Repeal the Indian Act, says walker
A First Nations war veteran is taking his grievances with the government to Ottawa, one step at a time.
Leo Baskatawang, a member of Lac Des Mille Lac First Nation, has been walking across Canada in his March-4-Justice campaign to draw attention to what he says is the government’s refusal to deal with issues plaguing aboriginal people across the country.
He arrived in Thunder Bay on the weekend to start another leg of the walk at Fort William First Nation on Sunday. He said he’s been walking since April when he started in Vancouver.
“We chose to start the day here in front of the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada building because of the symbolic nature,” he said in an interview.
“The reason why we are here is to raise awareness about the numerous injustices we have in our communities. . . . These are systemic issues based on federal policies and legislation, which this building represents.
It works against our people.”
The goal of the march is to get the Indian Act changed, he said.
During parts of the cross-Canada march, Baskatawang has been dragging a copy of the act behind him on a chain as a symbol of oppression. He called the act “archaic,” saying it tries to impose an identity on all native people and define what being native means.
“Before Europeans came, we were not all Indians, we had terms for ourselves,” he said. “Ever since they got here, they’ve tried to take that away from us. We know in our hearts, we know who we are and that’s what’s important.”
The inspiration to march came back in January after the Crown meeting between Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Alteo and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“They were going to talk about this because it’s not a secret, but nothing was done. They decided to release a progress report,” Baskatawang said.
“That wasn’t good enough for me anymore. We need immediate action. These issues have been shelved for far too long.”
He started a petition that he is taking with him to show the mounting frustration of native peoples.
He is proposing a new piece of legislation that will be written by First Nations for First Nations. Aboriginal people need the right to govern themselves to break the cycle of poverty, poor health and abuse, he said.
Baskatawang is a a master’s student in native studies at the University of Manitoba and served two tours of duty with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division from March 2003 to February 2004 and October 2005 to September 2006.
March partner Ashley Bottle said aboriginals are capable of governing themselves. They have been here long before European governing systems, he said.
“I want to remind our people we did fine before this piece of legislation came along,” he said. “Canada had no right to impose this law on us. It is to oppress us.”
Bottle described the march dynamic with him and Baskatawang representing a meeting of different minds.
Bottle said he feels it is ceremonial and Baskatawang’s purpose is academic.
It shows two worlds can exist side-by-side, said Bottle.
Change will not come dramatically, he said. “It will take patience and everything will fall into place.”
Baskatawang said he is hoping to make it to Ottawa by Sept. 3 and to hold a rally on Parliament Hill.
“I hope to have many supporters there with us, celebrating their culture and heritage,” he said.