First Nations protest rally planned today for Victoria

Victoria will see two Idle No More events Friday as part of a day of aboriginal protest.

The grassroots movement, which has included a hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and rallies across the country, is planning a rally in front of the legislature at 1 p.m. and a flash mob at the Bay Centre at noon.

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At the same time, thousands of First Nations and their supporters are expected to converge on Ottawa for a mass rally calling for social and environmental justice.

Protesters are also calling for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with Spence, who has been on a hunger strike for 10 days, and other First Nations leaders to discuss the treaty relationship and aboriginal poverty.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo and up to five other chiefs are expected to take part in the march and rally, along with a number of opposition politicians.

The Victoria rally is being organized by Dallas Martin, a Plains Ojibwe who moved to Victoria from Manitoba earlier this year.

There is little central organization of the movement, said Martin, who became alarmed after researching the federal government’s Bill C-45, the omnibus bill that scraps protection for many of Canada’s waterways and makes it possible to sell reserve land without consultation, and FIPA — the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement — a powerful investment treaty with China.

Martin is hoping the rally will attract not only First Nations, but anyone who is against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol or the many pieces of federal legislation that he believes weaken environmental protections.

“This affects all Canadians,” he said.

The movement and Spence’s hunger strike are being supported by B.C. First Nations leaders, including regional chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Protests and marches have been held country-wide in recent weeks to demand the Conservative government reverse legislation that First Nations say will affect treaties and traditional land use.

On Thursday, members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta blockaded a highway north of Fort McMurray.

Chief Alan Adam told the gathering that the federal government is clearing the way for development on traditional land, and that oilsands projects have already sullied rivers and lakes in the area.

Bill C-45, he said, “gives the green light to destroy the rest.”

“The people are standing up and saying enough is enough,” Adam said.

The Athabasca Chipewyan band has been raising concerns for years about the impact of the oilsands on the environment and on the health of people living in the area.

Another protest Thursday in Quebec saw dozens of Mohawk protesters walk up the on-ramp of a bridge that links downtown Montreal to the city’s south shore to denounce the government’s budget legislation.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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