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Cross-cultural protest at Peace Arch draws hundreds

SURREY (NEWS1130) – Hundreds of Idle No More protestors gathered at the Peace Arch border crossing Saturday afternoon.

Like many others across the country, the demonstration was meant to draw attention to the Harper government’s treatment of First Nations groups and and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike.

People from different cultural backgrounds took part. Traffic was not blocked by the family-friendly peaceful event.

At one point protesters held hands and made a large circle in a show of unity and solidarity. They also chanted “Idle No More” and held signs saying “Stop Harper.”

Drivers in the border lineups stopped and honked in support.

Laura Lee brought her whole family. She wants Aboriginal rights and the environment preserved for her kids.

“I’m here to protect mother earth and to protect all mothers, to end a lot of atrocities, to end what Steven Harper has been trying to accomplish with Canada, selling off resources to other countries,” she explains.

Cheryl came for similar reasons.

“I’m not Aboriginal but we want to be a part of the possibilities. There has to be this kind of dialogue, this kind of action. It’s peaceful, it’s cooperative, it’s together,” she says.

Justin is from the Lummi First Nation down in Washington State. He’s supporting his Canadian brothers and sisters and understands their fight.

“It’s nothing new, it’s just we’re tired of getting pushed around by the governments and we’re continuing to fight and uphold our treaty rights on this side of the border as well,” he says.

Faith is only 12 years old but understands the importance of standing up for her people’s rights.

“I want to see that the First Nations are not ending up last.  I don’t like it, I mean we deserve better,” she says.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs says the movement is growing everywhere.

“I had a lady approach me the other day and she said ‘your people are giving us all hope.’ I think as time goes on, more and more non-native people are attending the rallies and being warmly embraced because Idle No More is an inclusive movement, it’s not just an indigenous movement.”

Phillip says they chose at the Peace Arch border crossing for the demonstration for symbolic purposes and says everyone was told to stay peaceful and not block traffic in anyway.

“I think it represents a well-established focal point when there are important issues that the general public need to become aware of. The Peace Arch, like the Vancouver Art Gallery, has proven to be a place where people gather to express their concerns.”

The protests haven’t been peaceful everywhere.

Police in Cornwall, Ontario have reopened the Seaway International Bridge that connects the southeastern Ontario city and Akwesasne to Massena, New York.They had closed it for three hours because of concerns over public safety.

There are no reports of any arrests or trouble.

Meantime, the question needs to be asked, do movements like Idle No More make a difference? The rallies have gained ground recently, but others like the Occupy Movement fizzled after a few months.

A UBC expert who studies First Nations resistance says this one is part of a much larger protest. Rima Wilkes argues the fact the demonstrations have sparked discussions are proof they have been successful.

“Occupy made a difference because everyone now thinks about that 99 per cent, and that’s in the consciousness. And similarly with the Quebec student movement,” she insists.

“The Idle No More is called a movement, but it’s really part of a larger pattern of resistance by indigenous people against the Canadian state.”