The president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says the Idle No More movement is the result of decades of delays, stall tactics and broken promises by the federal
government to recognize the rights and privileges of First Nations across the country.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said he's fully in support of what he called a "grassroots people's movement" that is the result of "years of pent-up frustration."
He said a vast majority of First Nations leaders are in support of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's protest, which began on Dec. 11.
Spence demanded a meeting between the federal government and First Nations leaders. Last week, the government announced it would meet with leaders on Friday.
On Tuesday, Phillip participated in a teleconference with other leaders in preparation for Friday's meeting, which is expected to include Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He called this week's release of a damning audit of spending by the Attawapiskat band "a classic Harper government smear campaign" designed to discredit Spence and the First Nations community.
Poverty is a fundamental issue for First Nations, and Phillip said it can only be overcome by an improved economy resulting from access to natural resource development in the form of revenue sharing.
Bands have been relying on transfer payments instead of receiving a share of royalties from natural resource industries.
If natives can't regain control over their share of natural resources, "poverty deepens and intensifies," he said.
Among the more than 600 Indian bands across Canada, some First Nations communities, such as the Osoyoos Indian band under the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, have prospered economically in spite of financial difficulty and constraints.
Phillip said many bands lack basic services and the necessary infrastructure needed to help them become more independent.
Putting infrastructure in place requires co-operation from municipal, provincial and federal governments and often takes several years.
In the mid-1990s, the Penticton Indian band blockaded Apex Mountain at the ski hill's main access road, which ran through the reserve. The blockade came in response to a massive expansion that was being planned at the mountain without any consultation or consent from the band, and which the band said would have had significant impact on the surrounding environment.
Phillip said that blockade settled concerns over any future land-use complications, as any further development will take place only through a consultation process and only with the Indian band's permission.
Phillip said he believes this week's meeting is only the beginning for the Idle No More movement, which he said is gaining a tremendous amount of spirit, momentum and solidarity among First Nations and non-First Nations alike.
Not only does the federal government have to be willing to recognize the rights of First Nations, but Phillip wants to see "dramatic and real change" occur or Idle No More protests will continue in the months ahead.