Idle No More, an exercise in fleeting infamy

A year ago, aboriginal protest captured the nation’s attention


CP/Fred Chartrand

“There are many native Canadians who appreciate the benefits of the schools where they received an education that enabled them to cope with life outside the reserves. How about recounting some of their testimonials?”—Michael Barnes, of Haliburton, Ont., in a letter to the National Post

Fame, infamy, those precious fifteen minutes, that elusive zeitgeist—it’s all so fleeting. A year ago, all at once, aboriginal protest achieved ubiquity. Blockades, flash mobs, court fights, hunger strikes, and a fraught meeting with the prime minister managed to get the country to sit up and, for a moment, take notice of the long-standing and fundamental problems of its aboriginal people.

Idle No More’s massive mobilization of young people, and its fragile hold on the news agenda that seemed so improbable, accomplished at least that momentary eye contact with millions of people who, from dawn until dusk, never otherwise considered the plight of the Canadian aboriginal. Then, in a flash, the country seemed to move on. If there were blockades or flash mobs or hunger strikes, few in the mainstream took notice.

And then, a year later, this morning, Michael Barnes pleaded with his fellow readers in a letter to the National Post. He was responding to the news, reported last week, that 4,000 aboriginal children died in residential schools. “Every now and again, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes out with a gloomy press release recounting aspects of the lives of children educated in residential schools,” wrote Barnes. “Let us hope that another side of the ‘truth’ might be forthcoming.” Plenty of young aboriginals, he continued, had a fine time in those schools. “How about recounting some of their testimonials?”

Barnes is probably correct, strictly speaking, in some way or another. Probably, some aboriginal kids weren’t scarred for life by residential schools. He must have met a few, at least, and that’s why he feels an impulse to write. But what’s remarkable is how he so categorically misses the point. Thousands of people died, but what about the good times?

The aboriginal protesters who blockaded Cornwall’s International Bridge on Jan. 5, 2013 had such high hopes. They were one among myriad protests on Canada’s roads and railways. They had so many eyes watching. Now, their moment has passed, and Michael Barnes wishes the country would stop ragging on residential schools. Happy anniversary, Idle No More.

Globe Pearson Airport’s weather-related precautions meant delays across the continent.
The European Union’s lawyers could find no legal justification for a ban on seal products.
Star Pearson’s eight-hour order that halted departures meant hundreds of cancelled flights.
Citizen Federal cabinet is hiding inventions that might threaten national security behind closed doors.
CBC Pearson’s delays are bleeding into this morning, further frustrating stranded travellers.
CTV A helicopter will observe a fire sparked by a derailed train carrying crude in New Brunswick.
NNW Provincial court judges don’t want to be excluded from consideration for the Supreme Court.

Near Two Canadian women have been arrested in connection with a Mexico City firebombing.
Far Gunmen on different sides of an ethnic war killed 30 Christians and attacked a mosque.


Idle No More, an exercise in fleeting infamy

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • Are you saying they have a left-wing agenda; and Macleans is not reporting it? The horrors……

    • It was unbelievable how not a single “reporter” in this country looked into where Idle No More was getting their funding. The fact that the whole thing was funded by Americans should at the very least raise some eyebrows.

      • Wow…. so I get two thumbs down for asking journalists to do some research? I guess the “progressive” left really isn’t into evidence and knowledge when it proves everything they’re against.


      In the interests of fair play, here’s what John wont tell you – the other pov,
      I found this in under 5 minutes, and make no particular claim to either side. They all sound like commited fundamentalists to me…on both sides. However what’s revolting is JG and the Ezra circus promoting themselves as the voice of the objectively sane.
      You’ve never sounded as much of a conspiracy freak to me then you have here JG.

  2. The only people who were mesmerized by the INM movement were the media who needed something to distract Canadians from the sham of a hunger-strike Theresa Spence had tricked them into breathlessly covering for over a month.

