Idle No More protest hits Hamilton on Saturday
First Nations groups and their allies held a spirited demonstration at Hamilton City Hall on Saturday, part of the Idle No More campaign that's been sweeping the country.
During the late afternoon, about 200 people gathered to denounce the federal government's approach to aboriginal issues. In particular, speakers condemned Bill C-45, which passed the House of Commons in early December.
The wide-ranging piece of legislation includes changes to the Indian Act about how reserve lands are managed, and removes thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water.
"People weren't aware of this before the bill was actually approved," Yvonne Maracle, a leader in Hamilton's aboriginal community who spoke at the protest, told CBC Hamilton. "I really don't think people understood how it affects the waterways, the earth, all of that."
"It's the responsibility of the aboriginal people to look out for our Mother Earth, and we're doing our job," she added. "We need the government to do their job on the other end, to look after and listen to the people."
Also in attendance was NDP MP Wayne Marsden, who used a megaphone to address the crowd about the contentious omnibus bill.
"The government is not listening to Canadians on this issue," said the representative for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. "I thank you for the way you're standing up for all Canadians and for the environment."
After the speeches, protesters marched along Main Street. Some waved banners, chanted or beat drums along the way.
Hamilton is one of several Canadian cities that saw Idle No More demonstrations in the past week.
In Ottawa, hundreds of First Nations protesters waved flags and chanted slogans to make their case. More than 1,000 protesters, a group stretching several city blocks, marched through the streets of the capital Friday after meeting with Theresa Spence, the chief of northern Ontario's troubled Attawapiskat First Nation, who is on a hunger strike.
National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo addressed the crowd, saying, "The year 2013, it harkens a moment of reckoning in this country."
He told the young activists gathered on the Hill that they were "the change that we've been waiting for" and also called on Canadians to support the growing movement and its quest for Ottawa's recognition of aboriginal treaty rights.
Julie Vaux, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the rallies have not changed the government's position.
The Conservatives insist they are taking strong action to address aboriginal concerns.
As recently as Nov. 28, Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met with Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and others to review progress to date and discuss a range of issues, Vaux said.
"Our government hosted an historic gathering of the Crown and First Nations this past January," she also noted.
"Since then, the government has been working with First Nations leadership to make progress in several areas, most notably education and infrastructure on reserves."
With files from The Canadian Press