Activists target long-standing problems on aboriginal action day
A crowd gathered at Ottawa’s Victoria Island for a rally Thursday before marching to Parliament Hill. (CBC)
Thousands of aboriginal Canadians gathered in communities across the country Thursday for the second annual National Day of Action to draw attention to problems facing aboriginal people.
The day was declared by the Assembly of First Nations to focus on issues such as child poverty, access to safe drinking water, health care, education and housing.
About 40 per cent of aboriginal children in Canada live in poverty.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine said children were the focus this year, ending poverty for young people and calling on the federal government to generate equal funding for education.
"Too many of our children are going to school hungry," he told CBC News. "Too many of our kids are going to school in temporary portable units in buildings that are in a terrible state of disrepair.
"This day is about our kids. It’s about our students, our young students. It’s about ensuring our kids will receive an opportunity to live out their dreams."
In Ottawa, Shannen Koostachin, a 13-year-old student from the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, met Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and asked him about building a new elementary school in her James Bay community.
The 400 students have attended classes in eight portables ever since the school was closed in 2000 because of an environmental problem.
"Mr. Chuck Stahl said he didn’t have the money to build our school," Koostachin said. "I didn’t believe that."
Mohawks set up temporary blockade
While Fontaine urged participants to obey the law during the action day, the Mohawk First Nation at Kanesatake stopped several cars on Route 344 near Oka, Que., before dismantling the barrier.
The barricade was set up in the same place as a barrier used by Mohawk protesters during the 1990 Oka crisis.
Last year, some aboriginal demonstrators barricaded a major rail line and a highway in eastern Ontario. But aboriginal leaders urged participants to stay on the right side of the law and focus on child poverty on Thursday, and there were no blockades near Deseronto, Ont., the site of the 2007 demonstrations.
‘Not asking for the moon’
Alberta chiefs were meeting Monday to discuss solutions to the longstanding problems with housing and safe drinking water.
Rose Laboucan, grand chief of the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Regional Council, said she wants people to understand the challenges the First Nations are facing.
"We’re not asking for the moon here. We’re just asking for adequate homes for our people, for the quality of life that everybody else has," she said.
In northeastern Ontario, First Nations handed out information along the Trans-Canada Highway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
In Toronto, about 100 activists have been camped out on the steps of the provincial legislature since Tuesday. They joined a larger crowd for a march along University Avenue.
Several First Nations in southern Manitoba are using the National Day of Action to draw attention to their fight with two oil companies.
TransCanada Keystone Pipeline and Enbridge are building pipelines through what the bands claim as traditional territory.
Treaty One bands say the companies should be compensating them, as they would rural municipalities.
On Monday, the chiefs expect hundreds of supporters to gather at a site south of Winkler, where the pipelines will pass.