Congratulations to the Omushkegowuk Walkers for making their trek to Ottawa all the way from Attawapiskat. These walkers represent our ability to exercise our democratic right to protest peacefully. That is a big deal these days when governments in our country and others are eroding a lot of rights, freedoms and responsibilities to its citizens. A lot of things are changing in the world and in our very own country but it seems that most people just look the other way and don’t think it is important to voice their opinions. So, I am proud of the four original core group of walkers Danny Metatawabin of Fort Albany and Attawapiskat trekkers Paul Mattinas, Brian Okimaw and Remi Nakogee. Many others joined them on the way. They struggled for almost two months over 1,700 kilometers to walk through freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. You can view the group’s facebook page by searching for ‘Reclaiming Our Steps Past Present Future’.
Many First Nations across the country have not been dealt with fairly when it comes to their treaty rights and the walkers decided that a peaceful protest would bring some attention to this situation. First Nations have very few avenues open to them when it comes to lobbying the government. Big money concerns like oil, forestry, manufacturing of all sorts and financial institutions have huge budgets to spend on lobbying the government in their interests. First Nation people and the average non-Native Canadian have very little voice when it comes to any type of lobbying. People will claim that First Nation political organizations have big budgets for lobbying but in comparison to all of the other lobby sectors, they pale in comparison.
The best way that First Nation people have to bring attention to any issues is of course through our representatives with political organizations like the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Chiefs of Ontario (COO), Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), Muskegowuk Council and many other such groups across the country. Due to limited budgets compared to the other sectors that lobby the government most Native people realize that peaceful demonstration is a good way to bring attention to First Nation issues. The Idle No More movement came out of dissatisfaction from Native people across Canada with the plight of First Nation communities and also with the many changes in laws protecting our lands, rivers and lakes. They are still alive and well and you can check out their website at www.idlenomore.ca
There are many First Nation organizations working for their communities and making agreements with private sector resource developers where there is mutual respect and a willingness to share. This is a relatively new concept in the country as in the past just a couple of decades ago this was not happening. While billions of dollars in resource development were filling the pockets of a very few right in our own back yards nothing was being shared with Native people and very few employment opportunities were available. I don’t blame many of my people if they are bitter about the past and having to endure difficult lives on reserves while people lived with much more affluence in non-Native communities not far away.
The fact is that there are still many First Nation communities that don’t have proper housing, decent water to drink or employment and education opportunities. This is changing as my people in growing numbers are getting an education and becoming doctors, lawyers, managers, accountants and teachers. When I look at the First Nation organizations that exist in Canada today I see many well educated, articulate professionals who are dealing with governments and corporations in making life better for Native people across the country. We are getting smarter in the European way of living as the years go on while at the same time in many cases keeping our traditions and culture alive. Native people have a huge interest in this wide breadth of land we call Canada and we want to participate in all the development that takes place and receive all possible benefits we can from initiatives that are mostly involved in resource development and business. However, we want to do this in a way that our participation has something to do with protecting the land, the water and the animals. We only have one planet earth and we must take care of our home for future generations.
I know how difficult life is on a Canadian First Nation and I understand that we are still in the early stages of dealing with so many issues including residential school, the 60s scoop, drug and alcohol abuse and the lack of education and motivation. Still, I am hopeful that we are on the right track and I am very proud of those Native people that stand up to be heard in peaceful demonstration. This is our role in helping all Canadians make sure that we do not head into a slippery hole where our democratic rights are eroded and our society changed for the worse. My heartfelt thanks to all the Omushkegowuk Walkers for trekking in peace and respect to Ottawa. Let’s hope that their voices are heard.