War is our Inheritance, Peace is our Promise

"What Do You Hear?" by Aaron Paquette
“What Do You Hear?” by Aaron Paquette

I recently asked a classroom of young adults what they thought of when they considered the history of humanity. Almost in unison their response was,

“War.”

There is nothing great about war, nothing to be proud of. Sure, we can feel pride in the noble actions of individual soldiers or leaders, or the common person faced with incredible odds…but war itself? There is nothing to celebrate, nothing to admire.

What’s more, it is repetitive. War will plant it’s own seeds for future conflicts: old grudges, vengeance, greed, theft and endless justifications.

Intellectually we know this. But behaviourally, we still embrace it. The idea of conflict as a proving ground for our strength is seemingly innate.

Everything is a conflict, a struggle – or war – whether it be against drugs, cancer, terror or nations. And so it goes.

So when we talk about fighting for change, for our rights, for justice…while the ends are desirable, the means are simply a repetition of human historical behaviours.

War.

And so what real change can you reasonably expect when the approach is the same today as it was a thousand years ago?

There actually is a way to effect real change. All it requires is a willingness to change our approach.

We need only to step out of the mesmerizing stream of history and view the world, our circumstances, and what is possible, with new eyes.

What if instead of a battle, a fight, a struggle, we viewed these so-called problems as exciting challenges, puzzles to be unlocked. Instead of cutting the Gordian knot, or despairing at it’s complexity, we instead figured out at last how to loosen it – how to free it from itself. What if we could free the generations to come from the automatic fallback setting of destruction as a way of life?

Well, we can.

But it must be acknowledged that we are up against human stubbornness, we’re up against a wall of pride and anger. The State automatically reacts to the protests of the People with violence. The people respond. Again, with violence. Where is the change possible there? The French Revolution was supposed to have overthrown corruption and tyranny, but the aftermath was an autocracy, a reign of blood and execution, unrest and war.

The American Revolution was to have set the stage for a free and equal Nation, yet slavery persisted and the Indigenous Peoples continued to be slaughtered and shunted onto smaller and smaller parcels of land as their continent was stolen from them. Talk about taxation without representation!

Wherever there is power, there will be men and women willing to abuse that power.

What can we learn from our collectively bloody and unjust past?

We can learn that to become healthy, we must break our ingrained patterns.

And so to stop hate, we must love. And I don’t mean some namby pamby, hippy dippy love. I mean, that’s nice and everything, but I’m talking about actively loving each other in word and deed. We will complain about homelessness but most of us do practically nothing to stop that solvable suffering. Heaven forbid we should give up an iota of our privileged lifestyles to help those who have not been as fortunate as us!

What about loving those who anger and frustrate us. What about instantly forgiving the little vexations of driving, of checkout lines, of differences of opinions. What about loving those who have hurt you, who have taken from you, who have broken you.

Love and forgiveness.

To many people, this reads as rolling over, as giving up, as weakness.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Weakness is the inability to master yourself, the inability to seek your higher and wiser self. Weakness is the failure to identify your contribution to the sorrows of the world.

Forgive, yes. Forget? not until a balance has been achieved.

In Canada, we too have experienced the strong arm of colonialism, of stealing from those you can steal from and blaming them for the result.

In Canada, we too have witnessed the violence of the state, then in turn witnessed the retaliation of the weak who would be strong in a doomed attempt at reciprocity.

In Canada, we are aware that because certain people have a different history and a moral and historical right to the wealth that is gleaned from their lands, that the government instead grinds them to the earth so that non-natives and corporate interests can keep the status-quo in place.

We are not blind to the casual inequalities and abuses that are perpetuated that allow for the maintenance of the status-quo.

Of course, that status-quo is one wherein the Indigenous person is not welcome to their own ancestral inheritance. It has been taken, never to be returned, and damn them all.

And so the war continues.

But we can stop it. We can be victorious in an entirely new way.

Indigenous people who are concerned with irresponsible and extractive, destructive development that is driven not by necessity but by greed, have and will block roads and access to ancestral lands.

These roadblocks are a peaceful and respectful way to protest when all other avenues have been exhausted, when no one listens.

The government will try to foment violence in order to justify their impending and inevitable attack. The media, in their shameful laziness will parrot the government line and the Canadian people end up deceived, played like puppets in a drama built around hatred and fear. This is how it goes and has gone for centuries.