    I also find it amazing how such a protest movement could exist without any actual purpose, and to this day nobody can actually identify what they were trying to achieve. Now I’m hearing it’s about residential schools, again. Which I thought we’d put behind us by paying off the victims and the government apologizing. I guess not. I guess this is just one of those things that the natives will be complaining about forever no matter what the government does.

    • “Paying off the victims”…for god’s sake!

      Nobody…except them and folks who make a minor effort to comprehend history’s mess. Speak for yourself.

      Folks who have had the dubious benefit of genocide be it cultural or literal do seem to have a lot of trouble just getting over it, don’t they. Why can’t they just get over it like you and I!

      • The government did pay off the victims, are you disputing that? The government also apologized.

        There’s no doubt the government of the time made a mistake with residential schools. But they apologized and tried to pay for the wrongs they caused.

        The whole point of an apology is to acknowledge wrong doing. If the other party accepts that apology (which would be implied by taking the money that came with the apology), the civil thing is to put it behind you and move on.

        You, on the other hand, seem to think the fact that the government apologized for the residential schools is an opportunity to demand more from the government. That’s not how civilized people handle apologies.

        • You find nothing objectionable about using the phrase – “pay off” – do you? I do.

          Don’t ascribe crap to me i haven’t said. The apology was long overdue and well said. Victims aren’t “demanding more form govt” they want justice.
          There’s at least one case[ in Vancouver i believe] and probably many more, of residential school victims finally being heard, stories that have been around for many years in native communities, stories of kids being taken out in the dead of night and buried in unmarked graves. Is this just “demanding more from govt”?
          It doesn’t matter anyway, as no responsible competent authority bothers to take the view of half wits like yourself over those who were actually there. Thus the call to investigate and release documents.

          As i frequently point out, imo you’re a moron Not Rick.

          • No, I don’t find anything objectionable about the phrase “pay off”. But that may be because I’m not running around the internet all day trying to find things to be offended about.

            Idle No More has nothing to do with residential schools. It exists strictly to aid American activists campaign against Canadian oil sands developments, while somehow simultaneously supporting Venezuelan oil development. It’s not about the environment, or natives. It’s about aiding a corrupt socialist regime in South America.

          • I do not doubt that Idle no more was a missed opportunity, and was hijacked by other interests.

            I cannot go along with the idea that things are solved, and that deep and abiding change needs to happen. Unfortunately, some of the people who hijacked Idle no More are some of the people that need to be first against the wall to fix things on reserves.

            But c’mon Rick. Idle no More should be in the wheelhouse of the conservative movement. Lack of property rights and disrespect for the sanctity of the family are the cause of most of the problems on reserves. This should be a cause we champion.

          • An embarrassing correction to make the last post make sense. I mean to say that deep and abiding change needs to happen.

          • I’m not saying that things don’t need to change. All I’m saying is that constantly playing the victim card doesn’t help the situation at all. The INM movement claims they want to take responsibility for themselves, while at the same time demanding everybody else take responsibility for everything that’s happened to them since the beginning of time. It’s like asking a credit card company for a credit extension when you’ve never made a single payment on your current balance.

          • Perhaps we should have been quicker with the support and money for the Idle no More movement when it was in its infancy, and the usual suspects and professional activists wouldn’t have been able to hijack it.

            It could have been something great, and a call for real change. Hence the term “Idle no More”. The idea that they could seize their economic rights through political action.

            It could still be that, if we want it to.

          • Cuckoo! Was that corrupt socialist regime responsible for 911 too? It wasn’t the Jews you know.

          • Used in the way you phrased it, the normal generally understood meaning of “pay off” is “bribe”. Definitely comes across as seedy and unsavoury behaviour – not at all the intended recompense for wrongs committed. Unless you are implying the government should NOT have offered this compensation, you may want to use a different phrase. Because a lot of people WILL find it objectionable.

          • Kids of that era died of TB, measles pneumonia and other childhood diseases that would be easily cured today and were in later years. Many of these poor kids came in with scabies, impetigo, lice, malnourished and even rickets from the more troubled reserves. For many the diets at the schools were a vast improvement what they have been existing on. The death certificates being made public will hopefully end this paranoid vision of thousands of native kids being intentionally killed and buried in secret graves. There will not be much credence given to those who had a positive experience in the residential schools in the present climate of litigation and militancy. It’s is not denying the suffering of many of the poor little souls who were brutalized if we also acknowledge that for many the residential schools gave them the foundation to a better life.

