Author: Ed Johnson
On a cold January morning, the usual roar of traffic from the Pat Bay highway became eerily quiet, as the sound of drums filled the frosty air. Marching forth from Tsawout band offices, native and non-native alike, carried signs protesting the evisceration of people’s rights by the current lawmakers in seats of power.
“Since the signing of the Douglas Treaty, to the current federal government’s Omnibus Bills – the needs and legal rights of the native bands have constantly been ignored.” So addressed Tsawout Elder Eric Pelkey to the more than 200 people blocking the Pat Bay Highway January 16th.
He explained that the highway was pushed through their lands without proper consultation or permission. In fact, he says, the Douglas Treaty itself is not being honoured. This treaty agreement signed in the 1850’s, authorized the purchase of land from the local tribes in exchange for fishing and hunting rights over ‘unoccupied territories’.
As part of a nationwide ‘Idle No More’ day of protest, the hour-long demonstration also featured comments from Elder Murray Sampson and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs President, Stewart Phillip. “…we absolutely reject this government’s [Omnibus] Bill C-38 and [Ominbus] Bill C-45, that are designed to sell out the environmental values of this country to big industry and big oil,” Phillip said.
Provincial NDP candidate, Gary Holman, who was in attendance stated, “Local First Nations are calling on governments to live up to their legal and moral obligations…relationships between local bands and governments need to change for the better.”
The protest concluded peacefully, but not everyone supported the idea of a blockade. Sidney resident Lori Ann Bill writes, “I don’t agree with all the blockades – doesn’t do anything but anger a lot of people. We are looking for support and this is one of the worst way [sic] to do it is road blockades.”
While the demonstration highlighted native rights, each speaker noted that the government’s role on environmental protection of oceans, waterways and wildlife affects all Canadians equally.