The rain had just stopped as people began to gather in Centennial Square on Jan. 26. A group of about 100 marched on the Legislature, led by drummers and carrying handmade signs that declared their frustration with the Harper government and Bill C-45, a piece of legislation that changes land provisions in the Indian Act and loosens protection of natural resources such as fresh water. Their message was clear: Idle No More.
The protesters included men and women, ranging from elders leaning on canes to young children holding hand-painted drums. Many wore their traditional costumes or headdresses. Non-indigenous supporters stood with them as well. The group finished their march at the steps of the Legislature, where tents for shelter awaited. Even though the event was non-violent, it was constantly watched by members of the Victoria Police Department.
Notable amongst the protesters was the presence of students. This event was organized primarily by the First Nations Student Association of Camosun College and Native Student Union of UVic. Megan Marshall, the Aboriginal Students’ Liaison for the Canadian Federation of Students-B.C. (CFS-BC), said the event took eight weeks of planning and that she was pleased with the outcome. “It’s really nice to see this community coming together,” said Marshall.
MC Jarrett Martineau began the event by expressing his gratitude towards indigenous women, who he says have been the heart of this movement. He later called for a moment of silence to acknowledge Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who had ended her 44-day hunger strike three days prior, as well as Cross Lake elder Raymond Robinson, who had joined in her strike.
Several of the speakers introduced themselves in their indigenous languages. The presenters came from many different nations, but most were native to coastal B.C. Shana Manson of the Lyackson First Nation delivered a speech urging the nations of Vancouver Island to stand in solidarity with those in Northern B.C. as they fight against development. She later expressed her hope that the day would keep people “motivated and energized” and said that they needed “to continue pushing.”
The crowd laughed as one elder gave her advice to young activists: “Never get saucy with the police.” She told youths that they had nothing to fear if their activism did not break the law. Young Donna Cook came after her and said, “I see a day where we are all treated as equals.” She denounced alcohol and drugs in indigenous communities and urged youths to break away from stereotypes.
Former UVic Students’ Society Chairperson Tara Paterson spoke out on behalf of non-indigenous supporters. She told her story of how she benefited from living on traditional Cree land. She called upon other non-indigenous people to support Idle No More because she believes being silent just furthers the process of colonization.
The rest of the event was characterized by drumming and singing. Elders began the songs and were quickly joined by others. Cook said in her speech, “Our weapon of choice is our drum.”
Despite a cold and wet day, more than 100 people rallied at this event and impressed the organizers. Manson acknowledged that many other rallies and events were taking place and that she was grateful that so many people had chosen this one.
The effects of this rally — as well as others like it — are yet to be seen. But many of the participants felt that the Jan. 26 event was effective in gathering support for Idle No More.