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Canada's Indigenous People Rally For Rights Around 'Idle No More' Initiative

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page and our Canada News page.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

A grassroots indigenous movement is shaking up politics in Canada. It's called Idle No More. Like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, it spread quickly through social media and it's now got the attention of Canada's leaders, thanks to the efforts of one chief from a tiny tribe whose hunger strike has galvanized the movement.

David Sommerstein of North Country Public Radio has the story.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: Idle No More was born last fall. Four aboriginal women from Saskatchewan began emailing about a budget bill introduced by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It makes changes to Canada's Indian Act. The women feared it would expose tribal lands to private developers and erode aboriginal treaty rights.

They spread the word on Facebook and Twitter and Idle No More took off. Last weekend, protestors closed down several border crossings with the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NATIVE AMERICAN CHANT)

SOMMERSTEIN: Hundreds of people from the Akwesasne Mohawk Reserve marched across a bridge linking northern New York State to Ontario. Parents pulled their kids in wagons. Elders caught rides on four-wheelers. A woman burned ceremonial sage and the smell carried over the whole march.

Organizer Jose Verdugo uses the Mohawk word for original people to say the protests are bringing aboriginals together.

JOSE VERDUGO: As Onkwehonwe people, we're put here on this Earth to protect the land and that's what we're going to show today.

SOMMERSTEIN: Idle No More has rallied around one chief from the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario. Chief Theresa Spence is starting the fifth week of a partial hunger strike. She is consuming fish broth. Her tribe made headlines last year for suffering through poor living conditions. Muddying the waters, though, is an audit accusing her tribe's council of mismanagement.

Still, she's living in a teepee on the Ottawa River right now, within sight of Canada's Parliament, demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Harper.


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