Edmonton Idle No More protests draws thousands

Thousands of protesters packed into West Edmonton Mall Sunday afternoon to signal that the Idle No More demonstrations will continue even after Friday's meeting with the Prime Minister.
Thousands of people gathered in West Edmonton Mall Sunday, as Idle No More protests continued following a meeting between First Nations leaders and Stephen Harper Friday. (Rebecca Salomon/CBC)

Thousands of protesters packed into West Edmonton Mall Sunday afternoon, filling the halls with the sounds of chanting and drumbeats,  to signal that the Idle No More protests will continue even after Friday’s meeting with the Prime Minister.

"It’s beautiful. It’s a way for us to showcase our traditions, and our spirituality and our realities to the rest of people who occupy what is now Canada., said Quetzala Carson, a Native Studies student at the University of Alberta.

The Idle No More movement protests Bill C-45, which proposes changes to the environmental protections for Canadian waterways, as well as the Indian Act, raising fears it will breach aboriginal treaty rights.

After weeks of protest, First Nations chiefs met with Stephen Harper in Ottawa Friday. Carson says while the meeting promised some progress, it wasn’t enough to stall demonstrations across the country.

"One meeting is not enough. We really need to work on what is going on with Bill - 45, it wasn’t changed. It wasn’t changed at all," she said.

"We are optimistic as a movement and optimistic as a people. I think the government will do the right thing."

Crowds of demonstrators filled the halls of the mall, spilling on to the second floor to watch as First Nations leaders spoke and performed dances on a stage.

Conway Kooteney, one of the organizers, estimated over 2,600 people attended.

"They’re all taking a stand because we’re tired of the federal government dictating what can be done to our people."

Kooteney said the protesters are simply demanding a spot at the table when it comes to the changes that will affect their way of life.

"We aren’t getting by the government a proper way, we’re not being represented really … we’re going to keep the pressure on to the federal government until we’re heard. "

"It’s Canada’s problem"

Steve Courtoreille, Chief of the Mikisew Cree near Fort Chipewyan, said the issues reach farther than the First Nation community.

The environmental changes that Bill C-45 proposes, he says, will harm all Canadians.

"Our waters are not being protected. It gives open season to industry to do whatever they want … they’ll have us out of the way," he said.

"It’s not only a First Nation’s problem, It’s Canada’s problem. "

He says aboriginal communities have felt ignored and dismissed for decades, but calling Bill C-45 "just the tip of the iceberg.

Courtoreille and other First Nations leaders have also filed a formal application to have a court review the changes proposed by the federal government.

"This is where we are going to be heard. But we’re also going to be heard through the courts."

More protests are set for Wednesday across the country.  Courtoreille said while the movement is still going, it is important that Idle No More avoid blockades and other tactics he worries may alienate the general public.

"We want to work with the general public, we want to educate them. It’s their issues too."