Idle No More protests irritating to some, inspiring to others
OPP officer says First Nations blockades are legal, 'peaceful assembly'
The First Nations Idle No More movement continues to build momentum, with pop-up protests, highway blockades and shopping mall flash mobs.
Canada's aboriginal people are getting louder and stronger in their call for change. On Thursday, motorists were held back by highway blockades near Sault Ste. Marie, and shoppers catching post-Christmas deals stumbled over an Idle No more flash mob at the Sudbury mall.
Meanwhile, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who's at the centre of the movement, is now into day-18 of a hunger strike in Ottawa.
Spence says she won't end her hunger strike without first meeting with Prime Minister Harper and other leaders. She started the hunger strike in an effort to get a meeting with Harper to talk about the state of the relationship between First Nations and the government, and her concerns about treaty violations.
Spence has been offered a meeting with John Duncan, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. She was offered another meeting over the Christmas break, but refused, saying that everything the ministry has offered in the past has just been a "band aid solution."
During an interview on CBC television’s The National Thursday night, Spence said she is weakening and now lacks the energy to go meet with Minister Duncan at his office.
There have been number of events happening across the country as part of the national Idle No More movement in support of Chief Spence, including a few in northern Ontario.
A flash mob of sorts took place at the New Sudbury Centre. As shoppers bustled their way through the mall, a drumming circle broke out in the middle of the shopping centre, close to where Santa was sitting just a few days earlier.
Along with the drummers, there were a few people chanting in the centre of a round dance - a group of people holding hands and dancing around the drumming circle.
One of the participants chanting at that round dance was Bonafice Trudeau from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island.
"When the singers start singing, I myself feel alive and I feel the heartbeat," he said.
"It seems to be in tune with my heart and I can feel my inner self being here, my spirit is here and I feel the strength from seeing all the people. The singers all around us, hearing their voice, make me want to sing harder and stronger."
There were also highway blockades Thursday that slowed traffic periodically near Sault Ste Marie.
The resulting delays are irritating some northern drivers.
"This whole notion of blocking public highways is totally unacceptable," said Sault Ste. Marie city councillor Frank Fata, who was commenting on Hwy 17 closures outside of Sault Ste Marie last week.
This week, protesters have been holding up traffic in 15 minutes intervals.
However last week, the delay was a few hours, and Fata’s daughter was stalled outside of Espanola while travelling from Toronto to the city, he said.
Garden River resident Darrell Boissineau said his community recognizes some people may be frustrated by the blockades.
"I think organizers are being respectful in this regard ... [and are trying] not to inconvenience people as much as they possibly they can," he said.
Boissineau noted road blockade organizers work closely with local police to limit road disruptions.
In this situation, the blockade is legal, said Sault Ste. Marie OPP constable Monique Baker.
"The OPP respects the rights of everybody's freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and we also recognize the rights of the general public to a safe environment," she said.
"So our role there is to ensure public safety and to keep the peace."
Baker said any decision by the OPP to remove a group of protesters would have to be done on a case-by-case basis.
'Just the beginning'
Boissineau said there could be future blockades planned and noted that, during all future demonstrations, the group will continue to communicate with the OPP and other local police forces to mitigate the traffic disruption.
Fata said he'd like to see First Nations leaders sit down with the government to have a discussion. He thinks it's reasonable that Chief Spence has been offered a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan.
One Idle No More event organizer said he can see round dances like the one that happened Thursday, as well as other events, continuing at least until Prime Minister Harper agrees to meet with Chief Theresa Spence.
"This is just the beginning," Gordon Odjig, with the Wikwemikong drum group, said.
"This is something that we, as Indian people, love to do. The government is not listening to us, so we're going to keep singing and dancing forever and ever."