A group of students, community members and tribal leaders from across the region gathered in the biting-cold Friday afternoon to express support for First Nations leaders who are protesting alleged treaty-rights violations by the Canadian government.
About 40 people, including Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council Vice Chairman Bradley Hight and tribal council member Juanita Plentyholes, attended the local solidarity protest in Buckley Park.
The gathering was one of dozens across the world that are part of the Idle No More protest movement, which was sparked in part by the hunger protest of Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. According to Canadian news sources, Spence has been on a liquid-only diet for the last month to bring awareness to aboriginal grievances, including legislation that indigenous leaders claim violates sovereignty and treaty rights. The budget-related bill covers a broad range of subjects, including land use and resource policies, environmental protections and requirements for leasing reserve lands.
Spence also demanded a meeting with both Canadian Governor-General David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which had not occurred as of Friday evening.
Johnston planned to hold a ceremonial meeting with dozens of First Nations chiefs Friday night, and Harper met with representatives of the Assembly of First Nations during the day, but the two did not plan to hold a joint meeting.
At the local gathering, Fort Lewis College’s Bala Sinem choir formed a drumming circle, and several people spoke about the need to support the Native American leaders in Canada.
“This is our way of showing support through dance and song,” said Noel Altaha, a senior at FLC. The gathering’s goal also was to educate Native Americans and non-Native Americans about issues happening with the planet and Native American rights, Altaha said.
“We want to send the message out that we stand strong with our brothers and sisters,” said Kenny Frost, a Native American consultant and member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. “2012 wasn’t the beginning, or the end, of the world, but it is a new era for native people, and we’re witnessing that today.”
Native Americans in the U.S. are fighting similar battles as those in Canada in order to maintain their hunting, fishing and water rights, Plentyholes said.
“Things are being taken away slowly, and it’s still happening now,” she said.
It is especially important for tribal leaders to participate in these types of protests, Hight said.
“We have to show the younger generations that we’re still fighting for what we fought for when we made the first treaties,” he said.