As expected, First Nations and Idle No More groups in Northern Ontario joined their fellows across Canada in a national day of action.
Looking to raise awareness of Aboriginal issues and call for better living conditions on reserves and a better relationship with the federal governments, bridge delays and traffic slowdowns made life difficult for travellers while driving home that message.
And though stronger actions, like blockades were planned, many First Nations took the opportunity to hand out leaflets in an attempt to engage people one on one and inform them of the reasons for the day of action.
Braving strong and frigid winds, Idle No More Sudbury did just that after a small group of about 50 people marched down the sidewalk from Pine Street to the Rainbow Centre, where they handed out leaflets to passersby.
One of the demonstrators, Bruce McComber, who is orginally from Wikwemikong, said although the day of action was not a specific Idle No More event, the core ethics of both — to raise awareness of Native rights issues in a non-violent fashion — is helping get that message across like never before.
“I don't recall a time in my life ... in recent Canadian history when Native issues were talked about on a regular basis in Canadian homes,” said McComber, who also attended the Jan. 11 demonstrations in Ottawa. “If the objective is to raise awareness of our rights-based agenda, then we have done that.”
Elsewhere, members of the Wikwemikong First Nation and the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) staged a traffic slowdown on Highway 6 at Birch Island on the Whitefish River First Nation, handing out leaflets and talking with drivers.
Nipissing First Nation did the same on Hihgway 17 between Yellek and Beaucage Park Road.
Highlighting calls by Native leaders that demonstrations be peaceful yet productive, Serpent River First Nation held a similar action at the Serpent River Trading Post, where they were not only handing out information, but also refreshments to those held up by the demonstration.
In delivering opening remarks, Chief Isadore Day said the demonstrations are about education.
“Today, we are fighting back by seeking every peaceful and constructive way to create better awareness,” he said. “Let's tell Canada and the world that we believe in a just future for all Canadians, that we believe in breaking the colonialism and that we are idle no more.”
Day, a vocal critic of how Assembly of First Nations grand chief Shawn Atleo handled last week's meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, issued a statement as well in which he highlighted what First Nations see as needed changes in their relationship with the federal government.
Besides concerns over the omnibus bills (C-38 and C-45), they are looking for renewed protection for land, air and water; better funding for health care; more respect for land-claim and treaty rights and a less patronizing relationship with the federal government.
In what was likely the biggest demonstration, hundreds of demonstrators slowed traffic at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Michigan, the main truck artery between Canada and the U.S. during lunch hour. The Windsor District Labour Council joined in that event. Communities on the East Coast, Alberta, Manitoba and the Yukon saw day of action demonstrations by Idle No More supporters and First Nations groups.
Traffic is expected to be slowed down on the International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie this afternoon.