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While they’ve been taking thousands of steps each day since April, a group walking from Vancouver to Ottawa says the journey is only a first step to try and get the federal government to change how it deals with First Nations.
Leo Baskatawang, 32, got the idea for March 4 Justice in January after a highly anticipated meeting between Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and Prime Minister Stephen Harper produced nothing more than a commitment to draw up a progress report
“Basically nothing was accomplished,” Baskatawang said during a break at Kakabeka Falls Wednesday afternoon.
“That’s just simply not good enough .We need immediate action because people are suffering in our communities.”
A Master’s student at the University of Manitoba, Baskatawang decided that he would walk from Vancouver to Ottawa with a physical copy of the Indian Act chained to his waist, dragging behind him.
He said federal policy and legislation on First Nations people needs significant changes and people needed legitimate representation in the government.
“The whole thing needs to be overhauled. We have this piece of legislation that’s written by the government that attempts to dictate what our identity is and how we’re supposed to live our lives. This is completely flawed,” he said.
“If there’s going to be a piece of legislation that’s written about our peoples then it needs to be written by our peoples.”
He points to the fact that the department of Aboriginal Affairs never being led by a First Nations person as another flawed part of the system.
“It just doesn’t make any sense. If there’s going to be a department of Aboriginal Affairs it should be headed by an aboriginal person and furthermore it should be someone who’s elected by the people. That way this department is actually representing the interest of the people it’s supposed to,” he said.
The march has been picking up steam and gathering awareness as it rolls along. Grassy Narrow’s Edmond Jack joined the walk when it came through his community two weeks ago. No stranger to walks, he recently marched form Grassy Narrows to Toronto, Jack said he felt he needed to raise awareness that change is needed.
“I hope a lot more people will stand up and take action because this whole thing, it’s not going to be automatic. It’s not just going to happen when we get (to Ottawa). This is just the first step to making changes,” Jack said.
There are currently four main marchers taking turns in groups of two as they make their way to the nation’s capital in time for Labour Day. Baskatawang said they hope to have a rally there with not First Nations from all over Canada but people in general. The issue is one of social justice and fundemetnal human rights.
“I think this is something the whole country needs to be involved in,” he said.
To get involved visit the group’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/March.4.Justice
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