepping into a new era of social uprising and collective action that transcends state borders and national territories like never before."

She continues:

Around the world we have seen manifestations of anger at corruption, economic disparity and institutionalized or government-sanctioned inequalities that divide people along class, race, gender, linguistic and religious lines. But these manifestations are also demonstrations of hope that highlight new interconnected forms of global grassroots action, community mobilization and solidarity.

Following is video of a flash mob round dance taken at Eatons Centre in Toronto on Sunday:

Follow the Idle No More protest on Twitter at #idlenomore or on their Facebook page.

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