Protestors are seen gathering during a rally around Parliament Hill Jan 11, 2013 in Ottawa.
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA - First Nations frustration, which centres around two government budget bills, was on display at peaceful protests across Canada Monday but Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated the feds are not going to change their approach to aboriginal affairs.
"We have made unprecedented investments into things that will make a concrete difference in the lives of people," Harper said while First Nations protesters gathered on Parliament Hill Monday to greet MPs returning to work after a holiday break.
The RCMP estimates about 400 protesters were gathered at the height of the Ottawa protest.
Since early December, grassroots First Nations and chiefs have called on the government to rethink the legislation and implement treaty rights.
The government has said it is not willing to back down on the budget bills, while protesters suggest the legislation infringes on the ability of First Nations to protect lands and rivers.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has said the government believes it has upheld its constitutional obligation to consult with aboriginal leaders on legislation, even though the bills are facing a legal challenge by two Alberta First Nations.
Idle No More protests took place several major centres Monday, including Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg, as part of a global day of action.
Demonstrations under the Idle banner began in December and were sparked by the passage of Bill C-45.
Last week, the NDP and Liberals both played a role in helping to negotiate a 13-point action plan to help end Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's six-week protest in Ottawa. Spence ended efforts Thursday.
As part of the deal to end her protest, opposition parties committed to uphold the fight against the budget bill.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says the government has failed to uphold its commitment to engage in "meaningful" consultation with First Nations.
"Gutting environmental protection for thousands of lakes and rivers on aboriginal territory is not meaningful consultation," Mulcair said, in reference to changes to environmental assessments contained in the budget legislation.
Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash introduced a private member's bill on Monday to ensure federal laws adhere to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Saganash, who is a lawyer and a residential school survivor, played a key role in helping to negotiate the terms of the declaration.
The government signed on to the declaration in 2010 but it is not legally binding.