          • You are trying to come up with good excuses for the abuses of thousands of children. I guess you think being raped with a full belly is better than going a little hungry. I think you are both wrong and woefully ignorant. Go find a history book and get some education.

          • Look at Mount Cashel. 25 years since the abuse scandal broke; in litigation since 1996 and the victims have been awarded only enough money to keep on litigating. The Govt. placed those orphan boys in that home where they were abused and many who are now in their 60’s will likely never get any real justice.

          • Are you excusing the neglect and abuse I witnessed? I saw these kids in that state. Don’t try to bully me with you “raped with a full belly ” bu11shit. A little hungry?

          • Bully you? Read your comment; all I did was comment on what you said, which surely did not include one word about you witnessing abuse. Not one word. I stand by what I posted in response to you. Maybe you just aren’t good at expressing yourself clearly but you wrote what you wrote — that the children were better off taken away from their families, no matter what happened to them. If that’s not what you meant to say, then why’d you say it? Others here have also tried to correct you but you aren’t coming back at them — so who’s the bully?

          • Hard to believe isn’t it? Little kids coming off the bus covered in lice and suffering from easily treated diseases, thin and in rags.. and then to suffer abuse from those who were to care for them.. And today there are more native kids in foster care in Canada that at the height of the Residential School Era.
            Lady, nobody is try to make up excuses for the molestation and abuse of kids. Why don’t you direct your anger at trying to change the system and help todays kids. .

          • If your comment was misread, I’m sorry for the confusion. You sounded like you think the kids were better off at rez school. No, I’m not surprised that kids in any era can show up with headlice and malnourished, kids of any demographic in certain eras. When my own kids were in school in the Eighties, there were always outbreaks of lice and impetego in the city schools — thank goodness governments didn’t remove all kids who ever caught those highly contagious scourges from their parents. I guess I object to your suggestion that, while you acknowledge the rez school kids were frequently brutalized and left to die, the fact they were taken to schools was somehow beneficial to them. And that I cannot agree with, given what we all know today and the effect the schools have had on generations beyond the kids who attended. In fact, I think it would be better to die of TB at home with my mama’s arms around me than to die of it far from her loving embrace, or anyone who actually cared about me.

          • Yes, there were problems on reserves, which also should not be a surprise given the economic system in which natives are forced to exist. Sometimes if residential schools were run well, it was a better experience than they received at home.

            That generally was not the case however, and there are reports of people being ill fed and clothed, plus lacking proper sanitation in residential schools. The reason why this experience was more common is simple. There was no accountability. No federal oversight, no provincial oversight, and certainly no oversight allowed by native peoples themselves. Good things rot and nasty things grow in the dark.

          • The Commission believes all native deaths from TB, measles, etc., were preventable; that’s the kind of alternate reality they inhabit.

            Don’t ever expect a more balanced and truthful chronicle to ever be presented to the Canadian public. The progressive zealots hijacked this issue long ago and that is why we have never heard of even one positive native experience at these schools and why we never hear from former teachers, workers or administrators.

          • There is no justice to be had other than financial restitution and an official apology as inadequate as those may seem considering the injury incurred. Most of the people who perpetrated the crimes in the residential schools are likely dead and the government in power at the time the abuses occurred is gone. This country has never paid restitution to many of the people it has victimized. For instance, the Chinese who came to our country to build our railways and then paid a $500 head tax to bring their family members or the Japanese who lost all of their property when we put them in internment camps during WWII. Other Canadian citizens of certain ethnic backgrounds were also treated in this manner.

