Hamiltonians join Idle No More protest at Cayuga

The Idle No More protest near Caledonia, Ont., was in support of a Six Nations member on trial for charges following an incident in February 2012.
Around 70 people showed up Wednesday at the Cayuga Courthouse to support a Six Nations member on trial for charges following an incident at a protest in February 2012. (Courtesy Laura Lepper)

A group of Hamiltonians joined an Idle No More protest near Caledonia, Ont., on Wednesday morning as part of a widespread 'day of action' regarding treaty rights for Aboriginal people.

Around 70 people arrived at the Cayuga Courthouse at 9:30 a.m., just before proceedings started for Theresa "Toad" Jamieson. She was arrested in February 2012 after demonstrating against the presence of protester Gary McHale on First Nations Reclamation Site Kanonhstaton.

Gary McHale is a long-time protester in the Caledonia land claim conflict, holding rallies against what he calls a two-tired justice system that favours aboriginal people in the dispute. He has been involved in lawsuits and countersuits with the Ontario Provincial Police, and was once arrested for hanging Canadian flags across the Caledonia protest site.

Organizer Laura Lepper estimated about 15 to 20 Hamiltonians were at the Cayuga Courthouse demonstration on Wednesday.

The courthouse protest started with prayer ceremony and a drum circle. Things got heated when the McHale stood outside the courthouse as the proceedings adjurned. Some protesters started to move towards him, and a shouting match ensued — but the event's organizers and police stepped in to defuse the situation.

CBC Hamilton spoke with a protester named He Carries the Strength of 10 Buffalo, who has attended several Idle No More protests in the Golden Horseshoe area in the past few weeks. He told CBC Hamilton that police presence on the whole at Idle No More protests "has been awesome."

"I came out to support my nation and our people," said Strength, who lives in east Hamilton.

He played a drum outside the courthouse Wednesday, and says he's been "blown away" by the amount of support he's seen from non-Aboriginal people at recent rallies.

"There's been a lot more people coming forward to dip their toes in the water," he said. "It's a lot easier to get involved now."

The demonstration was organized by CUPE 3903, a union representing the contract faculty, teaching assistants, and graduate research assistants at York University. Besides protesters from Hamilton, people from the Greater Toronto Area and Niagara also participated.

Nationwide protests

Many major cities across the country have been bracing for serious traffic disruptions and possible blockades as part of the Idle No More movement. Planned events have included rallies, flash mobs and prayer circles, to bring more attention to changes to Bill C-45, the Conservative government's controversial omnibus budget bill that directly affects First Nations communities.

Aboriginal leaders say there has been a lack of consultation about changes to environmental protection regulations.

Terry Nelson, a former chief of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba, said their protests aim to educate Canadians about aboriginal treaty rights and land disputes First Nations have with governments.

Demonstrations are planned for local CP and CN railway lines at noon, local time, he said.

"We're sending the message very clearly with the railway blockade that [there's] going to be no more stolen property being sold until such time that they come to the table and deal with the original owners," he told CBC News on Tuesday.

Nelson added that while those who may block the railway lines have no plans to use force, they are prepared to get arrested.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says he worries some protesters might take things too far.

"I think it's very important to recognize that we do not, at this time, condone the use of any kind of force," Nepinak said.

"We can't win in any kind of environment where we're using force."

Other chiefs said they will be peaceful at demonstrations on Wednesday, but if nothing changes to improve First Nations conditions, blockades will follow.