Around 80 members of the Squamish First Nation marched with supporters along the Sea to Sky Highway in support of the Idle No More movement for indigenous rights, on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19.
As protesters gathered at Totem Hall on the Stawamus Reserve near Squamish, organizer Siobhan Joseph said in an interview that she had seen the protests since they began around Canada in December and wondered what her own community would do.
“I didn’t know what Idle No More was, so I looked more into it. I was really moved,” she said. “I see Idle No More and I think this is a new beginning for us as first nations. And it’s not even about first nations, it’s for everyone who has the same beliefs and want to protect things we believe in, like Mother Earth. We think about our children and their future.”
This was the first time 31-year-old Joseph had considered organizing a protest.
“I’m a mother. I have a daughter and my uncle told me that the women are the ones who make the decision in the community. They have the children and they are the ones who decide for them,” she said.
“I was waiting for someone to do something. I put it on Facebook, ‘Where’s Idle No More in Squamish’? And my friends told me to do it. It was something I wanted to see here, so I stepped up.”
The 1.7-km march, which ended at the Squamish Adventure Centre, was the fifth Idle No More protest in the region since late December.
Idle No More grew into a national movement following the passage last month of omnibus budget legislation, Bill C-45 by the Canadian government and the senate. Bill C-45 includes unilateral changes to the Indian Act and also removes federal protective laws from the majority of Canadian waterways, including lakes, rivers and streams.
The movement has also been supportive of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, who has been on hunger strike since Dec. 11, drinking only broth and living in a teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River, less than a kilometre from Parliament Hill.
Originally, a blockade of the Sea to Sky Highway had been planned, but Joseph said organizers changed their minds after a meeting earlier this week, and after reading that an Idle No More organizer in Ontario felt that road blocks “weren’t sending a positive message.”
Marchers walked on paths beside the busy highway, and were greeted by several dozen cars beeping in support. The RCMP and the Squamish Peacekeepers drove alongside.
“We want get the message out there about what Idle No More is, to educate, that it is grassroots,” Joseph said.
Large drum circles with over 100 people welcomed protesters prior to the start of the march and at the end of it, at The Adventure Centre.
Waiwaikum reserve resident Diana Billy said it was good to see a mixture of elders and families marching with Squamish Nation young people.
“They all have different versions of why they are out here, sharing their time to save the water and the creatures of the land and the sky. It’s amazing to see the youth out there,” she said.
District of Squamish councillor Patricia Heintzman was one of around two dozen non-indigenous people who marched in support.
“I think the most inspiring thing for me is the fact that the heart of this movement has come from the women of this community. Certainly in Squamish it is Siobhan and her posse that filled this emotional and necessary push to the movement because the status quo isn’t working,” she said.
“They need to stand up and be heard and they’re really inspirational. It’s empowering.”