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In Canada, indigenous youth conclude 900-mile-march for aboriginal rights
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Lede: In Canada, a group of Indigenous youth wrapped up a historic voyage yesterday, bringing them over 900 miles by foot to Ottawa in freezing temperatures to push for Aboriginal rights. FSRN’s Aaron Lakoff has the story.
The WALKERS left their community of Whapmagoostui in the Hudson Bay region of northern Quebec MORE THAN A MONTH AGO, on January 16. YESTERDAY THEY REACHED their final destination - the nation’s capital, Ottawa. When they BEGAN THEIR JOURNEY, the group included six marchers and one guide, but by the time they arrived in Ottawa, there were nearly 5000 supporters WHO MET the YOUTH at the end of theIR march on Parliament Hill.
Many of the Nishiyuu walkers are teenagers, and the youngest is an 11 year-old girl.
They are calling their walk “the Journey of the Nishiyuu.”
The landscape of their route was unforgiving, with temperatures sometimes going down to -40 degrees. THEY WalkED an average of 16 miles per day USING snowshoes, hoping to reconnect with the traditions of their Cree ancestors.
THE MARCHERS FOLLOWED TRADITIONAL TRADING ROUTES OF THE CREE, ALGONQUIN, AND MOHAWK NATIONS. TheIR goal was to unite Indigenous youth across Canada, SAID David Kawapit, the 18-year old Cree man who initiated the voyage.
YESTERDAY, Kawapit SPOKE TO AN enthusiastic and emotional crowd on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“There’s no words to describe how I feel. There’s a tremendous pride and happiness, but also an emotion that I can’t describe. This is not the end, it will continue. It started with a walk. I thank all of you, and give you my love.”
The Journey of the Nishiyuu was inspired by the Idle No More movement for Indigenous self-determination, which swept across Canada and around the world earlier this year. THE MOVEMENT FORMED PARTLY IN RESPONSE TO A CONTROVERSIAL LAW THAT PASSED IN DECEMBER 2012. THE LEGISLATION, BILL C-45, ELIMINATED ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS FOR THOUSANDS OF LAKES AND RIVERS IN CANADA. MANY Aboriginal people SAY THAT THE BILL ALSO infringes on treaty rights. SHORTLY AFTER THE BILL PASSED, Cree Chief Theresa Spence from the community of Attawapiskat, went on hunger strike for six weeks TO DEMAND a meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister. SHE AND OTHER FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE WANT THE BILL REVOKED. SPENCE ended her hunger strike IN LATE JANUARY after opposition parties signed a declaration of commitment to carry her cause forward in Parliament.
Diane Ried, a Cree woman who helped cook food for the NISHIYUU marchers along THE WAY, SAID THAT Chief Spence inspired her people TO TAKE ACTION.
“I always knew that the day when the voice of a woman rises up, the First Nations would hear that voice. We are the life-givers as women. When a woman rises up, that voice is heard. It just reverberates to the Aboriginal nations across this country, and throughout the world.”
While Idle No More ACTIONS are less frequent now than THEY WERE during the winter, the movement SHOWS no signs of slowing down. Last week, Idle No More formed an alliance with the aboriginal Defenders of the Land network AND CALLED for a “solidarity spring” and “sovereignty summer” - sustained non-violent direct actions over the next few months including road and rail blockades.
In Ottawa YESTERDAY, the Nishiyuu walkers were joined by Indigenous people from numerous different nations, as well as labour unions and other social justice groups.
Audrey Redman from the Dakota nation in Saskatchewan MET UP WITH the marchers in Ottawa to walk WITH THEM ON the final leg of their journey to Parliament Hill,
“Enough taking the land, enough taking the resources. Yeah, you say you have economic strategies and all that, but it doesn’t make any difference to the land. You’re still stripping it of resources and taking out what we ought not to be taking out now. And all people in Canada and everywhere need to stop doing what we’re doing, and start paying attention to the Earth, and stop paying attention to ourselves so much.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not present to MEET the Cree marchers. Instead, he was at the Toronto international airport to greet two panda bears THAT HAD BEEN shipped from China AND ARE HEADED FOR CANADIAN ZOOS. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt met briefly with the Nishiyuu marchers yesterday. While the Minister made no promises on policy changes, he did accept an invitation to come visit the Cree community later this summer.
Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Ottawa.