Since forming at a general educational session in Saskatoon this past November, Idle No More protests by members and non-members of First Nations across the country have been both peaceful and, at times, disruptive.
The protest that occurred near Cascade Mall in Banff last weekend was peaceful, however, another in Calgary led to the closure of a bridge with police still to determine whether charges will be laid.
Wild Rose Member of Parliament Blake Richards responded to the recent local protest before meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 16) with three chiefs from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation to discuss economic development opportunities.
“Obviously you support people’s right to peacefully protest with the expectation that it’s done in a legal fashion,” Richards said about the protest in Banff. “I think with these kinds of blockades that we’re seeing, I don’t think they’re the way to make progress.
“I don’t think some of the comments made in response are helpful either,” he added.
Since the protests gathered attention leading up to the meeting on Jan. 11 between First Nations leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the amount of negative comments, in some instances hate speech, has increased via online publications.
The recent spate of comments could be the result of some misunderstanding of the issues on both sides, according to Richards, who is also a member of the federal government’s aboriginal affairs committee.
“The individuals who have contacted me about the protests, certainly there does seem to be some confusion about the subject matter and definitely some misunderstanding of what is contained in Bill C-45,” the MP said about the omnibus bill in contention.
Protesters have stated the bill, which was passed in December, makes significant changes to the Indian Act, Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act and in turn weakens environmental protection laws.
“Specifically on Bill C-45, I did hold an open house in Morley when it was being discussed in Parliament and the people who showed up did indicate that they were really supportive of the changes we were making,” Richards explained.
“I have heard from a few of these individuals that have been involved in the protests, but not until after the protests,” he continued. “It’s unfortunate that the opportunity wasn’t taken up by these individuals.”
The MP also noted that over the past year the federal government hosted roughly 5,000 consultation meetings with members of First Nations to discuss issues and find ways of working together.
“With the aboriginal affairs committee, there’s always consultations and we always hear from First Nations leaders when we’re making changes,” he said.
“The shared goals are always looking at ways we can create economic development opportunities that create jobs for First Nations people and looking at ways we can improve education and increase accountability from First Nations leaders to their citizens,” he added.
As for the meeting between the prime minister and First Nations leaders, as well as future meetings with all members of the federal government, Richards pointed out the dialogue has been positive and will continue to progress.
“I know in those meetings there was discussion about treaties and land claims and from what I understand there was a very good discussion,” he said. “There is a plan to continue with dialogue and how we can work together and move forward.
“Our government is reaching out and working hard to offer opportunities,” he continued. “Be they economic, educational or looking at accountability and how we can best meet that objective.”