CANNED CHRISTMAS music was no match for the drums and the singing that marked a late afternoon First Nations “Idle No More” demonstration Dec. 28 inside the Skeena Mall in Terrace.
Several hundred people gathered near the entrance of the new Dollarama store to hear speakers denounce what they said were federal Conservative government moves to remove environmental protections.
Dancers from several groups followed the speakers, the drums and voices reverberating throughout the mall. Shouts and cheering went up each time drummers paused while the name of a northwest First Nation was called out.
The effect of social media was also evident with upraised smartphones and other electronic devices rivalling protest signs, banners and placards.
The Terrace demonstration is one of many taking place across the country, sparked by the hunger strike of Attawapiskat chief councillor Theresa Spence.
“Idle No More” also focusses on changes to legislation affecting First Nations governance.
The changes are contained in Bill C-45, the massive piece of federal Conservative legislation which while is part of the government’s budget plans, also has an impact on a wide variety of other areas.
“I’m here for my grandchildren,” said Teresa Moore from Gingolx in the Nass Valley, just one of many holding signs.
Local Idle organizer Shalane Pauls, one of the first speakers, said First Nations people are connected to the land.
“Our land is our culture,” she said as people cheered.
Another speaker, former Haisla chief councillor Gerald Amos, thanked the young people who organized the demonstration.
“Our creator gave us a voice, aboriginal as well as non-aboriginal,” said Amos. “We’d be irresponsible not to use that voice.”
Other speakers urged those in attendance to vote.
“We must vote to make our voices heard,” said one.
Current Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts spoke out against Enbridge’s planned Northern Gateway oil pipeline and also criticized plans for natural gas pipelines and gas liquefaction plants.
“We’re all opposed … against that,” he said.
Following the speeches and drumming, the crowd proceeded down the length of the mall.
One demonstrator, with a mosquito net draped over his head, held what looked like a battery-powered plastic light sabre on which was taped a sign proclaiming “free energy” on one side and “free Ksan” on the other.
Several mall security guards maintained a low-key presence and one RCMP officer briefly observed from a distance before leaving.
One of the new federal measures being protested is a change in how voting on reserves is conducted when approval is sought to lease land.
Previously, a majority of eligible First Nations voters had to turn out for a vote to lease land and of that number, a majority had to approve of the lease deal.
Now, a simple majority of those who actually turn out to vote is needed.