Dozens of Sto: lo Nation members and supporters marched to Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl's constituency office Friday morning as part of a nationwide First Nations protest.
Approximately 20 of the 60 people in attendance jammed into Strahl's foyer and waiting room drumming and singing as part of Idle no More, a local version of a protest that began as an exercise in social media and grew to a national movement.
The focus for the day was the federal government's omnibus budget legislation Bill C-45, which includes provisions that affect the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
But the main complaint from protesters was a lack of government consultation with aboriginal people.
"This won't be the last time," Skwah First Nation member Eddie Gardner said in Strahl's office. "We aren't going to stop until our aboriginal rights are considered."
Strahl was not in his office, so protesters directed their message to his constituency assistant Matthew Barker.
Former Yukon MLA and Sto: lo member Margaret Commodore had a message for Barker.
"I would like you to tell Mark Strahl that he represents the Sto: lo Nation in the house of Parliament," said Commodore, who served as a New Democrat representative for two Whitehorse ridings from 1982 to 1996.
"Mark Strahl has not spoken up against this racist legislation and we want to know why."
"Let him know that Sto: lo territory is a Bill C-45 free zone," Gardner added.
Grand Chief Clarence Pen-nier spoke at an Idle No More preparatory meeting and information session held earlier in the week. Pennier was not at Friday's march but on Thursday he told the Times about his concerns with Bill C-45.
"The government is supposed to be consulting-that has come out of a Supreme Court of Canada decision- when they make changes that impact on us," Pennier said. "That is what they are supposed to do and they are not doing it."
While Strahl wasn't present Friday, he did respond via email to a Times request to comment on Idle No More.
"Provisions in Bill C-45, Jobs and Growth Act, 2012 have been debated in the House of Commons, committee and media for eight months," he said in part. "The purpose of the bill is to help all Canadians including First Nations to better pursue and seize economic opportunities."
Strahl said the amendments will provide flexibility for First Nations to engage in economic development, and reduce red tape for development on reserve lands.
As to the concerns about perceived reduction in environmental protection, Strahl said the changes regarding waterways govern navigation and not environmental protection.
"Bodies of water such as the Vedder River and Fraser River will continue to be protected through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Fisheries Act," he said.
Bill C-45 passed earlier this month despite attempts by the opposition to stall or kill the legislation. Among other items in the massive bill are changes to public sector pensions, pay raises for judges and an electronic travel authorization system.
Since the bill has already passed, Pennier was asked what was the point of the protest.
"It's meant to give a message to the Prime Minister that he didn't do the things he is supposed to do in terms of the Indian Act and the Fisheries Act," he said.
"So, it's something that we have to do because it's part of our responsibility to look after our land water and air; it's why we were placed on this Earth as Sto: lo."
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