          • I don’t doubt they were. Would you care to point out the residential schools where we attempted to take the [ insert ethnicity] out of the child, or the grave yards where their children lie in unmarked graves?
            My point is not to create a hierarchy of wronged [ we have apologized and we are offering some compensation] but nevertheless cultural genocide is pretty much as bad as it gets this side of the Holocaust.
            Fixing the future is indeed the thing to focus on. But ask any FNs elder if you think you can do that by just “getting over it” and you will receive nothing but a blank stare.

          • You must be aware of Mount Cashel where orphans were given over to the “brothers” by the Govt of Newfoundland and systematically sexually abused for about 30 years before the scandal broke. That Govt has yet to deal fairly with these men either. That is why they continue to litigate.
            When you ask me to name schools where we attempted to take the ethnicity out of a child….perhaps you should do some research into the internment camps on the prairies in Southern Alberta where Japanese-Canadian men, women and CHILDREN were sent after Pearl Harbor. During the winters they lived in sheds with no insulation and little heating. They were victimized for their ethnicity. They had been removed from their homes on the west coast (Vancouver). You really believe that was not ethnic cleansing? You don’t think children died due to poor living conditions?
            I am not suggesting there is a hierarchy of wronged but what I am suggesting is that this history of wronging is not limited to one individual group and for many of the wronged there has never been justice. Finding a way to move forward and live well isn’t “just getting over it”, it is part of surviving.

          • Please don’t put words into my mouth. I haven’t dismissed the suffering of any of the groups you mention. And essentially i agree with you [ as i’m sure do most FNs survivors of RS] that it is the future we have to focus on. But the intentional programme to eradicate the indian from the child is unprecedented in this country[ that does not diminish anyone else’s suffering] and it isn’t the only injustice Aboriginal people have had to endure, not by a long shot.
            I’ve heard many variants of this just join the queue line…my grand dad was Irish and he had to suffer and struggle too. Perhaps you need to do a little research yourself into into how natives have been treated in this country.

          • Guys, guys, you are both right. Guest, you are correct in that vulnerable people were victimised by powerful people. kcm2, you are correct in that the First Nations experienced the most enduring and widespread victimization.

            So you guys don’t need to argue.

          • :D

            Actually my next point was going to be, what are we really arguing about really. I guess i feel there are distinctions and even a scale of suffering – but i see Guests point. Suffering is suffering.
            Oddly enough i’ve always taken PET’s view that we can’t fix the past and we shouldn’t try to fix it by throwing money at it. I think it may have been a mistake for instance to give RS survivors individual settlements rather then community funds. But who am i to judge for them. And now we have done this for some groups we will most likely have to do it for all in fairness.

        • Odd how you like to throw around that word…civilized… on a blog post about natives…just sayin.

          • Why? We live in a civilized society. Or are you making some stupid innuendo that people with conservative viewpoints aren’t civilized?

          • Why am i not surprised you’d react that way.

    • A cavalier dismissal of the Idle No More movement, brought to you by a card-carrying member of the Who Gives A Sh!t movement.

      • I Care No More.

  3. ‘The New Brunswick fracking protests were the frontline of a democratic fight.’ (Guardian, Oct 21/14) It is their land they were/are protesting for. When Premier David Alward decided to ignore the rights of the indigenous tribes of New Brunswick by offering no consultations and just stated the fracking would continue, I felt sure the rest of Canada would jump on the bandwagon of democracy. We didn’t. Why? It’s our democracy too and we are losing it . . a little bit each day.

  4. What sort of shoddy journalist takes his cues from the racist, extreme right drivel of the National Post? A very lazy and unethical one. One that surfs the web all day instead of making calls and interviewing people. A shameful start to 2014, Nick. We expect better from you. Try getting out of the echo chamber being a real journalist – or find another career. Canada’s corporate right has enough mouthpieces and regurgitators.

    • I think you’ve completely missed the point.

  5. Sadly there is a big difference between “paying off” people & justice. IMO money & priveledge do make people mean.
    Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?

  6. I am largely disappointed by the hijacking and the fading of the Idle No More movement. The need of the First Nations people to get out from under the control of largely corrupt band councils and the apathetic bureaucrats of the Department of Indian Affairs is immense. The First Nations on reserves will continue to be disenfranchised and powerless because they lack the very basic rights that other Canadians take for granted, namely the right to own property and the rights of self-determination.

