The budget blow prompted Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine to call for a national day of action on June 29. Though Mr. Fontaine insists he is not calling for cross-country blockades, many First Nations are already planning them, with talk of a co-ordinated targeting of key infrastructure, from rails to roads. “It's the same notion as a general strike,” Mr. Brant explains with a smile.
If the blockade strategy goes ahead, one thing is certain: There will be rivers of ink spilled explaining that, while native grievances are legitimate, there is no excuse for such disruptive tactics. Protesters will be told they are discrediting their cause, and they will be described as “violent” whether or not violence takes place. Mr. Fontaine has taken this finger-wagging to heart. “Let's face it, if you irritate Canadians, they're not going to listen to your message,” his spokesperson said recently.
Mr. Brant has a different message for non-native Canada — don't just listen to us, join us. He points out that Canadians, even those who tell themselves they support native rights, “still treat them as a government problem.” But that's not how social issues ever gain the kind of critical mass that leads to real change. “The environment is an issue right now because people told the government it was an issue,” Mr. Brant says. “If they said our concerns were an issue, they would be addressed too.”
Right now, everything is lining up for June 29 to be a day for natives to act and the rest of us to whine about late trains and traffic jams. But listening to Mr. Brant, it struck me that it could be something else: a day of action on native rights for the entire country, one when we all refuse to shut up.