Canada
Idle No More protests goes countrywide

Bystanders push in close to watch and take pictures as Idle No More demonstrators host a flash-mob style drum circle at West Edmonton Mall.

Credits: Amber Bracken/Edmonton Sun

TERRY DAVIDSON | QMI AGENCY

A "flash mob" clogged the centre of Toronto's landmark shopping mall Sunday to protest what they see as the Canadian government's poor treatment of Aboriginal Peoples.

Led by a dozen chanting organizers armed with First Nations flags, hand drums and deerskin mallets, several hundred protesters formed a human chain around the Eaton Centre's ground floor fountain at 2 p.m. -- the time set for co-ordinated protests across the country.

The demonstration was an act of solidarity with the burgeoning Idle No More movement happening across the country.

The crux of the movement is the claim that Ottawa has excluded aboriginal leaders from discussions around land, resources and other issues related to treaties through the government's omnibus budget bill.

Protesters are calling for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with aboriginal leaders, namely Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has been on a hunger strike since Dec 11.

Spence has vowed to starve herself until Harper meets to discuss the plight of natives in Canada.

"This is genocide, when it comes right down to it," said Joanne Keeshig, an organizer of the peaceful Eaton Centre protest. "I remember my mother telling me about my grandmother having to (fight) for freedom."

Michele Perpaul was protesting at the mall for her two children, both of whom are half Ojibwa.

"Right now, this government is taking away everything we have," Perpaul said. "They're taking the land that they offered in the first place... What will my kids have?"

In Niagara Falls, Ont., about 50 Idle No More Niagara members were at Clifton Hill Sunday for a rally in support of Spence.

"It's an omnibus budget bill and they should be illegal," Idle No More Niagara member and rally organizer Audra Maloney said. "We're hoping to accomplish some awareness here because a lot of people don't know what's happening at the governmental level..."

A larger crowd turned out in Edmonton where dozens of protesters answered Spence's calls for solidarity and flocked to the Alberta legislature to show their support.

"We're hoping that events like this across the country spur into action Stephen Harper to put an end to the situation by going to meet with her," said Tanya Kappl from the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.

"Rallies like this help keep the momentum going across the country and it really promotes a sense of unity amongst First Nations people and supporters."

In Owen Sound, Ont., about 100 local supporters from Saugeen Ojibway Nation descended on the Springmount, Ont., intersection west of Owen Sound and close it down for about 10 minutes.

It was a peaceful demonstration that grew legs late Saturday, mostly through Facebook and word of mouth, after Spence's weekend call for solidarity protests.

"It was a last-minute effort of getting people together, but I truly believe in Mother Earth and saving our waters. I believe in what Chief Spence is doing.," said local organizer Tracy Boortz.

About 100 peaceful marchers and drummers from Walpole Island made the First Nations Idle No More movement an international phenomenon.

After holding a demonstration at the Walpole Island border crossing for most of the day on Sunday, the rally went across the border to Algonac, Mich., where demonstrators waved flags, chanted and pounded on drums as they marched down the main street in Algonac and then held a ceremony in a nearby plaza parking lot.

While he shied away from calling it a protest, Walpole Island's George Henry said the rally was to make people aware and educate them about what the Canadian federal government is doing.

"We want to do all of this in a good way," Henry said.

terry.davidson@sunmedia.ca

-- With files by Matt Day, Tracey Richardson, David Gough and Pamela Roth


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