300 protest in Penticton

People from all walks of life gathered in Penticton's Gyro Park Friday morning to show support for the grassroots Idle No More movement.

The local protesters joined others throughout BC, Canada and other parts of the world attending rallies to draw attention to recently passed Bill C-45. The bill, they say, serves to remove protective measures over lands and resources and terminate legally protected aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada.

"This is about the land and the people, that is why we are here today. It is always what has brought us together and created conflict," said President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. 

"We know that today there will be rallies across the country, in Egypt, London and the American Embassy in Los Angeles to illustrate the fact this is moving throughout the world and that it embraces all races of people and is not an exclusive aboriginal movement."

The new effort was born out of a conversation between four women in Saskatchewan who were concerned about worsening and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in all aboriginal communities across the country. Through social media they got the word out and the 'Idle No More' movement exploded across the country and internationally.

Their focus is on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's omnibus legislative agenda, namely Bill C-45, said Phillip.

The movement took on an added dimension as Chief Theresa Spence initiated a hunger strike on Dec. 11 in an effort to bring attention to the dismal Third World conditions that continue to exist in her community of Attawapiskat.

Today marks the 11th day of that strike, which is tied in with the rallies, marches and demonstrations, said Phillip.

Around 300 people gathered in the park on the chilly first day of winter. They joined in a drumming circle, carried protest signs and listened to the words of Phillip and other First Nations leaders.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger welcomed all in attendance and thanked them for being there.

"I have seen on Facebook, lots of words. Indigenous people are saying we are still here," he said. "Together  we can do things in a good way for a very long time and we will continue doing what we have to do for future generations and the land."

Mariel Belanger, an Okanagan Indian Band member who travelled from Vernon for the rally, said she was there because of changes in the budget that will impact future generations.

"I didn't have kids for that reason," she said. "I had kids to carry on the values and traditions of our cultural heritage. I have been active in the community a long time and I want to make sure our voices are heard."

Dawn Russell, a Penticton Indian Band member, who carried a sign protesting Harper's actions, said for her it's about protection of land and water rights for all Canadians.

"I don't feel the current government system conforms or adheres to the legislation they have put forward before, they just keep adding legislation," she said.

"So we are all here for everybody's rights to water, not just ours."

Protesters planned to take their protest across town to MP Dan Albas' office, ending up at the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre.

Albas could not be reached for comment.

This is only the beginning of the movement, which is unlike anything he has ever seen before, said Phillip.

"The Hopi elders said two things,"  he told those gathered. "We should never look outside ourselves for leadership, that leadership is within us, and we are the ones we have been waiting for.

We have a heavy responsibility in front of us. The women have spoken and we absolutely cannot be idle no more."

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