But there are new sources of media, new methods of sharing of information. These sources are wholly in the hands of the people. And Canadians are finally learning the truth.

So what does this have to do with breaking the war cycle?

Knowledge, information, truth…these are the tools. Non-violence in the face of aggression…this is the way to demonstrate the greatest strength there is: self-control and wisdom.

Once you add violence and retaliation from both parties into the mix, instead of an oppressor and the oppressed who are finally standing along with their many good hearted allies, you get just another stupid nightly-news war. Instead of the Egyptian protests you get the Syrian civil war.

When people see the strength inherent in taking the higher road, the harder road, they become inspired, and rightly so. There is a yearning in all of us to reach for something better than today, for a brighter hope for our species and for our generations. When we see others living the way we long to live, centred in their hearts and unwavering in their compassionate strength, we want to help them. Probably because deep down inside something whispers to us that it is helping us as well.

But how do I ask people of so many nations who have inherited lifetimes of pain and hurt to let go of their anger?

How do I tell them that their experiences, if they allow it, have made them more powerful than they know?

I have walked the cold streets, slept in alleyways, and felt the sharp pains of deep and empty hunger. I have felt the bruises, I’ve received the scorn, experienced eyes full of disgust and hatred. I know the shame and the anger and the grey sadness. I know the unending wail of grief that underlies everything.

And yet knowing that, and knowing that the majority of Indigenous people share that experience I still ask: Be the true strength of the world.

Be the example of courage for our children.

Stand in the road, stand in your land, stand for the rights of the natural world, for All Our Relations.

A warrior will fight if all else fails. A warrior will protect. A warrior will give of their last breath if that’s what’s required. I honour that.

A true warrior will do everything possible to ensure that ultimate sacrifice is never required.

Not from themselves, and not from anyone else.

I say to you: love your enemies. Hate is easy, it requires no strength at all. It asks for no wisdom.

Love your enemies. Make them friends. If they will not, that’s their choice. It means they can’t see that we are all connected in the web of life. For that, you can mourn for their blindness because it means their lives are small, unimaginative and empty.

Love your enemies, but do not break before them. Extend your heart, extend your arms in welcoming them into the hoop. You may find that the majority of those who thought they were against you end up being your strongest supporters.

Love your enemies not because religion has told you so, love them because they are your brothers and sisters, love them because to hate them is to poison your own heart, to diminish your own life, to darken your own soul.

Life is harsh, brutish and unfair. You have to be strong to survive. But if you are bitter, then you are brittle and you will break.

War is our inheritance. And it is the legacy of our existence.

But Peace is our promise. And it can be the legacy we leave the world.

We have an opportunity to change everything in this land we call Canada. We have an opportunity to become a revolution that will sweep the world. This is the moment where we choose:

Do I live as I have been living, do I carry on with anger, hate, violence and struggle?

Or do I fill my heart with the Creator’s power, and by so doing give myself the ability to create a new future, a new hope?

Do I claim my power to save this world?

One at a time, person by person, we can all become warriors for the land. And by choosing the path of Creation over Destruction we will redeem the human race.

Every person, no matter their race, colour, creed or birthplace is welcome in this great initiative.

Welcome to the hoop.

We all rise together.

Hiy hiy

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Is There a Future For Idle No More?

Paquette_Feast

We are at a crossroads. People are writing off the “Red Winter” from a year ago…

At around this time last year, the hashtag #idlenomore was just starting to make it’s rounds on Twitter. I made some of the first iconic images for Idle No More. Then the phrase hit Facebook, blogs, news sources and the rest is history. Next thing you know, there are friendly Round Dances in malls and streets around the world.

INM_paquette

As silly as the term “Idle No More” sounded (should I turn off my truck?), it struck a chord with people. There was a feeling that with ecological and political stresses mounting that perhaps we, as a human family had been far too idle.

Although there were many issues at hand, the one that captured people’s attention more than anything was a piece of Canadian legislation that, overnight, rendered over 2 million waterways unprotected by the federal government.

In an era of oil spills, tailings pond leaks, rail disasters and an uncomfortable and overt alliance between the government and resource extraction corporations, this was something that most Canadians couldn’t fathom.

