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Hundreds of people gathered in the heart of downtown Friday afternoon to join in nationwide protests against the federal government's treatment of native peoples.
As part of the Idle No More campaign that was marked by dozens of simultaneous rallies across the country, protesters briefly blocked the intersection at Yonge and Dundas by performing a "round dance" around a circle of drummers.
The growing movement aims to draw attention to Conservative omnibus budget legislation that aboriginal groups say strip contains provisions that strip away vital environmental protections and give private corporations leeway to encroach on native resources.
But Joni Shawana, one of the organizers of the Toronto protest, says that more than aboriginal interests is at stake. She believes everyone in the country should be concerned with protecting natural resources from unsustainable exploitation.
"It's not just a native thing. We're here to fight and stand up for all Canadians," says Shawana, who hails from the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve but was raised in Toronto. "We ask everyone for their support and to put their stereotypes away about native people."
While Bill C-45, which makes controversial changes to the Navigable Waters Act, may have sparked the Idle No More movement, the campaign has expanded into a renewed call for Ottawa to do more to address the appalling standard of living in many native communities and protect First Nation sovereignty.
In Ottawa on Friday protesters were planning to meet with Theresa Spence, the chief of Attawapiskat First Nation, before marching on Parliament Hill. Spence is on a hunger strike until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to talks to repair the relationship between First Nations groups and the federal government.
Spence's small village in northern Ontario became a byword for native communities in crisis after a housing shortage there attracted national attention earlier this year.