Members of Kehewin Cree Nation carried out a peaceful demonstration on Highway 41 on Jan. 25, not only to continue supporting Idle No More and distributing information about the movement, but also to combat the negative light they said certain media outlets have been shining on the movement and indigenous people as a whole.
“We're all humans and we're looking out for the next generation – we're looking out for our kids and our kids' kids,” said Ben Badger, one of the demonstration's organizers.
“We're trying to protect the land and the water for everyone, not just certain people. We're all in this together. We're not villains because we are standing up for our rights and our dignity,” he added.
The group of about 20 to 30 demonstrators held up signs and flags and spoke with passing motorist, some willing to listen and others more hostile to the demonstration, which occurred from about 12 p.m. until 4 p.m.
“We've had a lot of support,” said Elmer G. Paul, a resident of Kehewin. “And for those who swear at us or give us the finger, we don't get mad, we do our best to turn the negative energy into positive energy.”
“When agreements were made and treaties were signed, it was for all of us to build friendships and prosper together,” said Badger. “But things haven't necessarily gone that way.”
He pointed to inequalities he sees right in his own community.
“On reserve, we're allowed 75 liters of water per person, per day. In town (Bonnyville) they use on average 125 liters of water per person, per day,” he explained.
Despite the inequalities, Badger said the issues are more complex and involve much more than just the distribution of funding and resources, it involves fixing the entire system, which he said “is not working”.
“There are more than two sides to this story. There is a willing ignorance of the facts and history and that's creating perceptions of First Nations people that are simply not true.”
He said the situation with Chief Theresa Spence has been complex, as she has helped to bring First Nations issues into the light but has had negative light shone on her as a result of her position and actions as chief.
He also pointed out the majority of those involved in Idle No More, including the demonstrators from Kehewin, do not agree with blockades and illegal action, but see legal peaceful protest as a means gaining a voice many First Nations people have never had.
“We're not going to stop fighting against destructive actions by the government, like Bill C-45, which affects everyone and will for generations to come,” said Felicia Badger, another organizer.
She added, “First Nations people have been put on the back burner for far too long. We're not the enemy just because we are standing up for what's right.”
“To see individuals from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities stepping up to make their voices heard is very exciting,” said Liberal Party of Canada leadership candidate
Justin Trudeau during a visit to Bonnyville on Jan. 26.
“This is not about the chiefs, not about road blockades. This is about the tremendous amount of energy within native communities and their willingness to step up and be heard and to take part in creating solutions, rather than just pointing out the problems.”
He added, “The challenge leaders have is to take that energy and turn it into positive outcomes.”