Idle No More: more than protest is needed for progress

Theresa Spence wants to meet with the PM. But for what?

A First Nations member waves a flag on Parliament Hill. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Clarity and detail, I realize, can’t reasonably be demanded at a demonstration. Walking around Ottawa’s “Occupy” encampment last year, for instance, I asked the occupiers what they were against, and “greed” was a common answer. Up on Parliament Hill this afternoon as this winter’s first real snow fell, I asked “Idle No More” protestors what they wanted, and “justice” came up a lot. Hard to know what to make of those answers.

I don’t mention this to disparage either group. In fact, I think the Occupy movement, despite the fuzziness of its aims and prescriptions, accomplished something significant by elevating income inequality as a serious topic the broader economic policy debate. Perhaps the recent upwelling of discontent among First Nations represented by Idle No More will, given time, similarly coalesce around some theme worthy of greater prominence.

So far, however, there’s no sign of that. Idle No More came to wide attention  began (comments below rightly correct me on the movement’s Saskatchewan origins) as a social-media-driven expression of frustration by aboriginal youth. But if today’s lineup of speakers on the Hill is any indication, mainstream figures have successfully honed in. Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, claimed pride of place in speaking last. He was, as usual, vague and overblown. Atleo’s big rhetorical flourish was to claim that Canada says aboriginals “do not exist as a people.” His focus was tighter on a few points, however, notably his demand for attention to the horror of “murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.”

That’s clearly an important matter to raise. So are some of the other issues associated with Idle No More. For instance, some First Nation people no doubt have particular concerns about the Conservative government’s changes to environmental regulations. Some object to how the omnibus budget bill, passed before the House broke for the holidays, streamlines the voting process a reserve must follow before leasing land to non-natives. But narrowly framed issues like these, though important enough, must matter less than underlying bitterness over the poverty that blights too many First Nations communities.

That so many natives, especially in remote places, don’t have jobs or even the prospect of steady employment seems to be behind the hunger strike that Chief Theresa Spence is staging not far from Parliament Hill. She’s from Attawapiskat, the Northern Ontario reserve where substandard housing, and the related questions about mismanaged band finances, drew national attention last year. Complicating the picture is the fact that Attawapiskat isn’t far from a thriving diamond mine. “Land and natural resources,” Spence wrote in an open letter, “continue to be reaped by the federal and provincial governments through taxation of corporate resource companies with little compensation to First Nations for use of our traditional territories.”

She demands a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But to ask for what exactly? Harper can be fairly accused of too often avoiding face-to-face encounters (the provincial premiers haven’t been able to coax him to their table), but he did attend a summit of First Nations leaders last January, and by all accounts took those discussions seriously. It’s hard to imagine him agreeing now to a meeting with a far less certain agenda, in far more emotionally heated circumstances. That’s not to suggest the woes behind Spence’s individual action, and the broader movement she’s partly inspiring, are not urgent. The question is how to move from nebulous protest to purposeful negotiation.

To merely express sympathy with Idle No More would be patronizing. Speakers on Parliament Hill today mentioned past moments when protests put First Nations’ issues briefly in the public eye—the 1990 Oka crisis, even 1974’s Native Caravan. These were raised as inspiring memories. But all I could think was how publicity in the past didn’t solve any problems. For this time to be any different, leaders will have to emerge who are more interested in arguing for concrete solutions than in organizing public events.




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Idle No More: more than protest is needed for progress

