The long road to Ottawa

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Congratulations to the Omushkegowuk Walkers for making their trek to Ottawa all the way from Attawapiskat. These walkers represent our ability to exercise our democratic right to protest peacefully. That is a big deal these days when governments in our country and others are eroding our rights and freedoms and shirking their responsibilities to their citizens. Unfortunately, it seems that most people prefer to look the other way and don’t think it is important to voice their opinions.

So, I am proud of the four original core group of walkers – Danny Metatawabin of Fort Albany and Attawapiskat trekkers Paul Mattinas, Brian Okimaw and Remi Nakogee. Many others joined them on the way. They struggled for almost two months over 1,700 kilometres through freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. You can view the group’s Facebook page by searching for “Reclaiming Our Steps Past Present Future.”

Many First Nations across the country have seen their treaty rights violated. The walkers decided that a peaceful protest would bring some attention to this injustice, especially since First Nations have very few avenues to influence government policy. Big-money concerns like oil, forestry, manufacturing and financial institutions have huge budgets to spend lobbying for governmental favours. First Nation people and the average non-Native Canadian have very little voice. Some people claim First Nation political organizations have big budgets for lobbying, but compared to corporate special interests, they pale in comparison.

The usual way for First Nation people to push for change is through representatives with political organizations, like the Assembly of First Nations, Chiefs of Ontario, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, Muskegowuk Council and many other such groups across the country. Due to limited resources, however, most Native people realize that peaceful protest is an effective way to bring attention to our issues. The Idle No More movement developed from widespread anger over the plight of First Nation communities across Canada, as well as the elimination of protections for our lands, rivers and lakes. They are still alive and well and you can check out their website at

Many First Nation governments are now signing agreements with resource developers that enshrine mutual respect and a willingness to share the benefits of development. This is a relatively new concept in Canada. A couple of decades ago billions of dollars in resource development in our own backyards would fatten the pockets of a small elite while leaving local Native people with few employment opportunities and long-term environmental damage. I don’t blame many of my people if they are bitter about living difficult lives on reserves while their non-Native neighbours lived in affluence off the natural resources of our traditional lands.

The fact is that there are still many First Nation communities that don’t have proper housing, jobs, drinking water or education opportunities. This is now changing. In growing numbers we are becoming doctors, lawyers, managers, accountants and teachers. When I look at the First Nation organizations in Canada today I see many well-educated, articulate professionals who are dealing with governments and corporations in making life better for Native people across the country. We are getting smarter in the European way of living while at the same time keeping our traditions and culture alive.

Native people have a huge interest in this wide breadth of land we call Canada and we want to participate in development and its economic benefits. However, we want to do this in a way that protects the land, water and wildlife. We only have one planet and we must take care of our home for future generations.

I know how difficult life is in a Canadian First Nation community and understand that we are still in the early stages of dealing with so many issues, including residential schools, the ’60s scoop, drug-and-alcohol abuse and the lack of education and motivation. But I am hopeful we are on the right track and I am very proud of those Native people who stand up to be heard in peaceful demonstrations. All Canadians should ensure we do not allow the erosion of our democratic rights and the damage that would do to our society. My heartfelt thanks to all the Omushkegowuk Walkers for trekking in peace and respect to Ottawa. Let’s hope that their voices are heard.

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