How could it come to this?

And so in a remarkable display of friendship and co-operation, they became Allies to First Nations, Metis and Inuk peoples. They became Allies to the natural world, on which we depend for, well, basically everything.

For possibly the first time in Canadian history, middle class households were talking about the same kinds of concerns that the Indigenous people of the land have been discussing for literally centuries.

All Our Relations
Responsibility to the Seventh Generation
The Sacredness of Water
The 8th Fire
Living in the Hoop
The Missing and Murdered, Our Stolen Sisters

Discussion was happening in coffee shops about honouring Canada’s legal and spiritual founding documents, the Numbered Treaties, the Treaties of Peace and Friendship, the new Treaties and Agreements.

Paquette_Treaty

And news outlets around the world took notice. People from around the world took notice. For the first time, it seems that a shadow was lifted from billions of eyes and the horrifying truth of Canada’s colonial relationship with the First Peoples was made clear.

What Idle No More did was stunning.

And the most perplexing part of it all was…where were the leaders of this movement?

Where was the boss?

And frustratingly enough for journalists and politicians alike, there were none.

There were Four Women who began teaching about the dreaded legislation, hosting sessions, putting the word out, but they didn’t claim leadership. They simply acknowledged themselves as women who felt strong enough to speak. And people listened.

It was a spontaneous movement of like-minded, or at least like-spirited, people who felt the time to stand was now.

I won’t take you through all the events that followed. They are easy to find if you do a simple Google search, but I will mention that it was the first time the Harper Government ™ found itself under siege by the people of Canada. And that is a feeling that has gone on since. Idle No More cast so much light on the government that their secrets began to unfold one by one until today we see scandal upon scandal piling up and pretty soon there will be no more room under the bus. The CPC will have to start throwing their disgraced people in the closet, or perhaps into the now conveniently unprotected waters. Basically, anywhere they can find room at the rate things are going.

Idle No More put so much focus on Ottawa that things just started falling out of the woodwork. And still are.

From the muzzling of our scientists, to the wholesale sellout to China, to constant prorogation, the breaking of electoral and parliamentary law, the Senate Scandal and on and on…the list is weighty and quite shameful. Harper has lost the the benefit of the doubt from ordinary Canadians.

Without the influence of Idle No More, and the way it systematically shattered long held illusions, myths and lies about First Nations, the widely scorned Education Bill this government is attempting to push through might have easily passed. Canadians, however, are watching. And that is historic. The Rex Murphy’s of the land aside, most Canadians are beginning to understand that they’ve been sold a bill of goods when it comes to their understanding of Indigenous politics. They are waking up.

So when we see Shawn Atleo (National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations), whom many would describe as being a little too friendly with the federal government, condemning this legislation, you know it’s got to be a pretty shady piece of business. The fact that instead of properly funding First Nations education the government will just take over as it sees fit, galls more than a few people as a throwback to a paternalistic, Residential School type mentality.

So we can see that Idle No More has already started the process of ushering a new era in Canadian politics. The movement has maintained the philosophy of teaching, forming alliances and bonds of friendship (basically dispelling myths and prejudices with knowledge and kindness) with which it all began.

The website has a great deal of information. You can plan an event and post it there; you can create a seminar or teach-in; or just share important information. There is a robust community on Facebook and Twitter and the work proceeds.

 

Problems

One concern for Idle No More, or #INM as it is known more commonly known, is that without a clear leadership and hierarchy, there’s no sense of strong direction.

While there are the aforementioned events and calls to action, there is no clear roadmap, no sense of building something tangible and measurable. And people do need that. Even without clear leadership, there’s still a need to know and see that it’s all amounting to something.

There are the Big Ideas: No more discrimination, Honouring the Treaties, Following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, building stronger relationships with non-indigenous Canadians, Protecting the Waters and so forth.

But there is very little in the way of a path that takes us from here to that great future.

There is no narrative, no story. No achievable and clear milestones and goal posts to reach along the way.

Instead, there is a constant reaction to the news of the day, the tragedy of the moment. Instead of blazing the trail, Idle No More responds to someone else’s fires.

The result is that you have the die-hards who are aware and trying to right every wrong they see, and then you have the great majority who are often confused as to what they are supposed to do, or what Day of Action is actually important for them to attend…and why?