  1. Harmony and Peace are lovely thoughts , and I`m sure most of us long and dream of the day when we can all stand together as true equals doing what we know is right for ourselves and for our precious Mother. There are however, many obstacles that need to be overcome before our hard work can bear fruit. As long as men in power, are corrupted by that power, there will be no lasting effort, as long as we sit outside the corridors of power and government, change will be excruciatingly slow in coming. Many of us have lost faith in our governments and leaders and not without reason. Keep in mind though, that injustices, however we perceive them, are just more of the same human failings that mess everything up, after all , to err is human, and to be honest, pointing fingers and laying blame is very easy. It is my belief, that not until those among us, who truly wish to make real differences in this world, rise up and occupy the corridors and positions of power to facilitate real change and that only on those days to come, will we begin to see dreams of peace, equality and healing manifest. Start by backing the right people and get them to office or get there yourself and remain honest and true to ALL the people of this great land on your rise. Make your voices heard loud and often as a beacon of hope that shines to guide us all to better tommorows. Its the only sensible way. You will all know who to vote for, or to whose house we need to carry the torches of change. That, or waste it, and just burn it all to the fucking ground. Lets hope common sense prevails. Say a prayer for those who have ears but will not hear and then say another for those who can see but are blind. Idle no more and work hard together towards a unified commitment to make this world better for Every One and Every living thing.

    • That was vague. “Say a prayer”…. Wishing doesn’t help either. Your passion is unmistakable and your aim admirable. But in the article there is a reference to income inequality. This exists simply because some people try harder than others or because some have a natural talent for things others are willing to compensate them for. Your idea of common sense is shaky if your solution to not getting your way is to ‘burn it all to the ground’.

      • That’s not our issue Dave.

        In Victoria BC it was mostly white people who came to support us. Here’s why:

        Harper’s unconstitutional FIPA treaty allows China through recently
        acquired Nexen to destroy the environment and sue anyone who protests it
        or tries to enact common sense protection. Harper legally exited the
        Kyoto Protocol Dec 15th and removed the protection of over 2.5 million
        lakes and rivers Dec 5th.

        This means Canadians no longer have free democratic choice when it
        comes to these destructive developments that Harper has allowed into our
        country. Bill C45 removes our treaty right to consultation concerning
        these land developments on our territories. They are the only thing
        protecting your children’s future.

        This is called investor arbitration, and Osgood Law Professor Gus Van
        Harten let me know that this isn’t only happening here – around the
        world lawyers are making millions off enabling the destruction of the
        environment in countries such as Madagascar. 450 case so far have been
        settled in an international court in the past year alone – up from
        around only 34 since the 90′s.

        It’s an international problem, and we are defending not our our
        future, not only your future, but if we win we our sovereignty and have
        Harper deal with us nation to nation as originally intended by the
        treaties, we can prevent these environmentally destructive and
        unconstitutional developments.

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • 6.8 billion a year, New Brunswick gets 8 billion a year for it’s public. Our population is the same size as New Brunswick.

      • OK, but you also are recipients of stuff that goes to provinces along with non-aboriginals, since you are also 100% Canadian. Therefore, aboriginal folks are getting double what the average Canadian gets, since they get the first nations money as well.

        • Different jurisdictions: the federal government is responsible for First Nations and Inuit not the provinces, so the provinces spend less or maybe nothing on them, I’m not sure. No way can you claim aboriginal people get double.

          In fact, for things like education, all governments tend spend less on education for First Nations and Inuit. See what the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has to say::

          http://www.chamber.ca/images/uploads/Proposed_resolutions/2012/EN/24-First_Nation.pdf

          http://www.chamber.ca/images/uploads/Resolutions/reso-letters/2010/J.%20Duncan%20-%20signed%20Ltr%20and%20Resos%20-%20Nov1710.pdf

          • It’s simply not true that you are ONLY aboriginal and thus get ONLY what they are spending earmarked for aboriginals. You also get 100% access to any social programs, services, rights, etc. of being a Canadian. Don’t pretend that others are forcing you into an apartheid, it’s totally voluntary and you are 100% Canadian so you are part of the people you oppose, as well. Aboriginals are on both sides, they are part of the mainstream PLUS they get the extras of being aboriginal.

          • OK, I am not aboriginal but have studied their history. You are ignorant of the ways in which our governments spend our money. In Canada the provincial governments are responsible for education and healthcare and social program spending for non-aboriginals, but the federal government is responsible for education and healthcare and social program spending for aboriginal people.

            Aboriginal people do not get more than you do from all of the various levels of government, and if you had bothered to read my links you would see that they actually receive less than most of us do from the various levels of government. They are being short-changed. This has to stop.

