WINNIPEG — Hundreds of aboriginal people streamed out of The Forks, led by the rhythmic sound of hand drums, to fill the length of Broadway to the provincial legislature Friday as part of the Idle No More national protest.
Some carried placards denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper by name. Others joked with friends in the crowd and some were not aboriginal at all.
Organizers placed the numbers at 2,000, while Winnipeg police, who acted as escorts, put the total closer to 500.
“Settlers in solidarity” read one sandwich board in neon yellow that stood out against the sea of dark winter parkas and extra layers that most marchers wore.
“I’ve been studying a lot of courses at the University of Winnipeg and you realize how dystopic Canada is against aboriginal people,” said Emilie Anderson Gregoire, a diminutive non-native woman tucked inside the sandwich board with the supportive slogan.
By using the term dystopic, she said she meant white settlers who came and shoved aboriginal people out of the way. “This is their land … we’ve been here 100 years and we still need to find a way to share it with them.”
That’s the lesson organizers want to spread across the country, and it’s a big part of the reason behind street rallies and flash mob round dances popping up in shopping malls from Cornwall, Ont., to Edmonton.
“Our real objective is to shatter Canadians imaginations about us and replace it with a new understanding of indigenous reality,” said one organizer, Jerry Daniels, from Long Plain First Nation near Portage la Prairie.
“That reality is to protect the land and the water, and our cultural identity that’s enshrined in our sovereignty rights,” he said.
Idle No More burst over Twitter feeds and Facebook three weeks ago with four women in Saskatchewan who worried out loud about the impact of the federal omnibus budget bill and its provisions to ease up on protections against aboriginal land surrenders and environmental legislation for lake and rivers.
That touched off a firestorm on social media, led a chief from northern Ontario to launch a hunger strike and brought thousands of mostly young aboriginal people surging into the political arena to protest their treaty rights.
In Winnipeg on Friday morning, northern Manitoba chiefs led a motorcade of about 80 vehicles on a repetitive loop around the James Richardson International Airport, to create traffic congestion.
“Most were supportive, but there was one woman named Judy who said holding travellers up didn’t help our cause. I wanted to tell her we’ve been good little Indians for the other 365 days of the year,” said one chief in frustration afterward.
That chief, Donavan Fontaine, couldn’t resist tweaking Manitoba Hydro later on, by telling band members and one reporter he was planning an explosive delivery to Hydro’s new downtown corporate headquarters.
Security guards waited inside the glass and stone lobby as Fontaine calmly sat down and waited half an hour to be greeted. When he finally was, he handed the official a can of baked beans.
“I told him detonation was unpredictable,” Fontaine dead-panned.
“Then I told him it was a can of beans. It was symbolic. We have six dams in our traditional lands and Manitoba Hydro has been on our lands for 100 years. Our relationship is volatile.”
» Winnipeg Free Press