Close to 100 people from various neighbouring communities – Fort Simpson, Kakisa, Fort Providence, Hay River and Wrigley, among others – gathered at the north side of the bridge around 2 p.m. and held up colourful signs with a variety of slogans, decrying the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45.
Hay Riverite Pam Snowshoe was among the first protesters to arrive at the bridge. She said she’s supporting the movement because she’s worried about the treatment of Aboriginal treaty rights and how it will affect her children’s future.
When asked about the meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders scheduled for Jan. 11, she said she wasn’t optimistic about it.
“If the chiefs are united, then maybe something positive can come out of it,” she said.
“I’ll wait and see the outcome of the meeting,” she added, a statement echoed by many other protesters at the bridge.
Initial plans made earlier in the week had called for protesters to march across the bridge and to be present on both sides, but a consensus reached between the Fort Providence RCMP detachment and Deh Gah Got’ie Dene First Nation Chief Wayne Sabourin earlier that morning kept them off it.
“The Fort Providence RCMP have been in constant consultation with the chief and his councillors,” said Cpl. Barry Ledoux of the Yellowknife RCMP. “This morning we met at 10:30 with the chief and one of his advisors. We came out to check the scene and to find the safest place for people to gather. Because of the rise of the bridge, the crest, the environmental conditions and the number of people here, we all came to the conclusion that for safety reasons, they wouldn’t go on the bridge.”
Following an opening prayer by K’atlodeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian, protesters marched back and forth between the bend leading up to the bridge and a police barricade.
Darlene Lamb, also from Hay River, held up a sign that read: “Harper: encourages colonial rapist attitude.”
She believes the Harper meeting was orchestrated for all the wrong reasons.
“The only reason he agreed to meet with them (the leaders) is because his numbers are dropping,” she said. “(Liberal Party leader hopeful) Justin Trudeau met Chief Spence at the beginning of the movement. He has respect for Aboriginal people and wanted to hear from them. Harper didn’t do anything until he noticed his numbers were down.”
“I’m glad that he will be meeting with Spence on Jan. 11, but can we expect anything from that?” she added. “That’s why the movement is still carrying on.”
Chief Lloyd Chicot of Ka’a'gee Tu First Nation in Kakisa attended the protest with roughly 15 other residents of the tiny hamlet.
Chicot said he wanted to show his support for Chief Spence and thought the upcoming meeting was a positive sign of things to come.
“It’s a continuation of what we’ve been asking, which is to meet with the federal government to ensure our rights are protected,” he said. “They’re rushing all these bills through – some are good, but a lot of them are bad. A few years ago our community took the government to court for lack of consultation, but they’re still doing it.”
In 2007, the Federal Court ruled in Ka’a’gee Tu’s favour in two related court cases when it deemed that the government violated the community’s right to meaningful consultation before a final decision was made on a modified land use permit granted to Paramount Resources Ltd. in 2005.
Brenda Bouvier, who drove from Enterprise with her son Atticus, suggested an interesting alternative to the traditional closed-doors approach to meetings.
“It should be televised,” she said.
After weeks of nation-wide protests, Harper announced a meeting with a delegation of First Nations leaders scheduled for Jan. 11. A few hours after the announcement, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, on a hunger strike since Dec. 11, said she would join the meeting as well.
“I’m just really overjoyed to hear that the prime minister will meet with us on Jan. 11, but I’ll still be here on my hunger strike until then,” she said from Victoria Island, near Ottawa.
– Myles Dolphin