          • Holly, if aboriginals live in a city, they don’t go to some inferior strictly-aboriginal school, or inferior aboriginal-only hospitals. Sorry, but they just don’t. Feds are responsible for providing these services for natives on reserve. In the city, they are like everybody else, and access services like everybody else, PLUS they get extras paid that are race-based and not needs-based. “Idle no more” likes to throw the word “ignorance” with anyone who doesn’t swallow their rhetoric wholesale, but some of us actually do know what we’re talking about. They really do get more from the federal government, so if you are looking for ignorance, check out your mirror. You sound like a nice person but you’re not as well informed as you think you are.

  3. Hmm, bad journalism.

    You misrepresent the history of #IdleNoMore. Four women from Saskatchewan, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean, started what has not become an international movement. Check out http://idlenomore.com/ and get the real goods instead of spreading your obviously uninformed and very male opinion, please?

    • An international movement? Perhaps an international bowel movement.

      • San Fran, LA, UK, Ukraine, Egypt… here in Victoria it was mostly white people who came to support us.

        • A lot of “settlers” took part in Saskatoon, too. “We are all treaty people.”

          • You as much as I, are Canadian. I was born here and my family came here many years after the injustices against your people so I don’t prefer to be constantly referred to as white. I will not be a tourist in my own country, you either stand with me or against me.

        • I don’t care if the people who came to support you are pink with purple polka dots.

      • San Fran, LA, UK, Ukraine, Egypt… here in Victoria it was mostly white people who came to support us. Here’s why:

        Harper’s unconstitutional FIPA treaty allows China through recently acquired Nexen to destroy the environment and sue anyone who protests it or tries to enact common sense protection. Harper legally exited the Kyoto Protocol and removed the protection of over 2.5 million lakes and rivers Dec 5th.

        This means Canadians no longer have free democratic choice when it comes to these developments. Bill C45 removes our treaty right to consultation concerning these land developments on our territories.

        This is called investor arbitration, and this isn’t only happening here – around the world lawyers are making millions off enabling the destruction of the environment in countries such as Madagascar. 450 case so far have been settled in an international court in the past year alone – up from around only 34 since the 90′s.

        It’s an international problem, and we are defending not our our future, not only your future, but if we win we our sovereignty and have Harper deal with us nation to nation as originally intended by the treaties, we can possibly sign treaties with other countries and maybe even individual people to empower them to legally fight back.

        • I don’t care if the people who came to support you are pink with purple polka dots.
          Your comment is a childish and simplistic rant. You wouldn’t know what democracy is if it hit you in the face.

  4. Wow. This is a good piece. I’m pleasantly surprised. Nice job.

    • That’s good enough for me. If NE”s for it I’m agin it.

    • In Victoria BC it was mostly white people who came to support us. Here’s why:

      Harper’s unconstitutional FIPA treaty allows China through recently acquired Nexen to destroy the environment and sue anyone who protests it or tries to enact common sense protection. Harper legally exited the Kyoto Protocol Dec 15th and removed the protection of over 2.5 million lakes and rivers Dec 5th.

      This means Canadians no longer have free democratic choice when it comes to these destructive developments that Harper has allowed into our country. Bill C45 removes our treaty right to consultation concerning these land developments on our territories. They are the only thing protecting your children’s future.

      This is called investor arbitration, and Osgood Law Professor Gus Van Harten let me know that this isn’t only happening here – around the world lawyers are making millions off enabling the destruction of the environment in countries such as Madagascar. 450 case so far have been settled in an international court in the past year alone – up from around only 34 since the 90′s.

      It’s an international problem, and we are defending not our our future, not only your future, but if we win we our sovereignty and have Harper deal with us nation to nation as originally intended by the treaties, we can prevent these environmentally destructive and unconstitutional developments.

      • Having lived in Victoria recently I was never impressed with the knowledge of indigenous issues possessed by White people there – many (wrongly) refer to Victoria as “unceded” land (it was in fact ceded in Douglas Treaties).

