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A Wakeup Call for Canada

Hundreds gather in Halifax in support of Idle No More

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

The Idle No More movement could bring this country "to its knees if [the government] doesn't smarten up," says Mi'kmaq elder Billy Lewis.
The Idle No More movement could bring this country "to its knees if [the government] doesn't smarten up," says Mi'kmaq elder Billy Lewis.

It's rare to see an eagle in downtown Halifax.  Today, one circled above Parade Square and hovered over the crowd of hundreds as they cheered and drummed in appreciation. 

The rally of about 300 was gathered in support of Idle No More, a movement of First Nations and their allies that is taking on the Conservative government and taking Canada by storm.  

It's a wakeup call, according to Ifo Ikede Isoko. "The awakening of the non-Native community into the realities of the treaties that were signed [between Canada and First Nations], and the need to actually honour them."  

"It's not up to Canada to decide [to break the treaties]. It doesn't work that way," says Ikede Isoko, who lives in Halifax.  "When you have an international agreement, if you want to change that agreement, you respectfully meet with the other nations that you signed the agreement with.  You can't have a treaty that's unilateral.  It doesn't work that way."

The Idle No More movement emerged in part as a reaction to an omnibus budge bill — now a law — known as Bill C-45. Opponents of the bill say it tramples on treaty rights and environmental rights.  

"[Idle No More] is important because this affects all Canadians," says Robert Wiebe of Victory, Nova Scotia. "Bill C-45 is just one of many.  It's the attitude of this government; they're putting this country up for sale. I don't think they're going to be happy until they create an open pit mine from sea to shining sea … We can't be allowing this to happen and we really need to stop the madness."

"We often look to the top for answers and the answer here is coming from the bottom," says Billy Lewis, a Mi'kmaq elder.  Lewis is angered that Harper is refusing to honour the treaties.  "I think groups like Idle No More and different solidarity groups around the country are what's going to force them to do it."

"I don't expect anything to come out of Ottawa [today] except more disappointments or more promises or putting it off until another day," says Lewis. "If it gets put off again, the folks that are upset now are not going to go away ... They're going to be more upset.  And this country will be brought to its knees if [the government] doesn't smarten up."

Lewis worries about state violence as the Harper government begins to feel the pressure of a movement that's gaining strength. He believes the best way to keep people safe is for more and more people to join in. "That's the only answer: a hell of a lot of people doing this. Here we are on a cold day, on a moments notice, and Parade Square is full. That's what needs to happen. Again and again."

As the Idle No More movement builds momentum, the eagle is a sign we're on the right path, says Bernie Syliboy from Indian Brook First Nation. "It came to represent something. To show the people that there is support from the spirit world."

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