City Hall response to Idle No More surprise tepid (14 photos)Monday, January 28, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
In a surprising turn of events, Idle No More protestors entered the lobby of Sault Ste. Marie’s Civic Centre Monday afternoon, where they stayed for approximately 30 minutes as they sang, drummed and danced.
The event was non-violent, but came as a surprise to Civic Centre staff.
City Chief Administrative Officer Joe Fratesi told the media an Idle No More agreement with the City recognized that rally participants could hold a gathering on the outside steps of the Civic Centre after they carried out a planned, peaceful march from the Indian Friendship Centre on East Street, along with a water ceremony on the waterfront on the Civic Centre’s south side, but the rally participants’ entry into City Hall was looked upon as a disruption.
Fratesi said “thankfully it was peaceful, but I think they understand that they make no friends by coming in and disrupting business at City Hall.”
“They came in and said they were doing a song in honour of the Mayor (Debbie Amaroso) and if that’s what they did, I would say thank you, but people in the building wondered what was going on and when they received a notice earlier today setting out what was originally agreed to, no one expected that they would come in here. As it turns out, it’s fine, but even the Police were not aware that they would be coming in.”
Fratesi did not request City Police to remove the protestors.
“I just came downstairs to make sure the organizers saw me. I think when they saw me they understood this is not what we agreed to. If it was a song to honour the Mayor, so be it, but we have to get back to business in the Civic Centre. They cleared as quickly as they came in, which I’m happy about.”
Mayor Amaroso was not in the Civic Centre Monday afternoon.
Fratesi continued “it was an unplanned disruption and we’ll think twice about future arrangements just to ensure the parameters of what we understand are observed and respected. I think all of us talk about respect, certainly the people here are very much about respect, but when arrangements are made, you ought not to go beyond them.”
Fratesi said he probably would, in any case, have allowed the indoor drumming and one song in honour of the Mayor if Idle No More had made a formal request, and would have sent out an internal e-mail informing all Civic Centre staff of the event in advance.
“When I came down here they saw me and I think they knew they were pushing the limits and took it outside, so it’s fine.”
In response, Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers told us “this is a people’s movement and how the people feel is what usually happens, and in this instance, they felt like going in, and I felt like going in too.”
“Going inside City Hall wasn’t planned, but sometimes when an idea comes like that from the spirit, from the drumming, you just have to move with it,” said Mitchell Case, one of the organizers of Monday’s rally.
Case said he was aware some City staff thought of the indoor drumming and singing as a disruption, but stated “we’ve been disrupted for hundreds of years, so if for 10 minutes we have to sing a song to raise awareness, so be it.”
The City denied rally organizers permission to replace the municipal, provincial and Canadian flags on the flagpoles outside the Civic Centre’s main entrance.
In response, organizers hoisted First Nations and Metis flags, along with the Canadian flag, among the flagpoles that line Foster Drive.
Sayers told us “no matter where we go, we’re challenged with this type of government…we need to remind Canadians, municipal, provincial and federal leaders that we are the original, first form of government here. We’re not tertiary, we’re primary. Them (the City) telling us we cannot go up the steps, can’t do this, can’t do that…we’re so tired of that paternalistic attitude, and we have just as much right to go into any public place on any lands that were held in trust by the Crown for our benefit. This land where City Hall is was our land. The Crown agreed to hold these lands in trust for our benefit, and if they needed to be used by anybody, we were to benefit from that.”
“We don’t get any benefit from this. It’s an imposition, and we’re filing a major suit tomorrow. We’ve had enough, our people are not going to stand by idle any more.”
Sayers was referring to a claim that will be officially launched at a news conference by Batchewana First Nation tomorrow for compensation for the loss of the whitefish fishery at the rapids of the St. Mary’s River.
Batchewana First Nation states Canada is responsible for the loss of the fishery, and the First Nation will be claiming damages in the amount of up to $150 million.
Monday’s Idle No More march downtown and the rally on the steps of the Civic Centre was peaceful, yet clearly showed growing determination in the movement’s demands that the Canadian federal government address First Nations’ issues and ensures environmental protection of lands and waterways Canada-wide.
Over 100 people took part in today’s Idle No More protest.
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