        Essentially, Dallas, you wish to extend the duty to consult to virtually everything the federal government does – Canadians don’t support this and neither do courts.

        FIPA calls for a binding dispute resolution system, just like NAFTA & many other trade deals. There is nothing to suggest this will automagically translate to widespread ecological damage – that is scaremongering. They said the same thing when we negotiated free trade with the USA and it didn’t happen.

        The irony is that #idlenomore protesters call for the continuance of a deeply racist system of apartheid, actually apartheid on steroids. Obviously many Canadians find this abhorrent and shouldn’t be accused of racism for opposing a deeply racist system.

        • ironically since your post about ignorance. The dispute mechanics of this FIPA and NAFTA ( or indeed most if not all of our other FIPAs) are not the same at all. Do you ever not shill for the Tories or establishment orthodoxy?

  5. People want access to the system….. equal opportunity….simple enough

  6. Now if Canada can be progressive and protest in the middle of frozen winter, I’ll give them a medal.

  7. Unfortunately, you have not taken the time or made the effort to understand the history that has provided the kindling for a movement sparked by Bill C-45. Centuries of racist assimilationist policy enforced by colonizers has led to the days of action which culminated in the protests across Canada today. Do you really expect anyone to be able to take the time to sit down and educate you during a protest rally? Your article does a disservice to indigenous people and their supporters across the country. It trivializes #idlenomore, just as the media trivialized and demonized the #occupy movement.

  8. This is a bit of a surprise from JGs, who’s usually pretty empathetic on justice issues.
    I will say this though. I see FNs out there braving the elements and protesting C45…just where are those apathetic , complacent non Aboriginal Candians? And this time we cant blame the opposition pols; they have been out ahead of the public on this.Personally I’m immensely proud of these guys.
    JG, could you do a post expanding on the changes to the IA in this bill that has upset Aboriginal Canadians? Just what does this “streamlining ” of land leasing to non natives entail?
    You must admit the optics aren”t that good.

    • That`s good enough for me. If kcm`s is agin it I`m for it.

      • Is that news? It’s a free country. Edmondsons views are so reliably. neo- con they’re as predictable as snow in winter, or your witless sarcasm

    • I think the issue is that Canadians don’t agree with everything that is being protested!
      We may be apathetic but I believe that we’ll come out when we feel strongly towards something. The protest just has too broad an agenda for me, I don’t support all the parts which makes me unable to support it as a whole.

      • Sure we NAs probably don’t agree with everything FNs want. But is that a good reason to not support them I areas you do agree with them? No one is forcing anyone to support their whole agenda. Does not supporting all your parties platform stop you from voting?
        In any case most of my scorn is for those NA Candians who don’t like C45 either, but do little about it – like me for instance. However this protest has energized me. Thank you for that Aboriginal Canada!

    • You’re assuming that indigenous protesters are infallible, perfect gods whose cause is unassailable and perfectly just. They’re not.

      They make mistakes, are occasionally ill-informed, and are fair game for criticism just like the rest of us. The fact that the otherwise knee-jerk lefty Geddes seems not especially supportive of this movement should be a red flag to you, my anonymous no-face-pic friend.

      • I’m assuming nothing – that’s your bag actually. I’m just lauding FNs for getting off the couch to fight for their rights

        • Vague support for vague, unspecified rights that you haven’t taken 5 minutes to educate yourself about – okay. That’s precisely the point Geddes is making. Any clown can tape a placard to a hockey stick and complain vaguely about vague “rights” that are vaguely and allegedly being violated – it doesn’t make them righteous.

          But I could be wrong: kindly tell me which specific right contained in which specific body of law you believe is being violated. Or which treaty is being violated. I won’t hold my breath.

          Bonus question: which treaty covers Parliament Hill? And why is it still under land claim despite the existence of a nearly 200 year old treaty that is still in force?

          • Are you seriously suggesting FNs need to educate themselves on their rights? Have you ever been on a reserve, spoken to a chief perhaps ? I suspected you were a fool… But honestly.

