Harper takes heat

First Nations protesters chanted, danced and waved placards and banners on the snowy pavement in front of the Parliament buildings on Monday as MPs returned to work after their six-week winter break.

Idle No More movement demonstrations were held across the country, as natives joined other activists to oppose Stephen Harper's changes to environmental oversight and urge action on native rights.

A simple message from one unidentified Algonquin grandmother on the Hill seemed to bring the argument into focus. She pleaded with the Harper government to reinstate environmental protections for Canada's waterways that were removed in the last omnibus budget bill.

"We need water to live," she said.

"And we have to make sure that this message gets to the people that are sitting in this (House of Commons)."

In Halifax, more than 200 demonstrators marched peacefully across the city's Angus L. Macdonald Bridge.

Among them was Irene Lorchwauchop, a Halifax resident who said she wanted to show her support for the movement.

"I'm a white person, but I'm very grateful to the people who started this movement because everybody in this country needs to wake up to what is happening to our environment, what's happening to our atmosphere," she said.

"The threat to our survival and to our children is very serious and we don't have a lot of time left."

As about 200 protesters gathered on Parliament Hill, NDP critic Romeo Saganash tabled a private member's bill in the Commons which would require that all federal legislation be compatible with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Saganash was a key architect of the declaration.

"The prime minister still hasn't honoured his commitments from last year to restore a respectful dialogue with First Nations," Saganash said.

"By harmonizing federal laws with the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, he would be taking an important step towards reconciliation."

The Conservatives have endorsed the declaration but see it as a non-binding "aspirational" document that has no impact on Canadian legislation.

Behind the scenes, the Assembly of First Nations officials are talking to government officials about meetings between Harper and National Chief Shawn Atleo that would deal with modernizing ancient treaties and speeding up land claims.

That process is "off to a good start," said Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan.

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