This morning, British and Canadian supporters joined Clayton Thomas-Muller, from the Mathais Colomb Cree First Nation in Manitoba, to present a petition in support of the Idle No More movement to the Canadian government at its High Commission in London. A group of around 20 gathered on the steps of Canada House in Trafalgar Square. Clayton from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign opened with a traditional song and spoke, followed by Melissa Adams from the Nisga First Nation in British Columbia, Jess Worth from the UK Tar Sands Network and James Atherton from Lush Cosmetics.
The Idle No More movement has seen mass protests, road and rail blockades and uprisings across Canada in recent weeks, and continues to grow. Inspirational Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence remains on hunger strike after more than a month, determined to keep fasting until she is able to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston. She wants to discuss the ways in which First Nations’ treaties are being undermined by a series of Bills pushed through by the Canadian government, which aim to make it easier for industries, such as those operating in the controversial tar sands, to extract natural resources from Indigenous lands. On Friday, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation whose health and traditional livelihoods are being devastated by pollution from the tar sands industry upstream, vowed to blockade the main highway to the tar sands if their demands for a reassertion of Indigenous rights over those of industry are not met.
Today’s solidarity protest in London involved handing in a petition to Prime Minister Harper signed by Oxford residents at a protest in Oxford last Saturday. The petition called on the Harper government to ‘stop putting the interests of the tar sands industry and other environmentally destructive companies above the rights of its First Nations’, to uphold the Treaties originally signed by First Nations and the British Crown, and to set aside any legislation that undermines them.
The protest then visited Buckingham Palace, to acknowledge the historical colonial relationship between Britain and Canada. As Clayton said: “2013 is the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation which helped set the boundaries of Canada and established the legal relationship with Indigenous communities. We felt that it would be very symbolic to take a banner to the Queen Victoria statue, given she was the signatory to the treaties in Canada which the Harper government continues to undermine.”
Clayton continued: “The complete gutting of all environmental approval, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms in Canada, through the passing of a series of Bills by the Harper government, mean that the reassertion of Aboriginal & Treaty rights are the last best hope to protect both First Nations’ & Canadians’ water, air and soil from being poisoned forever by big oil and mining corporations. We have a responsibility to stand up and fight against this threat, not just for us but for all those across the earth who are feeling the effects of climate change and water insecurity.”
Jess Worth, from the UK Tar Sands Network, said: “We are standing in solidarity today with Indigenous peoples in Canada who are seeing their right to a healthy life in a clean environment on their traditional territories auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder. As the Canadian tar sands industry seeks to squeeze every last drop of ever-more-polluting oil out of a planet that can no longer take it, we all have an interest in the success of the Idle No More movement which seeks to uphold First Nations’ rights and protect Mother Earth.”
James Atherton, from Lush Cosmetics, said: “It is greatly important to support and encourage movements like Idle No More, which acknowledge human rights and environmental issues as interlinked. For too long, the voices of Indigenous people around the world have been suppressed by colonial, domineering mindsets that live on in political and industrial systems. The Idle No More movement calls for change which is well overdue, and we support the revolution that is needed to create this positive change.”
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The petition text in full:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, c/o the Canadian High Commission, 38 Grosvenor Street, London W1K 4AA
We request that the Government of Canada stops putting the interests of the tar sands industry and other environmentally destructive companies above the rights of its First Nations. The government is currently putting through eight Bills that violate existing treaties and will have the effect of undermining and destroying First Nations’ rights, traditions and territories. In particular, Bill C-45 will have significant implications for the ability of First Nations to control what happens on their traditional territories. This Bill is a massive, complex document and needs proper review and consultation with the people that it will directly affect. This has not happened.
This has provoked a country-wide grassroots uprising, Idle No More, which we support.
We request that the Government of Canada upholds all treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown, and immediately sets aside any legislation that could undermine these treaties. We further request that the principles of free, prior and informed consent, as recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, are adopted by the government of Canada when dealing with all issues that impact First Nations.
The world is watching you.
Today, people gathered in Oxford City Centre to send a message of solidarity to the Idle No More movement in Canada.
There is a revolution taking place in Canada right now.
- Chief Theresa Spence is today on her 33rd day of hunger strike
- Mass protests have taken place all over the country
- Roads and railways have been blocked
- Solidarity protests have taken place across the world, from Mexico to New Zealand
- The Mikisew Cree and Frog Lake First Nations are taking the government to court
Why is this happening?
For too long, the Canadian government has been riding roughshod over indigenous peoples’ rights, in order to promote environmentally destructive industries such as the tar sands. The UN recently slammed Canada for its human rights record, saying a Canadian aboriginal is more likely to go to jail than graduate from school.
The final straw was the forcing through of Bill C-45 last December, which dramatically erodes the ability of indigenous First Nations communities in Canada to protect their traditional territories and say no to industrial development on their lands. There was little time to discuss it in Parliament, and no consultation with First Nations in advance.
In response, a grassroots resistance movement led by Indigenous women, known as ‘Idle No More’, has swept across Canada. Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfils Indigenous sovereignty, to protect the land and water, work towards justice, and protect Mother Earth.
It is already having an effect, dominating the national news and forcing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with First Nation leaders yesterday, although not with Chief Spence, whose hunger strike continues.
“We need a separation of oil and state. 400 years ago we had Jesuit priests come into our First Nations in black robes promising a better way of life by changing the way we communicated with our creator. Today, CEOs come into our communities in black suits promising a better way of life if we change the way we relate to the sacredness of Mother Earth.” – Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign
What happened today in Oxford?
- We encouraged people to sign a petition, to be handed in to the Canadian High Commission in London next Thursday by a delegation including Clayton Thomas-Muller, from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign. You can sign the petition in the Lush shop on Cornmarket Street anytime before then.
- People made signs with personal messages and took a group photo, showing our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Canada.
- A performance piece, which was ‘a compassionate and co-creative response to the Idle No More movement. In a demonstration of solidarity with indigenous minorities, this piece recognises the role Britain has historically played in the subjugation of Aboriginal peoples and the lands they sought to preserve. With the symbolic decoration of the British flag with elements from our own natural environment, we seek to suggest that our previous historical role as oppressors could now transform into one of stewards of the Earth in partnership with Indigenous peoples, co-creating a new era in which we work with our natural resources responsibly and creatively and guaranteeing the possibility of bequeathing our wonderful world in a healthy state to our grandchildren.
There are some photos below, and lots more on Facebook.
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