          • kcm has been on a reserve and spoken to a chief.

            That will make him an expert on this file.

          • I’ve lived on a reserve for a couple of years; educated myself about FNs issues.There’s a reserve across the river from my house …no expert for sure…and what qualifies you to have an opinion?

          • Yeah, that’s what I thought, you have no clue what they are protesting about, or what they want, or which treaties they allege are broken. You see people protesting against Harper and knee-jerk support them.

            I took the time to educate myself on indigenous issues – you can too.

          • Pretty sure I know I damn sight more about why they’re unhappy than you appear to bud.

          • You have said nothing that demonstrates that you know anything about this issue. Quit bragging about how knowledgeable you are; no one believes you.

        • Getting off the couch is a start.

  9. It’s such a shame that someone like you who has the moral and professional responsibility to honor Truth , shows such an absence of understanding, complete ignorance and a clearly biased opinion….not to mention your lack of compassion for our First Nation brothers and sisters.

  10. Geddes is doing a reality check.

    Spence is not Gandhi.

    She has been part of the Native governance that has mismanaged the funds paid to her peoples—I feel no different about her now that she is fasting then when she was accepting the transfer payments to her community. If she feels those funds were managed properly then she should be accountable. If she has mismanaged, then she should be replaced.

    I feel badly for those who are living a disadvantaged life on the reserve because of the poor decisions made by Native affairs and Native governance.

    I don`t feel badly about Spence or Atleo or their supporters who believe the answer to their protest about greed and justice ultimately comes down to the transfer of more taxpayer money into their hands. That has not helped the disadvantaged up to now—there is no reason to think it would happen now.

    • The court decision gives the lie to this post. Were you sleeping through it, or is being obtuse your permanent default position?

  11. Maybe I’ve missed something — but among the native groups I’ve seen here in SW Ontario the biggest obstacle to progress is that native children are taught from the cradle that they’re victims — nothing is really their fault because the white man has stacked the deck so there is no chance they’ll succeed. They’re owed a living because their ancestors used to live on land they no longer possess.

    • But isn’t something like # Iddle NoMore the very antithesis of victim hood ? I think that’s principally what JGs may have overlooked here.

  12. I am tired of hearing same bs from the natives…stopcomplain and start doing better for yourselves! You get handouts after handouts just attend school and many drop out! You complain about the conditions on yiur reserves that you police, then complain if we intervien! Get loans from the government at 0% interest to build a house (because any loaning institute knows better) then they never get completed so you dont have to pay the loan back…where did all of your pride go? I guess the ones know and want better leave the reserve!

    • I have a loan with a bank, built a $200,000.00 home 2 years ago…we pay $900 in mortgage a month..because I worked hard and saved $80,000.00 to knock my loan down to $120,000.00. I have a beautiful home!! I worked hard, and didn’t borrow a f$&king penny from your government!!!!! I own a business and saved for years!!!!!!!! How dare you insult me, how dare you assume anything about me. Ignorant fool!!!!!!!

      • last time i drove through a reserve, 80% of the homes were not complete! Simple observation! $200k home on a reserve, please! Like i said, the ones that want better leave the reserve!

  13. This piece of writing is so badly misinformed, and so poor a representation of the facts and issues, that it cannot be accurately called journalism at all.

    You have an obligation, as a nationally published writer, to read C-45 and all of the associated acts which are amended; to read the information supplied for all to see at http://www.idlenomore.ca; and to understand, in order to clearly express the actualities of the matter. To continue to do otherwise is not only irresponsible, but reprehensible as well.

  14. Progress or evolution as the cons would so simply deny. Thank-you.

  15. I Love love love how even with a majority the cons continue to whine. Serious personality disorder.

  16. Anyone who has lived close to a reserve knows that the band council and the chief are the only ones that get any of the money the taxpayers/INDIAN AFFAIRS give them!! This movement is the band council trying to stop the government from managing who actually gets the money ! If you want to know who is on the band council take a drive to a reserve nea4 you and see who is driving a new pickup truck!!!!

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