By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA--First Nations chiefs say a major showdown with Canada looms on the horizon.
Talk of blockades and protest is once again in the air as the diplomatic efforts by the First Nations leadership through the Assembly of First Nations appear to have failed to make any headway with the Harper government to deal with longstanding grievances around land, natural resources and the fiscal relationship between Ottawa and First Nations communities.
Instead, the federal government has introduced deep cuts to First Nations organizations and tribal councils and has pushed legislation First Nations leaders say first needed their consent because of its impact on Aboriginal and treaty rights.
The growing frustration flowed to the threshold of the House of Commons chamber Tuesday after a group of First Nations chiefs from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario scuffled with security guards as they tried to enter the domain of MPs.
The chiefs involved say that was only the beginning, but what is to come is being held close to the chest.
“True warriors don’t go out and tell their enemies, ‘This is what we are going to do in a battle,'” said Onion Lake Cree Nation Chief Wallace Fox, who was among the chiefs involved in the confrontation with Parliament Hill guards.
Fox, who leads an oil-rich First Nation in Saskatchewan, has emerged as one of the leading voices in the latest upsurge in First Nations anger over the state of affairs across the country.
Samson Cree Elder Cecil Napoose says he’s convinced prophecy foretold the emergence of a leader like Fox who issued the call that led Tuesday to a scuffle between Parliament Hill security guards and chiefs on the threshold of the House of Commons chamber.
Napoose was there with Fox and Anishinabek Grand Council Chief Madahbee, Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak when they tried to enter the chamber to deliver a message Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the time for direct action had arrived.
“He is the leader to challenge the government that the time has come,” said Napoose, whose community is in Alberta. “He is also a spiritual leader…his people are his power.”
Napoose isn’t the only one who believes prophecy is on the side of Fox. Fox admits that others have approached him this week at the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs assembly in Gatineau, Que., saying they also believe his emergence was foretold.
Fox, however, says he is not interested in any political office beyond his role as leader of Onion Lake. He believes Ottawa’s cuts to First Nations political organizations will lead to their demise anyway.
Fox says he follows the traditional ideas of leadership.
“I have to speak on behalf of the people,” said Fox. “I also have to listen to their direction.”
Fox said the decision to take the fight to the heart of Canada’s democracy came in response to the demands from First Nations youth who are frustrated with the state of things in their communities across the country.
“The youth are very frustrated across the country,” he said. “We wanted to show that we are listening to them.”
Fox said Tuesday’s actions are a foreshadowing of things to come and the House of Commons’ passing of Bil C-45, the Harper majority government’s omnibus bill proves Ottawa still doesn’t take First Nations interests seriously.
“We are not going to stop,” he said. “We are going to continue this fight.”
Other chiefs have also picked up the same call.
“I think you will start to see more direct actions and raising the level of awareness in this manner,” said Day.
“We’ll stand strong. We’ll fight where we need to fight. We’ll shove where we need to shove and we’ll get into the rooms that we need to regardless of the impediments put in our way,” said Nepinak.
But it’s not just chiefs who are driving the agenda of confrontation. Powered in part by social media, youth and grassroots activists are also planning to launch protest campaigns. There was even chatter around launching a blockade on the Trans-Canada in Saskatchewan, but it has since turned into a planned march along the highway.
On Facebook and Twitter, a grassroots movement under the name Idle No More has been picking up steam and there are now planned Dec. 10 day of actions across the country under its banner. Plans for the day include protests at city halls, legislative assemblies and outside corporate offices.
The movement, founded by a group of women from Saskatchewan, initially began with a focus on the omnibus bill, but has since included the broader cause of Indigenous rights, said one of the founders Jessica Gordon, 34, from Saskatoon.
“It is our time now. We have been restless, we have been waiting for a moment to show that we need to be heard and we have been looking for a way to come together,” said Gordon.
Gordon said the movement is committed to peaceful means with the broader aims of sending a message to Ottawa and educating the Canadian public about First Nations issues.
“We say keep it peaceful,” she said. “The pipe will be raised. When we do that, we know that no that there is no violence involved at all.”
This isn’t the first time that First Nations leader and grassroots activists have prepared for protests against the Harper government. Much of the current rhetoric echoes what chiefs said in late 2006 and in 2007 when former Roseau River chief Terry Nelson authored a resolution calling for a day of action on June 29, 2007.
The Conservatives reacted by threatening to cut funding to First Nations organizations and then-Aboriginal affairs minister Jim Prentice struck a deal with Nelson. The Harper government also created the Specific Claims Tribunal which was announced by Harper and former AFN national chief Phil Fontaine on Parliament Hill. Only the Tyendinaga Mohawks launched action that day, shutting down the highway between Ottawa and Toronto and blocking a CN rail-line for 12 hours. The action costs about $100 million in economic damage.
This time around, however, the Aboriginal Affairs federal portfolio is held by a minister chiefs believe to be “weak” and the Conservatives can no longer threaten funding cuts, because the cuts have already been announced.
Several chiefs told APTN National News that the cuts have been liberating and gives them a flexibility they didn’t have before.