Hundreds of protesters sprawled into the streets of Hamilton and onto the 403 Saturday afternoon, blocking traffic to raise awareness for the Idle No More movement.
"I want people to realize it's not just an Aboriginal issue," said Myka Burning, one of the blockade's organizers. "People get bogged down with the notion that it's an Aboriginal thing … but overall, it's an Earth thing. It's a life thing."
According to the movement's mission statement, protesters are trying to "stop the Harper government from passing more laws and legislation that will further erode treaty and indigenous rights and the rights of all Canadians."
Protesters are concerned with Bill C-45 — also known as the second omnibus budget bill. They say changes to the Indian Act, Navigation Protection Act and Environmental Assessment Act infringe on treaty rights.
Many are angered by what they call a lack of consultation with indigenous peoples. The movement has also expressed concern about other acts and bills from the Harper government.
"I'm here to spread awareness and to help Theresa Spence get the meeting with Stephen Harper that she wants," said Chris Curley, who is from Six Nations but now lives in Hamilton.
Spence is the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, and attracted widespread media coverage in 2011 after she declared a state of emergency due to a housing crisis in the community.
She has undergone a 26-day hunger strike on Victoria Island just north of Ottawa to force a meeting with the Federal Government to discuss treaty rights. Spence is set to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a delegation of First Nations chiefs on Jan. 11.
"I don't think most people know what's going on — and that's why we're here," Curley said.
"These are my people, and I'm here to help."
The contingent of protesters left the shopping plaza at the corner of King and Dundurn around 1:30 p.m., and walked onto the westbound lanes of the 403 with a police escort.
A car slammed into the back of another vehicle in the eastbound lanes of the 403 at around 1:45 p.m., as the drivers were distracted by the protest.
OPP officials say there were no injuries in the collision. The blockade had cleared around 3 p.m.
A national movement
The Idle No More protest movement gained more steam across the country Saturday, as protests and blockades sprang up in various provinces.
Police in Cornwall, Ont., closed the International Bridge for more than three hours in response to an Idle No More protest that began mid-Saturday morning. About 350 protesters crossed the bridge, which reopened by 2 p.m. local time.
In Saskatchewan, the RCMP said they closed off Highway 624 from Highway 1 to Highway 46 for safety precautions due to a protest of about 300 people.
Other Saturday Idle No More protest sites reportedly included:
- The Peace Arch crossing in Surrey, B.C.
- NWT's Deh Cho Bridge
- The Canadian side of the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, Ont
- The Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo in the Niagara region
- Queenston/Lewiston Bridge between Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake
For more photos of Saturday's protest, visit the CBC Hamilton Facebook page.