A protest in Hobbema closed Highway 2A for an hour Dec. 12 to give First Nations an opportunity to have their voice heard over recent changes to a federal bill.
Organized by the Samson and Ermineskin Cree nations, the rally showed support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who started a hunger strike Dec. 11.
Her hunger strike is meant to call attention to conditions of poverty in First Nations communities. Spence’s hunger strike in Ontario will continue until a meeting with the Crown over her concerns.
The Hobbema protest was organized by the Samson Cree Nation, who co-ordinated with the other nations on the reserve to hold the protest; a portion of Highway 2A between Secondary Highway 611 and the Pe Sakastew Correctional Centre was closed to traffic.
Samson Coun. Kirk Buffalo said the purpose is also to stand up for First Nation rights and protest amendments to Bill C-45 and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. “We have to stand up to the government and the changes were done without the consultation of First Nations people.”
He was clear the protest was meant as a peaceful way to get concerns to Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins and to open up consultation with him. Buffalo feels the identity and culture of First Nations is being lost and he wants their history remembered.
“We need to re-educate the community to who they are,” he stated.
The amendments were done without discussion with First Nations, said Buffalo. “Mr. Calkins has not been in our office. I don’t know who he has consulted with.”
There are 18 pages of amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act have been signed off by the governor general and Calkins explained the purpose behind them. “What we’re doing is trusting counties like Ponoka County and Wetaskiwin County, when they need to repair a bridge or they need to replace a culvert. They don’t need to be held up by the government at the cost of ratepayers.”
Calkins feels the amendments help municipalities along rivers and streams.
The purpose of the Navigable Waters Protection Act, when it was implemented, was to protect navigation on those rivers for transportation of goods and services but is not true for present day purposes, he stated. There are some that still need navigation protection but for the most part, Calkins believes municipalities should not be required to go through the federal government to install a culvert or repair a bridge.
The Battle River has been taken off the list as a navigable river and any changes on that river added delays and costs to the taxpayers. A municipality considering work along a river can opt into the protection of the river but if they are replacing a bridge with the same height as before they will not be held up by government restrictions. Environmental protection still applies but low risk works such as docks and boathouses are allowed as they are low risk to navigation.
Calkins is uncertain why the Hobbema protest was held but said he has an open-door policy and has not been approached before by First Nations’ representatives on Bill C-45. These amendments are something Calkins campaigned on when he ran for office and many of the municipalities he has spoken to are in favour of the amendments.
An open letter from the National Executive of the Assembly of First Nations to Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been sent Dec. 16 in support of Spence’s hunger strike. The letter states the Canadian Government has not upheld its responsibilities to First Nations people and they seek a meeting with the Crown and with Harper.
Calkins feels the purpose of these amendments is not to take away First Nations’ rights but to improve on outdated legislation.