    All resources and power in the reserve system flow downward, first from the bureaucracy of the DIA and then to the band council. Between the two of them, they decide where you live and how you live. Need something fixed in that house you have, which wasn’t built to a provincial standard? Too bad, you are a tenant without any rights to change your residence or withhold rent because you are a tenant without tenant’s rights. You have to wait until someone higher up decides to fix it for you. If you fix it yourself, with your own resources, then you could be kicked out of your house and have it given to the chief’s brother.

    So then we wonder why the First Nations on reserves have so many drug and alcohol problems, when they are infantilized and denied any hope of self-improvement of the welfare of themselves and their families. All the economic incentives on reserves push people to either do nothing and live in hopelessness and poverty, or to leave.

    As for residential schools, the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Those places were hellish for one simple reason. No, it wasn’t necessarily because religious people are evil, as some would like to suggest. You could have placed any group with any ideology you would care to name and they still would have been hell on earth. Why? Residential schools fundamentally disregarded the rights and sanctity of the family. When things went bad in a residential school, there was no ability for parents to oversee or correct what went on there. In regular schools at the time, kids got some harsh treatment and the strap. But what was different in residential schools is that if someone decided to cross the line into outright abuse, and strapped that kid till he bled, there was no way to complain or withdraw the kids from that school. So it is no surprise there was physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. There is no surprise that kids weren’t fed or clothed properly. There was absolutely no accountability for anyone running those schools. So yeah, apologies and cash payments, no matter how generous and frequent are going to solve it. Maybe when the grandchildren of the last residential survivor is dead, maybe then we can start putting it behind us.

    Now, when I say that anyone running a residential school would have created the same conditions, I can say we have a control group. Schools for those declared mentally retarded. My own aunt was taken away from my grandparents, and placed in the care of a benevolent bureaucracy managed by scientifically minded doctors, nurses and other care-workers. Not only did she suffer the abuse similar to that which occurred in the residential schools, but she actually went missing for 20 years in the system before my family was able to track her down.

    The attitude that created the residential school system still exists, and first nations people on reserves are still living under it. The “you don’t need rights because we know best” attitude. It is infuriating.

    • A thoughtful and reflective post on residential schools — thank you for articulating this so well. Residential schools were government-sanctioned (took the problem off their hands) and they took children far from their families, so far the families could never visit, and the older ones less likely to attempt escape. They were terrified and not allowed to speak their own language. And the abuses — violent beatings and rapes — from the very people paid to look after the children. The abuse became intergenerational, with older boys raping younger ones when they arrived. Yes, they were taught well.

      There is neither pay-off nor justice for children who were forced into these circumstances. The nicest people in the world fail to understand why alcoholism and addictions have taken root — well, I guess substance abuse is a way to cope with the reality of multiple rape and removal from the love of family.

      I read a really interesting story in a journal called Saskatchewan History over Christmas about Fred Sasakamoose, the first indigenous NHL player. He was taken away for years to Duck Lake RS, where he learned to play hockey (and was abused). Then he was scouted and sent to Moose Jaw to billet as a hockey player. From there he was called up to the Chicago Blackhawks — the goal of many young Canadian boys — but he quit after one season. He quit because he was tired of being sent away from his family and community. He became chief of his band; he also became an alcoholic. While many look up to him, he never felt pride in his own accomplishments — he said he was a failure. Yet all I think is that he is an amazing survivor of abuse who went on to succeed personally at the top tier — and then quit to make a difference for his people. The guy who wrote the article is a younger relative, who write the piece to thank Fred Sasakamoose for making a difference. I highly recommend it, if you can find it in a library somewhere.

      Moreover, you are correct about taking kids away from family — kids of all backgrounds in orphanages were abused — take little kids away from those who love them, and there will always be predators waiting around the corner. I know an aboriginal social work professor who says that our modern-day foster care system is the new residential school — abusive. And I also know that, following on the heels of the T&R commission, there will be a suit from day students, who also were abused. So no, as you say, it’s not going away — and we ALL need to accept the “truth” of this unsavoury history.

