Idle No More protests beyond control of chiefs – by James Bradshaw and Shawn McCarthy (Globe and Mail – January 2, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

TORONTO and OTTAWA – The Idle No More movement is broadening into a call to shake off apathy, absorbing a range of issues from aboriginal rights and environmental safeguards to the democratic process. And as it swells, organizers are warning first nations leaders that the movement will not be corralled by aboriginal politicians even as the country’s chiefs look to use the protests’ momentum to press Ottawa on treaty rights and improved living standards.

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday afternoon in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, many of aboriginal heritage but nearly as many not, joining hands in round dances and lighting candles to honour Chief Theresa Spence, who was on day 22 of her hunger strike demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet with aboriginal leaders.

The gathering attracted aboriginal peoples calling for greater consultation on changes to reservation land management and the Indian Act, but also environmentalists and government critics charging that the federal omnibus budget bill is bypassing vital public debate.

Started by four Saskatchewan women, the grassroots Idle No More movement has gone viral, with supporters across Canada and internationally holding protests, blocking rail lines and launching hunger strikes. While national chiefs support the effort, organizers are resisting any effort to hand over leadership to their elected representatives.

“While we appreciate the leadership’s support of Idle No More, they cannot take the lead on this,” said Sylvia McAdam, one of the founders, who lives on the White Fish Lake reserve in Saskatchewan. “Our voice as a grassroots people is about sovereignty, honouring the treaties, and sustainable, environmentally friendly ways to extract resources.”

Ms. McAdam said the elected chiefs are forced to operate under the Indian Act. “Their voice is restricted,” she said.

The movement’s immediate aim has been to force the Harper government to withdraw Bill C-45, a budget implementation bill that passed in December and includes changes to Species at Risk and Navigable Waters legislation that opponents claim will put resource development ahead of environmental protection.

But organizers are also taking aim at a slate of some 14 pieces of legislation, including some still pending, that they say will diminish their treaty rights and ensure they continue to be left behind in the country’s economic development. And they want acknowledgment from Ottawa that first nations are sovereign and must consent before any development can proceed on their traditional lands.

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