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First Nations prepared to fight Harper government, Enbridge in international court

Aboriginal leaders from British Columbia and across Canada talk land rights and share songs at the Idle No More Vancouver rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday.

Dancer Harriet Prince from Manitoba
Harriet Prince, a visitor from Manitoba dances at the Idle No More rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Darla Goodwin wasn’t surprised when she first heard about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

“We have ancient pictorials and scrolls that speak of a time when the women rise up,” she said. “A great snake was supposed to cross the land and poison Turtle Island, and we’re looking at that as the pipeline.”

Goodwin, an organizer for the Idle No More Vancouver and a member of the Cree First Nation, points to a prophecy, made several hundred years ago and passed down through the indigenous peoples of North America, that describes a time when a great snake will travel across the country, poisoning the land, the water and the air. There is another prophecy that references a time when one of the races would lose its way, and it would be up to the others—the women in particular—to remind the fallen nation what is means to steward the land.

She said her people were definitely not surprised when four women from Saskatchewan founded Idle No More in response to Bill C-45 and began a movement that now spans the country.

Matriarchal First Nations societies are based on traditional teachings of the moon and earth as female beings, the Mother and the Grandmother, and the 28-day cycle.

“In our culture the women are actually the leaders of our community,” Goodwin said. “The clan mothers were the ones who decided when people would move, they decided who married who, what grounds were good to hunt on.”

Goodwin’s grandfather was present for the signing of Treaty 4, but she said it was the clan mothers who decided what needed to go into that treaty.

“Traditionally, non-indigenous folks would see chiefs standing out in front, but what the people didn’t know was that those chiefs took their directions from the women.”

Now, with the Enbridge hearings taking place in BC and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence entering her third week without food in Ontario, Goodwin said the struggles of First Nations across the country come down to one key issue: will Stephen Harper respect indigenous land rights?

One of the biggest misconceptions non-indigenous Canadians have, she said, is that Crown lands belong to the government.

“All the Crown land across Canada is owned by Aboriginal people and Canadians do not know that.” BC’s unceded Coast Salish territory, while not covered by its own treaty, is still Crown land, and by law, the federal government is required to have free, prior and informed consent from First Nations before undertaking any measure that affects the land.

“I don’t foresee Harper backpedalling whatsoever,” Goodwin said. “I know that our next stop as indigenous people is to fight him on an international scale. … And if it has to go to international court, it will. Until we lose in international court we will not stop.”

But Goodwin is quick to stress that this is not an indigenous movement. It’s not solely about a First Nations issue. It’s a labour movement and it’s a women’s movement. It’s a people’s movement in response to a human rights issue.

This was immediately apparent today at the Idle No More Vancouver rally on the steps at the Vancouver Art Gallery where First Nations leaders and youth were flanked by members of the BC Nurses’ Union, CUPE and migrant justice group No One is Illegal.

“We are wanting to educate non-indigenous people, especially seafaring people, farmers, unions, educators, that this bill affects them as well,” Goodwin said.

More than a dozen speakers took the mic this afternoon, including elders and grandmothers from nations all over the country, members of Aboriginal youth groups, dancers and drummers.

Grand Chief Phillip Stewart, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said the failure to honour the treaties has voided them, and demanded Harper negotiate with the First Nations. He told supporters that nothing could stop the uprising of the women and their people.

“There is nothing that will stop these prophecies from being fulfilled,” he said. “There is not death. Just a change of worlds.”

Kelly White, Idle No More organizer and a member of the Squamish First Nation, said that by rights, Harper should no longer be in power at all.

“We’re going for impeachment,” she said. “Actually, by law the house should impeach him, but the house remains silent.”

She echoed Goodwin’s sentiments that Bill C-45 is an affront to all Canadians, indigenous or not. “The Harper government just impeached the voices of the unions and First Nations because there was no outreach to the public,” she continued. “He just passed bills without even the protocol in the house for members of parliament to represent their constituents.”

One of the last speakers of the day was Crystal Molina Smith, a poet and a member of the Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay. With her 10-month-old son strapped to her chest, she read a poem about becoming a casualty of Enbridge oil and told the crowd she began writing poems when she was 15 to express her anger at the government.

“In the past, our ancestors lived in a good way,” she said, her voice quiet but firm. “I want to look to the future on a positive note, but Enbridge, if they get their way, there will be no positive future.”


To learn more about the dramatic story of the proposed Northern Gateway Enbridge pipeline and First Nations' resistance to it,  read Vancouver Observer's in-depth book, "Extract".

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