Several hundred protesters blocked the Coho ferry terminal in downtown Victoria Saturday, stranding motorists and adding fuel to the growing Idle No More movement across Canada.
First Nations singers and drummers shut down the intersection at Belleville and Osewgo streets shortly before the Coho ferry arrived from Port Angeles about 3:30 p.m.
The protesters held their position at the entrance to the ferry terminal until dusk, forcing recent arrivals from the United States to sit on the dock for about an hour. First Nations elders then cleared a path through the crowd, allowing police to escort the stranded motorists out of the terminal.
The protesters cheered and waved Idle No More banners urging others to “Awaken Your Warrior Spirit” and “Support Chief Spence.”
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence went on a hunger strike to force a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, now set for Jan. 11. Spence’s quest sparked increased interest in the Idle No More movement and its opposition to Bill C-45, an omnibus piece of legislation that First Nations say undermines their rights and weakens environmental protections.
The bill also is seen by some as paving the way for the proposed Enbridge pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat. A public hearing on the pipeline continued in Victoria Saturday and will resume again on Monday.
Lou Turner, 62, watched the hearing on television in the public viewing area at the Ramada Hotel Saturday afternoon before moving on to the Idle No More protest. She said First Nations are alerting people to the pipeline’s dangers.
“The pipeline is proposed to go across indigenous land and fragile land and sacred territory, and I think a lot of people are not thinking about this,” she said. “And Idle No More is making us — mainly white people — pay attention.”
Jennifer Louie of the Stz’uminus First Nation said she took part in the Idle No More protest Saturday in hopes of protecting the environment for future generations.
“If Harper keeps letting go of the lakes and rivers that are supposed to be protected by the government, and opening them up to the oil rigs and forestry departments, we’re not going to have nothing, our children aren’t going to have nothing,” she said. “They’re going to have to wear gas masks by the time they have kids if we’re even here on this earth by then.
“I know it’s not going to change for me, but we can change it for my children and my future grandchildren.”
Using a bullhorn, Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the crowd that those inconvenienced by the protest could thank Harper and successive Canadian governments for ignoring the rights of First Nations people.
“It is time now for the governments to pay attention, because now the world is watching,” he said. “Our friends over here from the United States of America are watching. And we’re here to gently remind everybody that First Nations people have title, that First Nations people have rights — right here in Canada.”
Chamberlin, chief of the Kwicksutaineuk/Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation on Vancouver Island, said that as the Idle No More movement gathers steam, Canadians will learn about the plight of First Nations people.
“It is their government which has failed First Nations for generations and it’s a shame,” he said. “Canadians are struggling because they are coming face to face with some words which they are very uncomfortable with. I’m talking ‘;genocide.’ I’m talking ‘;oppression’ and I’m talking ‘;racism.’ ”
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