The huge turnout for the Idle No More event Sunday in Chilliwack was all about protecting the environment according to one marcher, Melissa Epp.
“It’s everybody’s land to protect,” she said.
She carried her infant daughter snuggled under a warm blanket, alongside about 400 people who braved the chill near Eagle Landing to join what they called a “flash mob” over the lunch hour.
The demonstration was a way of putting the federal government and society on notice that “there is strength in numbers,” Epp said.
People are upset enough about perceived threats to the natural environment to try and do something about it now.
“We all need to stand together on this,” Epp said. “Harper is not listening. That’s why these rallies are so important. We’ll do anything we can to protect this land.
“I came here today especially for my daughter. I want her to be able to experience the beauty of this province. I believe as British Columbians, we have the most to lose.”
The crowd marched en masse from the Shell gas station on Squiala First Nation to a spot near the Home Depot along Evans Parkway in Chilliwack, singing, and drumming along the way. Some proudly wore elements of their traditional regalia. Some pushed toddlers in strollers or elders in wheelchairs, while others carried drums, or placards.
A peaceful gathering with speeches was held in a clearing and RCMP said there were no incidents or safety concerns to report.
Squiala Chief David Jimmie said when he was asked to support this latest Idle No More event, there was “no question” it was the right thing to do.
“I’m an elected leader,” said the chief, “but this is a grass roots movement.
“We all have our problems on our reserves and differences among families, but here we are, standing together as one, for the protection of our water, our land and our future.”
People need to take the time to become educated about various bills and omnibus legislation with potential to impact all their communities, from eradicated collective property rights to the implications of changes to the Navigable Waters Act or the First Nations Land Ownership Act.
“It’s the ones here drumming, the young ones. That’s what we’re here for; that’s what we’re fighting for,” Chief Jimmie said.
Fighting in the name of the next generation came up repeatedly from the various leaders who stood up to address the crowd.
It was crucial for Inez Jasper to have her young son, Zane, with her.
“I wanted him to have the experience of this march,” said the local recording artist and Sto:lo public health nurse.
It’s hard to explain to a three-year-old, she told the crowd, about what it means as First Nations people to have had their land stolen, and language and culture almost snuffed out, and children taken away.
Reflecting on what the INM movement means to her personally, Inez said it means “working carefully; treading carefully with everything I do and say,” as she works to line up her beliefs and practice.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly of the Sto:lo Tribal Council shared some of his aunt’s wisdom, telling folks to “Let the hateful words go. Don’t let them soil you,” in response to disparaging comments about indigenous people’s engagement in the INM movement.
“Be true to yourself. Be true to your roots, to who you are and where you come from.”
Everyone has a responsibility to speak up for the land and water, Kelly said, “for the fins, the wings and the four-legged creatures.”
Ernie Victor of Cheam also quoted his aunt in addressing the crowd.
“We have to be awake,” he said. “My dear Aunt Aggie remembers when our people were awake. Our children need to be awake, to carry this strength forward. The seventh generation is here. It’s time for us to remain awake, to use our teachings, to stay together.”