BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Idle No More supporters gather around elders and drummers during a demonstration that closed the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue on Friday afternoon. More than 200 supporters participated in the event.
Braving cold temperatures, more than 200 Idle No More protesters sang and danced at Brandon’s busiest intersection on Friday.
Students lead the march from Brandon University to the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue during Friday’s Idle No More demonstration, which drew more than 200 protesters. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
Idle No More supporters gather around elders and drummers during Friday’s demonstration, which closed the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue. More than 200 supporters participated in the event. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
At 5 p.m., protesters gathered at 18th Street and Victoria Avenue to show their displeasure with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s controversial record on issues such as the environment and First Nation relations.
"It’s people taking a stand against Bill C-45," said Brandon University Aboriginal Student Council president Julia Stoneman, who helped organize the protest.
Stoneman explained that the movement began when four women from Saskatchewan created a discussion around Bill C-45, an omnibus bill introduced by the Conservative government.
Parts of the bill amended the Indian Act, Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and Environmental Protection Act.
"It’s important to us and it’s important to everyone," Stoneman said.
About an hour before the protest began, police started rerouting traffic around the intersection to ensure the protest remained peaceful, although protesters said regardless of the police presence the protest would remain peaceful.
Then, more than 200 people — aboriginal and non-aboriginal, old and young — took to the street after a ceremonial smudge.
As they marched toward the intersection, carrying signs that read "Honour Our Treaties," "Ask Questions" and one that likened Harper to Adolf Hitler, a protester hollered "Idle" to which the group shouted back "No more."
Once at the intersection, drummers took the lead in the centre of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue, while the rest of the protesters — some of whom brought their family pets — formed a circle dance around them.
"My heart is so happy right now and there are so many emotions all at once that it is hard to describe, especially to be a part of it," Stoneman said.
The Idle No More grassroots protest, which has grown into a worldwide movement, has become a controversial issue, dividing many Canadians, but Stoneman said some of the clash has been the failure of the media.
"The media likes to twist things. They don’t want people to know the full story and they don’t want people to know what is going on with these bills."
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been at the forefront of the movement since swearing off solid food on Dec. 11. Spence began her liquid diet to force a meeting between First Nations leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston — something that happened Friday, although some leaders, including Spence, chose not to attend for various reasons.
The movement faced criticism last week when a financial audit performed by Deloitte and Touche found that the Attawapiskat First Nation was missing significant documentation as to where a majority of the $104 million in federal transfers to the band has gone between 2005 and 2011.
"Her administration and the politics behind it aren’t the issues, yet the media tend to bring that up quite often," protester Clyford Sinclair said. "It’s what she stands for as a figurehead and what she is fighting for that is important."
In a letter, dated Aug. 28, 2012, posted on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website addressed from Deloitte to Spence, the accounting firm states that of 505 transactions reviewed, 409 lacked the proper documentation.
"An average of 81 per cent of files did not have adequate supporting document and over 60 per cent had no documentation of the reason for payment," the auditing firm states.
The letter calls into question the accounting practices of the band council on the northern Ontario reserve of about 2,000 people.
"We (Deloitte) were unable to determine if the funds were spent for their intended purpose. There is no evidence of due diligence in the use of public funds, including the use of funds for housing. In our opinion, having over 80 per cent of selected transactions lacking any or proper supporting documentation is inappropriate for any recipient of public funds."
First Nations leaders have questioned the timing of the audit, which the government was obliged to make public by Jan. 16 but was leaked to the media prior, calling it a smear campaign against Spence.
The audit and its findings take the focus off the real issue, according to Sinclair.
"The whole idea of Idle No More is to bring attention to it, not deflect attention."
Sinclair said the strength of the movement is in its "anishinaabe" or people.
"The grassroots movement is the heart of it. It comes from the people," Sinclair said. "But it very much is a political issue too, because there are going to be political ramifications that need to be addressed and those can’t be ignored either."
For her part, Stoneman said the Brandon protest was about more than Idle No More, that "it was about bringing the whole community together" to build relationships to incite change in the world
"This doesn’t end here," she said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 12, 2013