Residents of Cold Lake First Nation (CLFN) and surrounding communities along with several other communities across Canada rallied on Dec. 15 to protest the federal government's treatment of Canada's First Nations and specifically federal Bill C-45, which opponents say tramples on treaty rights and will further degrade the natural environment.
The rallies across the country and the one along Highway 28 across from Casino Dene, just outside of Cold Lake, were also in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on a hunger strike in an effort to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Queen Elizabeth II and First Nations leaders, to discuss treaty rights.
The protests and rallies are part of a growing movement among First Nations and communities across Canada and around the world called Idle No More.
“We will be heard,” said one CLFN resident at the rally Saturday. “We will not stand by idle, while the federal government passes bills and creates laws that harm our way of life and continues to destroy the environment without even involving us in the conversation.”
More than 100 people were at the rally just outside of Cold Lake, including CLFN councillor Dave Janvier.
He said CLFN chief and council fully support the rally and are in full support of Chief Spence and her efforts to speak face-to-face with the Prime Minister.
“No matter how much we try to make our voices heard, the governments keep ignoring us. This will go on until we are included in the conversation, until we are consulted,” said Janvier.
“We want to spread awareness that it is not right the way the federal government neglects First Nations people and ignores treaty rights. It's been going on for too long.”
Hundreds of vehicles passed through the rally, which was held along the busy highway in the middle of the afternoon Saturday. And as drivers slowed down, activists handed out flyers and information about the rallies and the causes they are fighting for.
“This is not just for the health of First Nations people, this is for the health of the entire planet,” said one resident, holding a sign reading “Stand Together.”
The federal government's so-called “omnibus” Bill C-45, which is more than 450 pages long, was passed by the senate on Friday and has now been enacted into law.
Among the amendments are changes to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Indian Act, which opponents of the bill say will make it easier for the federal government to redesignate reserve lands and strip environmental protection from thousands of lakes and rivers.
Though Minister of Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan has offered to meet with Chief Spence, the Prime Minister's Office has remained silent on the issue, as the Chief's hunger strike enters its eighth day on Tuesday.