The mood was festive but the message was serious at an Idle No More rally in Sudbury's downtown.
Traffic came to a halt for a few minutes at one of Sudbury's busiest intersections as the grass-roots movement that calls on all Canadians to rise up in support of First Nations rights marched its way past.
Drivers watched as about 200 people circled together in a drum dance — some in traditional native dress, others bundled up in heavy coats and boots.
Their message: respect treaty rights, stop federal legislation that could affect the environment and improve living conditions in Aboriginal communities.
“We have a lot of grievances towards our government with all the housing and water issues,” said James Clark, who brought his young family.
“[It’s] just standard of living issues, to put it all in one neat little basket. Today I am standing up saying no more for hurting me. No more for hurting my children or my people.”
Many people travelled several hours on snowy highways to come to Sudbury from reserves such as Whitefish River, Wikwemikong and Serpent River.
But not all the protesters were from aboriginal communities.
Daphne Green marched down Paris street with the crowd.
“This isn't about First Nations alone,” she said.
“It's about what First Nations brings to this country. And [an] understanding of and a respect for the land that we live in.”
Striking a chord
The grass-roots campaign has sparked demonstrations and calls for a new relationship between Canada and First Nations.
The movement is striking a chord in people like Cassandra Mandamin, someone who doesn't really consider herself political.
“It's very intriguing to me because of the impact it's going to have, not just on First Nations, but all Canadians,” said the Wikwemikong First Nation resident, who’s currently taking civil engineering at Sudbury’s Cambrian College.
The ongoing hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has helped to galvanize support.
'Following the people'
Laurentian University student Natalie Neganegijig said the campaign appeals to her because it doesn't come from the top down.
“I think the chiefs are starting to realize the impact they can have following the people,” she said.
Social media sites have been buzzing all week with plans for a rally on Parliament Hill — and both Neganegijig and Mandamin took part in the Sudbury.
Wikwemikong’s Bruce McComber was also there.
“If Canadians want to take anything away from what is happening across the country [in] these peaceful demonstrations, then it should be [an] honest look at Canada's history,” he said.
“[They should] take an honest look at what treaties mean.”
Meanwhile the National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations is weighing in on the Idle No More Movement.
He was to attend a rally on Parliament Hill Friday to show support for the campaign and also for Spence's hunger strike in Ottawa.
Atleo appeared on CBC Television's Power and Politics Thursday night.
“There is an urgent human rights crisis amongst First Nations here in Canada,” he said during the interview.
“[Theresa Spence] is very clearly calling for the government, the prime minister, to respond and make a commitment to have meaningful dialogue with First Nations and that it is implementation time.”