      • The foster system is an even harder problem, because there often needs to be intervention where the parents lose access to their children for the child’s own safety and wellbeing. Often times though social services has been too extreme in taking children away, or could not be bothered to ensure that their placements were able to properly care for that child. Just recently we saw one aboriginal child taken away from a mother in BC who had some problems, and given to a grandfather in SK who starved the kid to death.

        Take a look as well at the case of the old order Menonnites in Manitoba. They had some kids who were acting out, and doing sexually inappropriate things for their ages, so the parents gave them to elders in the community to straighten them out. The elders used physical punishment, but eventually it came out that the father of that family was a sexual abuser. The elders realized they had a bigger problem than they could handle themselves and involved social services. Social services responded by taking most of the children away from the community.

        Now I’m not going to argue that corporal punishment should be encouraged, or that the corporal punishment kids received wasn’t excessive. Certainly, that community needed to change to comply with Canadian law and the rights of the child. But by all accounts the elders have taken the classes required of them, and have agreed to stop the use of corporal punishment. If they have received their children back I’ve heard no reports of it, and they are being given conditions which are impossible, like asking that the children not be allowed to go to church with their grandparents.

        This is an issue that could have been resolved without taking 40 children away for an entire year in my opinion. Likewise, many problems that children have on reserves can be handled without taking them away from their parents. But as long as social services acts the way it does to vulnerable people, running roughshod over their rights as they are doing, then everybody has to recognize that social services are often an enemy rather than a helping hand.

        Hell, social services and the police around here held literal witch trials not too long ago. Like, literally accusing people of satanic ritual abuse. In 1990. Then the provincial NDP covered everybody’s asses, because the NDP always puts public servants first.

  7. Stop judging past Government actions with today’s standard. Decisions were made in the past and that is that. INM, how about going forward and stop trying to extract billions of dollars from the taxpayers of today and play the victim’s ploy over and over again.

  8. 4000 native children did not die in the residential schools. Many children, white and native, died from deadly diseases last century. The Commission includes all these deaths in their numbers.

    Secondly, none of the Commissions work is independently peer-reviewed by outside experts. Instead on a regular basis we hear more outrageous and outlandish claims about what occurred at these schools.

    Lastly, most native children had no contact with residential schools. Like the high number of native children currently in foster care, most residential school children came from dysfunctional family structures. They weren’t ‘stolen’ except in uncorroborated analogies.

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission now disregards truth and balance and instead invents new imaginary horrors to inflame First Nations people.

    It’s sad that the topic of residential schools is a completely taboo area for our reporters to at least attempt to provide a more truthful picture then the academically-generated narrative we have been presented with.

  9. its 90,000 kids…. with a extermination rate 50 % per year to hide the extermination by…
    its demented monarchy news…. your freaks

    its a sound bit to hide lies with…. 4000 sounds good so it becomes your truth….

    and the education we got was good right… again more fanatic sound bites that we never educated our kids….

    getting ride of the Indian problem we discovered this land.flag planting events… extermination… go read your old history books if you can still find them… we are all dead back then..

  10. native Canadians who appreciate the benefits of the schools

    see this is trash sound bite…… that we never thought our kids that we were stupid and needed to be placed in your extermination system…. yet your the ones at the time with an iq of the Taliban…. woman were property of man… imposing your monarchy sharia laws

    see we could resight word for word in English from a wampum made out of seashells yet you could not understand how it was done….

    see your thieves and killers you have no country…. your not a citizen…. you have a work permit from the queen….

    the 4th age ends in greed just like the 3d age did….. your greedy freaks with saliva hanging from your mouth….as you destroy everything…

    and bang the 5th age kick in purifying the earth…. bye bye

  11. Barnes’s comment is deplorable–thanks for making the point, Nick Taylor-Vaisey. But “Idle No More” started months before January 8, 2013 and even had some decent media coverage in the West in the fall of 2012.