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January 11, 2013

Spokesperson for Stephen Harper says assault on natives won't change in spite of mass national protests

There have been rallies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and London England, in addition to Montreal, Halifax and Toronto. It started with four women in Saskatoon Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilson. Their twitter and facebook promotion grew "Idle no More" into an international movement.

More than 1,000 protesters rallied on Parliament Hill Friday after meeting with Chief Theresa Spence.  Spence is the Chief of Attiwapiskat and is on a hunger strike and is prepared to die for the cause. "Please pray for my mother," says one of Spence's daughters in an APTN interview. It is now day 12 of her hunger strike just a few yards from Parliament Hill. Spence wants a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss Bill C-45 and the issues affecting Aboriginal people.

Stephen Harper has refused to meet with Spence. Julie Vaux, a spokesperson for Harper says that his government is taking strong action to address Aboriginal concerns. However the rallies have not changed the government's position.

The Federal Omnibus Bill C-45 is the legislation that Aboriginal people and others are mobilizing to protest. The law, which the Harper government has already passed, erodes the rights of Status Indians and is a violation of treaties.

It was drafted without consulting the Aboriginal community.

"We felt that the government and industry was making way to do damage to the earth and water by laying pipeline or dumping nuclear waste," said Jessica Gordon in an interview with Saskatoon News. She added that not only were Aboriginal groups not consulted, neither were other Canadians.

Months prior to the passage of the legislation, several environmentalists, Aboriginal groups and others wrote letters explaining their concerns. Environmental groups such as Ecojustice, Sierra Club and the World Wildlife fund have spoken out against the legislation. They too argue that the law opens up the land and water for industrial development.

It is too late to stop the bill from becoming law; however this isn't stopping people from raising the alarm bells. Yesterday, there were rallies to raise awareness not only about Bill C-45 but also the changes the Navigation Protection Act, formerly the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The legislation removes environmental protection from waterways and reduces the number of waterways protected by the federal government by over 97%.

Another part of the legislation that concerns Aboriginal people is about land rights-- it will be far easier for reserve land to be sold. Many Aboriginal people feel that this leaves their communities vulnerable to corporate development and control.

There have already been flash mobs and rallies with dancing and drumming across the nation. There were blockades of highways in Alberta and Quebec. Other blockades and more rallies are planned.

Critics state that the way the Harper government pushed the legislation through was too hasty and it was done without proper consultation from the public; it is an assault on Canada's democracy.

Mitzi Brown is an Inuit writer and consultant. She hails from Newfoundland and Labrador but has called Toronto home for over 15 years.

For many years, she has written extensively for newspapers and magazines covering Aboriginal, business, career and lifestyle issues. Some of the publications she has contributed to are: "Tansi," "the UN Association Newsletter" and "The Medical Post."

Brown has also carried out research studies, written proposals and contributed to other professional publications.

She is the former publisher of "Native Career Magazine," a magazine that focused on career topics. Recently, she published the first ever comprehensive Toronto Aboriginal Directory that comprises all the businesses and organizations in the Aboriginal community of Toronto. The directory was enthusiastically welcomed by the Aboriginal community and was funded exclusively through ad sales.

Brown has an Honours B.A. in Equity Studies and Women's Studies from the University of Toronto and is currently enrolled in an M.A. Equity Studies Program.

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