Wabanaki supporters of a movement for indigenous rights and environmental justice that began in Canada took advantage of the New Year's Eve celebration in Bank Square, Eastport, to help spread the message of the Idle No More protests against controversial actions by the Harper government. The rally, with drumming, singing and dancing, took place just before and after the midnight countdown to the Sardine Drop marking the new year. Most of those taking part in the rally were from neighboring Sipayik, joined by Passamaquoddys from Indian Township, Penobscots from Indian Island and other members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, along with non-Natives.
"We didn't want to interfere with the Sardine Drop. We didn't want to create any animosity," says Newell Lewey, one of the organizers of the rally. Lewey notes that flash mobs have been held at various malls to draw attention to the passage of two pieces of Canadian legislation, C-45, the omnibus budget bill, and C-38, the Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity Act. Lewey had attended a rally at the Regent Mall in Fredericton on Christmas Eve, and another was held at the Bangor Mall on New Year's Eve at noon, with over 200 taking part in a large round dance. Without a mall or a large public facility in this area, organizers decided the gathering for New Year's Eve in Eastport could provide the opportunity to make a public statement. With the Passamaquoddys being part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which includes Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddys in Canada, he says Passamaquoddys from Sipayik want to show their support for and help with the movement that has now spread beyond Canada.
Plansowes Dana, a co-organizer of the event, says that the group held the flash mob "in support of our First Nations brothers and sisters and particularly Theresa Spence, the chief of Attawapiskat First Nation, who is on a hunger strike, asking simply to meet with Prime Minister Harper." A meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations chiefs is scheduled for Friday, January 11, but Theresa Spence will not be attending that meeting.
Maggie Dana, a co-organizer of the Eastport rally, notes that the protest was peaceful, "because we believe violence is not a solution." She adds, "Our power is in our unity, our power is in our songs, our prayers, our ceremonies. Our power is standing up and addressing issues in a clear and intelligent manner. Our ancestors have shown us how to be idle no more."
While CNN was filming the New Year's Eve celebration, Lewey is disappointed that the television network's broadcast did not make mention of the rally. "CNN had the opportunity to say something on air, but they never mentioned it," says Lewey, who is dismayed that the protests have not garnered media attention in Canada and the U.S. Instead, the movement has spread in the public consciousness through social media.
The movement is growing beyond Canada since "the underlying message is one that every citizen in the U.S. and Canada should be concerned about," Lewey says. The movement has been gaining support from non-Natives, he observes, adding that "silence is consent." He points out that a group of non-Natives helped to plan an Idle No More flash mob at Monument Square in Portland on January 5.
Lewey says C-45, the omnibus budget bill, will affect Canada's "clean water, clean air, clean land," and the Harper government "is looking to extinguish the rights of Natives." He believes the government is considering dividing up First Nation lands and giving the land to individuals, so it will no longer be owned by a tribe as a whole. The "divide and conquer" approach could lead to some tribal members then agreeing to sell their land to mining companies so they can access the minerals on those lands.
Bill C-45 includes amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act that will remove federal oversight from most of the lakes and rivers in Canada, including rivers affected by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would run from Alberta to the coast in British Columbia. Bill C-38 altered or repealed more than 70 federal laws that provided protections for the environment and for land and water rights of First Nations peoples. The Idle No More movement maintains that the two bills bypass Canada's treaty obligations to engage in consultation with the First Nations and obtain their consent before proceeding with any actions that will affect them or their lands and waters.
Sherri Mitchell, a Penobscot who organized the Bangor Mall rally, says, "These changes allow the Minister of Transport the authority to approve projects that may affect the navigability of the 167 listed lakes, rivers and oceans, bypassing environmental regulatory law and essentially granting industry a blank check for environmental destruction across First Nation lands and beyond."