VANCOUVER—With rallies at city halls, teach-ins and panel discussions on campuses, and blockades along Canada’s transportation routes, First Nations activists and their supporters gathered across the country Friday to signal their ongoing push for better relations with the federal government.
“Is it a good day for us? Many of us are here because we hope it will change what has happened in the past and make our future better,” said Chris Small, a member of the Cree Nation from Alberta who was part of a 400-person rally Friday at Vancouver City Hall.
Passengers travelling between Halifax and Truro, N.S., on board the CN Rail Line had to be bused to their destinations after protesters blocked the track. In Alberta, about 70 Sturgeon Lake First Nation residents halted traffic for about an hour in both directions on Highway 43 near Edmonton as they marched along the shoulder of the highway.
But major blockades that had been threatened, including Highway 63 — the key route in Alberta for oilsands operations — and the Port of Vancouver, which is the entry and exit point for imports and exports from Asia, didn’t materialize.
In Wolfville, N.S., rally organizer Marke Slipp said the police were helpful in a march involving 60 to 70 people. Slip said First Nations members from the Annapolis Valley reserve were joined on the march by university students and the province’s activist population.
“The mood was very sober with a certain amount of joy, too,” Slipp said. “Natives have been treated very poorly by the crown and by the government for hundreds of years and for the past 140 years by the Canadian government. It’s time to change that.”
“There’s a lot of anxiety about what is happening with the meeting in Ottawa. Is it the start of something that will grow or is it the end of the discussion with the Canadian government?” said Rodi Fong, office assistant with the Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre on campus.
“I think what is definite is that these rallies and protests won’t end today.”