Frustration over omnibus Bill C-45 leads to nationwide protest, hunger strike

A massive omnibus bill that appears set to railroad through scores of changes has set a fire under Canada's First Nations communities who say they have been ignored and are now under attack by the Conservative government.

The debate surrounds part of Bill C-45, a massive omnibus budget bill that will, in part, weaken environmental protection and Indian reserve land rights.

Among the amendments are changes to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Indian Act, which will make it easier to redesignate native reserve lands and strip environmental protection from thousands of lakes and rivers.

"What we saw on Parliament Hill was a true reflection of what the outright disregard the Harper Government has towards First Nation people," organizer Nina Wilson says on the website for Idle No More, the group that organized nationwide protests on Monday.

More on Bill C-45:

The First Nations communities may have a reason to be upset. The omnibus bill appears to do an end-around on the Indian Act, making it easier for band leaders to lease out protected land without community support. It essentially cuts down the First Nations people's ability to protect their land without providing the group an opportunity to weigh in.

The bill as a whole has sparked tension and debate in the House of Commons, where opposition parties have accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of using the catch-all budget bill to slip through a number of controversial motions.

When the bill was passed earlier this month, upset First Nations chiefs tried to force their way into the legislature following a brief meeting with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

The frustration has reached the point now where nationwide protests are being held and hunger strikes are underway.

Attawapiskat First Nations Chief Theresa Spence says she will not eat until she gets a treaty meeting with Harper. The announcement came as thousands gathered at protests organized across the country.

"I am willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it's time for the government to realize what it's doing to us," Spence said on Parliament Hill, according to the Canadian Press.

"I am not afraid to die. If that's the journey for me to go, then I will go."

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Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett raised the issue in the House of Commons on Monday and asked if the government would meet with Spence. Greg Rickford, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, responded by saying the government has a strong desire to improve life in Attawapiskat and detailing a housing strategy.

According to the Canadian Press, the Conservatives say Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan is in constant consultation with aboriginal leaders and has visited dozens of reserves in recent years.

Still, it's never a sign of harmony when leaders are taking death vows. This one might be worth jumping in on, Stephen.