Canada's indigenous movement gains momentum
Are the country's First Nations groups being denied their rights and being targeted by the government?
Inside Story Americas Last Modified: 02 Jan 2013 09:51
Canada's Idle No More movement began as a small social media campaign - armed with little more than a hashtag and a cause.
The movement is spearheaded by Theresa Spence, the leader of the Attawapiskat, a small native band in northern Ontario.
Spence is now 22 days into a hunger strike on Ottawa's Victoria Island, just across from the Canadian parliament.
Spence and other First Nations groups are demanding better living conditions for Canada's aboriginals, and they are angry at the country's government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which they accuse of trying to erode their land and sovereignty rights.
Canada's aboriginal communities have long been disproportionately affected by poverty.
Although that is a slightly narrower gap than 10 years previously, it would still take 63 years to achieve income parity.
The same study also found the annual income gap between other Canadians and aboriginals is $7,083 higher in urban settings, and $4,492 higher in rural settings.
And First Nations groups say Bill C-45, which is one of their main concerns, is just the latest bid by the government to change laws protecting the rights of Canada's indigenous people.
Its changes affect all Canadians, not just First Nations.
The bill amends laws that govern waterways and environmental protection. Canada's government says the changes are necessary to clear up 'red tape' and protect the economy.
But First Nations protesters say their lands, treaty rights and sovereignty are being eroded.
They say they were never consulted while C-45 was under consideration, and that is a violation of Canadian law, even though native groups repeatedly asked Harper to meet with them to discuss their concerns.
They also point out that the government has repeatedly supported limits on First Nations' authority, despite promising not to approve any changes to the Indian Act.
Spence says: "It is time for everybody to work together. That means the government too – to treat us with respect and honour the treaty. The purpose of that treaty was to go in peace and honour each other and respect each other and slide together with the future, not to go separate ways. And this is what's been happening with the government. He's not listening or honoring our leadership.
"So that was the purpose of that treaty – to be partners. But we feel like the way it is right now we are more like a slave to the prime minister, not a partner."
So, are Canada's First Nations groups being targeted by the country's government? And what are the rights of the indigenous people?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, discusses with guests: Pamela Palmater, a lawyer and chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, Toronto, and Clayton Thomas-Muller, an indigenous rights activist and tar sands campaign co-director at the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Inside Story Americas invited several conservative MPs to join the panel but they all declined. However, John Duncan, the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, sent the following statement.