About 200-250 First Nations members and supporters made their voices, drums and thoughts heard as they marched through Meadow Lake to Conservative MP Rob Clarke’s office to oppose federal legislation Bill C-45.
The Dec. 18 Meadow Lake rally comes a week after Idle No More protests protesting the federal government’s most recent budget bill took place across the country in large cities such as Saskatoon, Edmonton and Toronto.
The legislation has already passed in the House of Commons.
The most contentious parts of the bill among First Nations are changes to the Navigable Water Protections Act, which removes federal protections from thousands of rivers and lakes and would make it easier for commercial developments on small rivers and lakes, and a bill that makes land on First Nations reserves easier to lease to external parties.
But for many, such as Flying Dust First Nation chief Robert Merasty, the fact that Aboriginal communities weren’t consulted on bills they believe will affect them is what makes the most angry.
“With this federal government, we thought we were in a relationship where we can talk and have consultation on legislation affecting us directly,” Merasty said. “But we’ve moved back about a century so, back to unilateral legislation being imposed on us.”
Merasty slammed the government for not taking First Nations treaty rights into consideration when they passed the bill. He believes the reason is political.
“We have a federal government that really doesn’t have time for our people,” he said. “Because we’re not a majority voting bloc like Quebec, Harper doesn’t want to spend time with us.”
Protesters came from Big Island Lake, Witchekan, Flying Dust, English River, Buffalo River, and Waterhen Lake First Nations among others to let their thoughts be known on the Conservative government’s omnibus bill.
Many youth were in attendance, such as Loon Lake resident Kaylynn Ben. She said she was encouraged by the reaction in Meadow Lake, but was disappointed Clarke, who is a member of Muskeg Lake First Nation, was not in attendance.
“We want him to know enough is enough, and we’re putting our foot down,” she said. “As the grassroots, we’re going to take action into our own hands.”
She said she doesn’t see how Clarke can be her representative because she believes he has made no effort to consult her community on the budget bill.
“I would have said to him that we as First Nations we have our own voices,” he said. “He doesn’t speak for us, we can speak for ourselves.”
Many protesters had signage with a similar sentiment. Ben believes the Conservative MP has turned his back on his community.
“By actually going with Bill C-45 and Stephen Harper, it’s really very sad,” she said. “For what he is, he should be supporting his country, his community.”
One of the organizers behind the rally, Joanne Roy, said the rally wasn’t intended to cause a disturbance in Meadow Lake, but to raise awareness.
“(Rob Clarke) claims to have consulted our people, but I haven’t seen any proof of it,” she said.
“The awareness we wanted to get out to our people, and to Canadians in general, is that we need to be consulted when anything is going to affect our land,” she said.
For Ben, she’s hoping the rally has an effect on Clarke, even if he wasn’t able to witness it in person.
“If he would have seen all of us come together as one, maybe he would have had a change of heart,” she said. “But we’re not going to know that because he wasn’t here.”