LENNOX ISLAND -- The chief of the Lennox Island First Nation, Darlene Bernard, suggests opposition to the Federal government’s Bill C-45 amendments has the potential to unite Canada’s aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations.
The Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations held two joint information sessions Tuesday to discuss how the federal government’s amendments to key pieces of legislation are an affront to Aboriginal and treaty rights, and how all Canadians will be impacted by the amendments. Two more sessions are planned for today.
Bernard said all Canadians have to stand together in opposition. “If we can’t stand up for this,” she said, “we might as well go home.”
Close to 100 people were in attendance for the first information session Tuesday afternoon on Lennox Island.
“Forget about the rights. Look at the environment,” Bernard commented following the first session and pointed to an issue all Canadians can hold in common. “If there is no environment and no good, clean drinking water, we’re not going to be fighting over money and power; we’re going to be fighting over water.”
She suggested concerns over changes to Employment Insurance might also help bring non-aboriginals on-side.
“You kind of pick your battles, but when it comes down to this, the environment, we have to stand. We have to stand together in unity, and it’s all about unity, and we have to stand in unity with our white brothers and sisters. I think that’s the biggest thing we’re trying to promote here, is that we’re all people. We all drink the same water, breathe the same air; our kids are the ones who are going to be living in a wasteland if we don’t do something,” said Bernard.
The Lennox Island chief said the amendments the Federal government is pushing through are pushing First Nations into a corner. “We’ve got to come out fighting, because we can’t sit idle and let this go,” she said. She acknowledged the awareness generated through the Idle No More movement has served to encourage the Island’s First Nations bands to hold the information sessions. “We wanted to support the movement by the leadership participating in these kinds of sessions to provide information,” she explained.
We all drink the same water, breathe the same air; our kids are the ones who are going to be living in a wasteland if we don’t do something - Lennox Island chief, Darlene Bernard
Abegweit chief Brian Francis said he was pleased with the first session. “Obviously, they are as concerned as we are,” he said in commenting on the attendance and the questions they raised. He praised the Idle No More Movement for doing a good job of creating awareness of what the federal government is doing to First Nations people.
“It’s a good eye-opener, a positive eye-opener,” he said of Idle No More, “because, for too long, First Nations have been idle. It’s a sign of the future, in a positive way.”
Don MacKenzie, legal advisor and director of inter-government affairs for the two bands, agreed with Bernard that the federal actions are pushing First Nations communities towards litigation.
“The problem is the First Nations shouldn’t be forced to do that time and time again, especially on matters that have already been decided, matters that are clear-cut, like consultation, like the fishery,” he said. “I think the really discouraging thing from our perspective as First Nations is we’ve been down this road, and now you’re just failing to honour what we already know you had to do,” he said as if delivering the message to the Conservative government.