One year later, Idle No More march attracts much smaller protest group

OTTAWA – On the one-year anniversary of Idle No More, the aboriginal rights movement, about 50 activists marched from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill to protest a reform plan for aboriginal schools.

“It’s not only an issue of saying ‘We don’t accept, we want the (Indian) Act kicked out,” said Chief Gilbert Whiteduck of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation near Maniwaki, Que.

“Unless we develop it, what little we have now is leading to … extermination and termination.”

Protesters drummed, chanted and waved flags, saying Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt has ignored the educational demands of First Nations.

They said the proposed First Nations Education Act fails to provide adequate funding and gives too much power to Ottawa and not enough to aboriginal peoples.

“Nobody can put us in line. These are our children,” said Whiteduck.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Valcourt’s proposed plan fails to address the massive education funding disparity between aboriginal and non-aboriginal children.

“We have to talk about treating Canadians fairly, regardless of the communities they’re in,” Trudeau said.

“We need to make sure we are funding First Nations education to the same level, if not more, depending on the circumstances and the needs, that we do any other Canadians.”

Valcourt said he will continue to work with the Assembly of First Nations, but that simply increasing funding will not by itself reform the education system to improve outcomes for students.

Last year, Idle No More protests attracted thousands marching down Wellington Street to Parliament Hill, with police escorts.

Other speakers at Tuesday’s protest included Chief Theresa Spence, who launched a protest fast last year, and NDP MP Romeo Saganash.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version described Whiteduck as chief of the Maniwaki First Nation.