Denver Idle No More Calls Out the Canadian Prime Minister via Letter

Around 100 people gathered on December 31 outside the Denver office of the Consulate General of Canada to show support for the Idle No More movement.

Despite drumming, Round Dancing and megaphoned speeches far below its lofty offices in Denver, the Consulate General of Canada remained silent December 31 about the First Nations’ indigenous rights concerns expressed in a local rally that drew about 100 people in support of the continent-wide Idle No More movement.

Because of widespread preparation for New Year’s Eve, consulate offices closed at noon to the general public, but Ladan Amirazizi, consul and senior trade commissioner, accepted a letter she said she would convey to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of Idle supporters in Denver’s Indian community. She did not comment on concerns raised in the rally or in the letter signed by Denver-area residents and others.

The letter said that Harper and his government would be held personally responsible should Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation be permanently or fatally injured as a result of her hunger strike that began December 11 to force a meeting on indigenous rights with Harper. It also pointed to issues raised by First Nations continent-wide.

“This movement is unstoppable,” said Glenn Morris, Shawnee, a professor of political science at University of Colorado-Denver and long-time leader of the American Indian Movement of Colorado (AIM). He pointed out the common interests of Native peoples and cited some of the current First Nations concerns expressed in the letter to Harper.

The letter advises Harper, “You should be aware that the intransigent and regressive position of your government towards First Nations people is being viewed internationally as an affront to the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples, and is a violation of internationally recognized human rights standards.”

An “immediate” meeting among Harper, representatives of the Queen of England, Spence, and other First Nation leaders must be convened to discuss the direct relationship between First Nations and Canada, the letter states.

The letter also calls for repealing anti-First Nations sections of an omnibus bill and other legislation, for honoring all treaties between First Nations and the Crown/Canada, and for implementing all provisions of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In one provision, like the 1887 Dawes Act in the U.S., current Canadian legislation would lower the threshold for the surrender of community-held reserve lands, which could be divided into individual parcels and possibly sold for economic development, others noted.

The letter is being conveyed “on behalf of thousands of people from Colorado—First Nations, American Indians, supporters and allies” and was created and delivered on behalf of Idle No More-Denver, Morris said.

Morris clarified that the rally and Round Dance was “not an AIM event,” but was in support of Idle No More and its fight against the erosion of indigenous rights.

He commended the four women who convened 300-plus people, primarily from Denver’s Indian community, for a separate Round Dance December 29 at Denver’s Cherry Creek Mall. The current rally’s first speaker was Virginia Allrunner, Cheyenne, a noted traditional dancer in the 70+ category and grandmother of Cheyenne Birdshead, one of the four planners of the earlier event.

Allrunner advocated unity with First Nations people because “they’re just like any of you here. Talk to them—they’re just friendly.”

After about two hours of dancing and listening in 20-degree weather, most of the Round Dance participants crowded into the lobby of the consulate building where security guards said a consular official would come to receive the letter.

Tessa McLean, Anishinaabe First Nation, gave the letter to Amirazizi for Harper. Amirazizi told her the consulate had closed at noon but if she, as a Canadian, had concerns, she would talk with her at greater length; McLean responded that she was there as part of the support for Idle No More, and she and other rally participants left the building.

“It’s international, it’s sparked support from unions and other groups political and non-political, and it’s brought out folks who normally wouldn’t go out to such events,” e-mailed Kim Cameron, Anishinabe Long Plain First Nation, who has worked in Denver. “It warms the heart and spirit to see the unity. But what is sad is that as Chief Theresa Spence weakens, the resolve to stand up for what is right strengthens.”