Snuneymuxw is idle no more.
More than 400 people amassed at Maffeo Sutton Park Saturday morning to participate in a public protest held in support of the nationwide movement.
Snuneymuxw First Nation and its supporters, both non-native and those visiting from neighbouring First Nations communities, took turns airing their concerns at Spirit Square before marching to the Nanaimo boat basin, with RCMP escorting.
The crowd also drummed and sang songs, pausing in the intersection of Comox and Terminal and holding up traffic for five minutes.
“The energy was so good and it was peaceful,” said Tanya George, who organized the event with her partner Jason Connor.
Since it began, Idle No More, a grassroots movement protesting Bill C-45 and inspired by the hunger strike of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, has taken on a life of its own, and has come to mean different things to different people.
While some see it as a means of drawing attention to First Nations issues such as poverty, poor health and housing, others maintain it is also about environmental protection – specifically Canada’s waterways.
A predominant theme, however, is the failure of the federal government to recognize the constitutional rights of aboriginal people.
“Canadians need to understand that a treaty is a nation- to-nation agreement, and that treaty is a way to live together, but it must acknowledge the rights of the people that were here to begin with,” said Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “The Snuneymuxw people have been here since the beginning of time.”
Snuneymuxw member Derrick Manson, a protest organizer, said chiefs and councils and the Assembly of Nations have been trying to get their message heard, but it hasn’t been working.
He applauded the Idle No More movement for the impact it is making across the globe, adding that it must remain peaceful to stay successful.
“Our actions have to get a bit more louder. It’s time that the Harper government and the people back east hear us way over here in Snuneymuxw by shutting down industries,” he said.
A major issue for Snuneymuxw is the Nanaimo Port Authority’s decision to lease the Nanaimo harbour boat basin to a private company.
Leaders maintain that the NPA, a federally appointed entity, has not properly consulted with them over the proposal and that it is a violation of the Douglas Treaty.
“They don’t want to recognize the inherent and constitutional rights of our people across this country, let alone here in our backyard,” said Snuneymuxw councillor Bill Yoachim.
Following the Nanaimo protest, a secondary protest was held in Nanoose Bay, where participants blocked traffic on the Island Highway for approximately half an hour.
Several other Idle No More rallies were held over the weekend, including one at Vancouver Island University Friday and at the Quw’utsun Cultural Centre in Duncan on Sunday.
The official Idle No More movement organizers are planning a World Day of Action on Jan. 28, the same day Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons.