Native Canadian groups in protest 'day of action'

Demonstrator Black Cloud blocks the Canadian National Railway line just west of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba 16 January 2013 Among the actions taken up by native protesters across Canada was this blockade of a railway line in Manitoba

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Thousands of First Nations Canadians have staged protests over treaty disputes and budget bills they say weaken environmental oversight.

In a "day of action" organised by grassroots group Idle No More, hundreds of people slowed traffic on a bridge linking Ontario province with the US.

Demonstrations were being held in at least six provinces on Wednesday.

But Canadian PM Stephen Harper's office said the government had no plans to change the legislation in question.

A large rally was held on one of the busiest border crossings between Canada and the US, the BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto reports. Protesters also blocked some railway lines.

But the relatively small protests did not bring economic activity to a standstill as some had feared, our correspondent adds.

The rallies began two months ago to protest living conditions on reservations, and to defend treaty and land rights signed with the British crown in the 19th Century.


Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in Ottawa, Canada 10 January 2013
  • Canada has more than 600 indigenous reserves and an estimated 1.2 million aboriginals
  • Native groups say Canadian governments have ignored their rights under treaties signed in British colonial times
  • Chiefs oppose budget acts they say cut environmental safeguards for lakes and rivers and make it easier to sell reserve lands
  • Ottawa spends about C$11bn ($11bn; £6.8bn) a year on its aboriginal population, yet many reserves are plagued by poverty and addiction
'Get us noticed'

"We don't want to inconvenience people too much," protest organiser Lorena Garvey-Shepley told CBC at a border crossing with the US state of Michigan. "But we want to be in places that are going to get us noticed."

In Manitoba, protesters shut down a rail line, while the St Mary's First Nation in New Brunswick demonstrated outside the residence of the province's lieutenant governor.

Demonstrators marched on the British consulate in Toronto, and in Ottawa a crowd performed a dance near Parliament Hill.

"They are taking away our treaty rights, our schooling, all of the things that they signed for," protester Rosalie Chum, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

The protests follow weeks of tension among First Nations chiefs and leaders of the Canadian government.

A meeting last week between First Nations chiefs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper ended with pledges by the government to continue "high-level" talks on native concerns.

But some First Nations leaders boycotted that meeting because it did not include the Queen's representative in Canada, the governor general - they argue the nations signed treaties with the Crown, not the Canadian government.

Also, some chiefs were disappointed that the meeting was not open to more native leaders.

Chief Allan Adam of the Alberta-based Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation told the CBC News the protests were escalating towards more direct action.

But some native leaders have warned the demonstrators that the disruption could cost them support from non-native Canadians.

The grassroots movement has promised to step up its protests, with the next one planned before the end of the month, our correspondent says.

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