And so you get the formation of a new group.

Out of their frustration with what they view as the lost opportunity for change that Idle No More represents, a few well meaning and good hearted folks got together and created a manifesto of sorts. Using the INM acronym, they formed the Indigenous Nationhood Movement, also known as Nations Rising.

Obviously, this is meant to utilize the popularity of Idle No More (INM) to help launch their new movement, viewing itself as a natural offshoot. The only problem might be with people confusing the two groups as having similar aims (which for the most part they do), but being unaware that they espouse different tactics.

While Idle No More (INM) is focused on Education and Alliances as a means to long term change, Nations Rising (INMvmnt) would like to see more direct action, an embrace of warrior culture as a means of achieving meaningful, concrete results.

This is exciting for many people who are frustrated with the slow pace of Idle No More. The promise of action sounds much more appealing and Nations Rising is indeed rising in popularity among certain folks. They aim to Reclaim, Rename and Re-Occupy.

With rising tensions in Elsipogtog and the peaceful blockade that has already once been violently broken by RCMP, you can see why this philosophy of empowerment resonates with those who are feeling a sense of frustration and powerlessness. There is a desire to be viewed as strong, as standing firm in the face of colonial opposition and dominance.

However, Nations Rising suffers the same entropic malaise as Idle No More in that there is no sense of forward movement, no uniting vision or plan. There are only Declarations and Guiding Principles, which of course are admirable, but ineffective in leading the way to the proverbial Promised Land.

Possible Solutions

 

Light to the World - Paquette

As you know, Elsipogtog First Nation has formed a peaceful roadblock in New Brunswick. They are concerned about SWN Resources and their plans to hydraulically fracture for oil (a practice that is being banned in many world nations due to it’s long-term, irreversible pollution of groundwater). Many non-indigenous people have joined them at the blockade as this is an issue that affects everyone. The RCMP are stopping more cars from going in, arresting people on a whim whom they suspect of being sympathetic to Elsipogtog First Nation.

This isn’t just an indigenous thing, it’s an us thing, it’s a water thing. At some point we have to take personal responsibility for the land.

Why not now?

Can we all spend at least 5 minutes a day learning and writing and calling and emailing and signing…Can we plan for busload after busload of supporters to go to Elsipogtog?  Remember when Quebec was going to split and tens of thousands of people went to the province to show support, one way or another? Can we show support for our own children and theirs? Can we show support for the long term viability of our survival?

Or are we too jaded and spoiled?

I don’t think that we are.

I ask you to look seriously at the condition of the world and ask yourself if this is not a good time to step up. Ask seriously. Ask and answer.

You know what your true voice will say.

It’s time.

INM_RISE_PAQUETTE_sm

The Future

And so with that as a starting point, where do we go from here?

For starters, there needs to be a strategy. Not tactics, not responses, not a million mini events, but an actual strategy. A strategy that incorporates the vision of both Idle No More and Nations Rising and any other group that has ideas. A strategy that judiciously weighs varying “change tactics” and utilizes them to determine an actual path forward. A strategy that leads, step by step to achievable goals, each one building on the last.

Rather than efforts being spread thin, with everyone and their dog setting up a roundy, there should be singular, important events. Each event should have a clear, definable purpose – a big purpose. For example, rather than just saying ‘no’ to the new education bill, a better bill could be created in co-operation with Chiefs, educators and their communities. Then you go to Ottawa and present it. With ten thousand people literally standing with you.

Instead of reacting to events, shape them.

After that, begin setting the agenda. Bring to Parliament a new understanding.

We can say together,

“We have found our voice. Although we debate and argue and disagree, although we are many nations, each with a long and proud history, although we have differing opinions, we have united for our future generations and for the sake of the world.

“We are speaking.

“And you will hear us.”

 

And that’s how you do it.

Is there a future for Idle No More? I have the feeling that all our better tomorrows may, in some sense, depend on it.

Happy birthday, Idle No More. Welcome, Nations Rising.

And to you, the reader, the ally, the thinker, the real power of nations…

Let’s get to work.

Hiy hiy!

 

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Here’s a little something I dreamed. Maybe it can be brushed off and refined:
A Vision of Indigenous Self Representation and Policy Making

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