<– Windsor is in worse shape than usual, and the rest of Canada (ROC ) is reeling from Indian attacks and bad medicine, but the average Canuk is pissed at the natives and ain’t gonna take it no more!
By Andy Radia Politics Reporter
In the battle for public opinion, Canada’s First Nations’ have a long way to go.
An Ipsos Reid poll released on Tuesday claims that while most Canadians believe the government must act to improve on-reserve quality of life, they have serious concerns about reserve financial accountability.
Here are some top-line results from the survey:
- 64 per cent agree that Canada’s aboriginal peoples receive too much support from Canadian taxpayers
- Only 31 per cent agree that First Nation’s protesters are conducting justified and legitimate protests by shutting down roads and rail lines going through their communities
- 81 per cent agree that no additional taxpayers money should go to any Reserve until external auditors can be put in place to ensure financial accountability
- 60 per cent agree that most of the problems of native people are brought on by themselves
“Taken together, these data suggest that last week’s protests have done little to build sympathy for First Nations issues, and have instead created a new issue for First Nation leaders to struggle with – financial accountability,” notes the survey report.
Ipsos also gauged the approval ratings of some of the key-players with regard to recent protests. The Assembly of First Nations chiefs earned the highest approval rating of 51 per cent, Stephen Harper came in at 46 per cent while the Idle No More movement and ‘hunger-striking’ chief Theresa Spence earned very poor ratings at 38 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.
If you’ve listened to the call-in radio shows in recent days, these numbers won’t surprise you.
Stories about financial mismanagement, divisions among different First Nations groups and threats of major road and border blockades have all culminated into a collective frustration and in some cases anger.
Earlier this week, an Idle No More co-founder even distanced herself from Spence reiterating that INM was a grassroots movement and claiming that they barely had any “communications with her.”
It was a wise move because Spence, along with some of the more militant chiefs, pose a serious public relations problem for the whole First Nations population: Spence has lost much her credibility because of her unclear demands and because of the damning KPMG audit which suggested a lack of financial checks and balances in her community of Attawapiskat.
Ultimately, First Nations’ goals for meaningful resource sharing, treaty recognition and more funding for on-reserve education and health care are more easily achieved if they have public support.
[ Related: Idle No More co-founder uneasy with Chief Spence ]
The Ipsos poll shows that, as of now, they don’t have that.
The Ipsos Reid poll was conducted between January 11 to January 14th with a sample of 1,023 Canadians via an online panel. The poll is accurate to within +/-3.5 percentage points had all Canadian adults been polled.
Hundreds of First Nations demonstrators gathered in Windsor, Ont. today, slowing trucks going to North America’s busiest international crossing, while a blockade halted railway traffic between Toronto and Montreal as part of Idle No More movement’s national day of action.
Activities including rallies, possible blockades and prayer circles were planned across the country Wednesday as part of the grassroots movement.
People gathered in Windsor, Ont. near the Ambassador Bridge to Michigan, the CBC’s Allison Johnson reported.
The bridge is a key border crossing for trade between Canada and the U.S., she added, with roughly 10,000 trucks crossing daily. Area traffic was slowed, she said this afternoon.
“Any flow of traffic stoppage is a pretty big deal, [but] we are told that is not the goal here today,” she reported from Windsor.
“We don’t want to inconvenience people too much, but we want to be in places that are going to get us noticed and allow us to get our information out,” said organizer Lorena Garvey-Shepley.
Meanwhile, Idle No More protesters set up a blockade east of Toronto, halting railway traffic between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, VIA Rail said. Protesters blocked traffic at Tyendinaga Township in the Marysville area between Belleville, Ont., and Kingston, Ont., Wednesday afternoon.
Many major cities across the country are bracing for serious traffic disruptions and possible blockades as part of the movement. Planned events also include rallies, flash mobs and prayer circles, to bring more attention to changes to Bill C-45, the Conservative government’s controversial omnibus budget bill that directly affects First Nations communities.
Aboriginal leaders say there has been a lack of consultation on changes to environmental protection regulations.
In New Brunswick, hundreds of demonstrators marched across a bridge this afternoon along a major highway in Miramichi, the CBC’s Jennifer Choi reported.
RCMP officers blocked the entranceways to Miramichi bridge from either direction as roughly 200 to 300 protesters marched, stalling traffic for nearly 2.5 hours, nearly she added.
In Toronto, demonstrators gathered in the downtown core near the British consulate. And in downtown Ottawa, crowds gathered outside World Exchange Plaza near Parliament Hill for a round dance. Traffic was rerouted this afternoon.
In Manitoba, Idle No More protesters gathered outside of the Manitoba Legislature this afternoon. About an hour west of the city, protesters blockaded an important railway line near Portage la Prairie, reported the CBC’s Angela Johnston.
Terry Nelson, a former chief of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba, said their protests aim to educate Canadians about aboriginal treaty rights and land disputes First Nations have with governments.
“We’re sending the message very clearly with the railway blockade that [there's] going to be no more stolen property being sold until such time that they come to the table and deal with the original owners,” he told CBC News on Tuesday.
Nelson added that while those who may block the railway lines have no plans to use force, they are prepared to get arrested.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says he worries some protesters might take things too far.
“I think it’s very important to recognize that we do not, at this time, condone the use of any kind of force,” Nepinak said.
“We can’t win in any kind of environment where we’re using force.”
Other chiefs said they will be peaceful today, but if nothing changes to improve First Nations conditions, blockades will follow.
“At this time we have no plans to organize or facilitate the organization of roadblock on Highway 63 for Jan. 16 or any set date,” said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation, referring to the northern Alberta highway to the oilsands region.
“However, the people are upset with the current state of affairs in this country and things are escalating towards more direct action.”
Protesters, however, are under mounting pressure to keep their demonstrations peaceful.
“I encourage all those planning events to please exercise the utmost care and caution,” Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy wrote in a letter to First Nations in his province on Tuesday.
“If you have not already contacted the local police service in your area, I urge you to do so and inform them of your plans. This will ensure that appropriate parties are informed of what will take place and will enable your communities and citizens to go out and exercise their right to make their voices heard in a safe environment.”
A key demand of the protesters and chiefs alike is for the government to back down on changes to environmental oversight in two recent omnibus bills.
“The complete gutting of all environmental approval, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms in Canada … mean that the reassertion of aboriginal and treaty rights are the last best hope to protect both First Nations’ and Canadians’ water, air and soil from being poisoned forever by big oil and mining corporations,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller from the Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign.
But the government opposes any changes.
Andrew McDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesman, said: “The government has no plans to reconsider its legislation.”