The Meaning is the Message – thoughts on truth, history and Idle No More

As I write this, I’m listening to an Elder speak. He’s streaming live – a digital town hall meeting. He’s recounting his experiences in Residential School as a boy. As his gentle voice speaks I relive the horror. I’ve been hearing these stories for years now and they never get easier.

He’s talking about the babies they burned at school that were fathered by the priests on the young native girls. He’s worried that telling his story will offend his neighbours.

Today there were road blocks across Canada.

Now, I’m not an advocate for these road blocks, I feel there is a chance of putting innocent people in danger and it only fosters animosity, makes enemies of people we want as friends; gives license for violence against indigenous people in the court of public opinion. I understand the arguments for them, but I am still uneasy.

Like the Elder, I don’t want to offend my neighbour. I want to befriend my neighbour. And I want to share my love of the water, the land, the air we breathe. I hope my neighbour will come to care about these things, too. That they will see how it affects us all. However, if standing up and speaking offends you, then I guess we’ll all just have to live with that.


Over the past few weeks we’ve seen animosity grow, hatred and racism reveal itself, unashamed.

But we’ve also seen the good in people, and that has far outweighed the bad.


By now, if you don’t know that Idle No More is about protecting the waters for our children, the land, the air…well, you do now. How we protect it is by honouring the Treaties that Canada was founded upon. It’s like honouring the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in America, or retaining legitimacy as a nation through the British North America Act.

The Treaties are fundamental to the founding and the continuance of Canada as a nation, both legally and spiritually.

So yes, we should all care.

I’m not going to give you a primer of all the issues we face, all the history, you can find that quite easily with Google.

Instead I’m going to tell you a little bit about what this Idle No More movement is really about, so that next time you watch the news, you’ll do so armed with a little more clarity.

First, there are no leaders.

Theresa Spence is not a leader of Idle No More.

Neither is Pam Palmater, or Wab Kinew, or Chief Nepinak.

The four women who founded Idle No More don’t claim leadership.

And these are all good hearted, intelligent, powerful people making huge contributions to the national discourse.

INM is lead purely by the will and actions of the people. Someone has an idea and they go for it. Others join in. It’s really that simple.

Next, these could be said to be the values of Idle No More:


In addition, there is the guidance of the Four Directions: Right Mind, Right Body, Right Spirit, Right Emotions.

When you see any action being taken under the banner of Idle No More that doesn’t fit those qualities then it’s a knock off. It’s just someone using the banner for their own means.

The founders of Idle No More have very few guidelines that they hope we follow, but the paramount consideration is that all things must be done peacefully. After that comes the necessity of education and extending an invitation to all people to join us for the good of all our children’s future.

Back to the blockades. They don’t really follow the spirit of Idle No More, do they? There’s a telling reason why: it was a call from a few of the Chiefs. They have used Idle No More as a weapon. The aim: to cause disruption.

Don’t blame them for it. They are part of an antagonistic system. Their office is an adjunct authority of the Federal government. So what do you do when you want your way if you’re government? You use whatever leverage you have available.

And I’m not saying blockades aren’t legitimate actions of civil disobedience. They are.

But I know the founders of Idle No More would hope folks who want to engage in that sort of thing take their actions under a different name, a different banner. It’s not fair that so few should be able to cause so much anger in the realm of public opinion while using the name of an idea founded on peace.

To put it into perspective:

At the INM round dances and teach-ins, you get hundreds to thousands of people.

At the blockades, you get dozens.

Let’s remember that.

It’s time for another way of doing things. It’s time to let the values we hold dear, that have defined our lives for millennia, to come to the forefront. This is a problem hundreds of years in the making, let’s allow at least a few months for real change to get moving. There are many recourses available: Public opinion, elections, legal, and so on, ways that are relatively new to the process.

We all want to build a better world, a peaceful world, a new world.

We can’t do that using all the old, worn out methods based on fear, anger and force.

Persuasion is a long term, winning strategy.

Sometimes being a warrior means protecting the women, the children, the elders. And the best way to do that is to create an atmosphere of calm, of companionship, of safety.

The women lead us. It’s their time. We should listen.

And we invite everyone to join us.

hiy hiy



If you want to read some of the things I’ve written over the past year, that have in some ways foreshadowed the events we’re seeing now, here you go:

This is What Re-love-ution Looks Like


A Call for Revolution – War is Over

Rise and Rise Again

An Open Letter to Stephen Harper


About the painting: Like this movement, this piece is a work in progress. It’s depicting the 8th fire and okicitaw (9 clan mothers/warrior women during Treaty making). There are 8 figures, the ninth is represented by any female viewer, reminding us that we are all necessary to keep Treaties alive.


20 Replies to “The Meaning is the Message – thoughts on truth, history and Idle No More”

  1. I’m white, by circumstance, and I think your wisdom is too gentle. When I find it in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, the native-white experience is sometimes more truthful. And what I always feel, and say is, Natives should be more forceful. I hope that the ill-named “Idle No More” campaign can win more notice. I can and do support it, as much as possible — it truly is a campaign for all people. With the real Chiefs we have in this bloody contested land, it is hard, but you native lads have some legal grip on the wasting and re-directing of the profits / the goodness of the land elsewhere. God be with you.

  2. I am in awe, then I read what you wrote and I cry, not for sadness or pain but humility, pride, honor, appreciation, beauty, expression, love, respect, giftedness, and that warrior inside of me that knows there is a better way!

  3. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote what I’m about to post in fear of what my peers will think.
    As we grow as a person, a tribe and Canadians. We should take into consideration each one of are own actions on a daily basses. Strive for the best in ones self before you head out to the road blocks and round dances and ask yourself have I done what is best for Mother Earth today? As you throw your cans, cups and fastfood waste out your car window or butt your Cigarette on ground. Maybe some of us should use the energy we have in cleaning are own back yards and be Thankful Mother Earth has been this understanding! The best way to take a stand is by setting an example for Our Children and Grandchild Keeping Mother Earth Clean starts at home! So show your true love for her by teaching the true meaning:
    and Wisdom in your everyday life and we will be able to say We are Proud Nation and have the right to stand a protest! Other wise we look like a bunch of Attention grabbing self rightous Drama Queens. (Just Saying)

  4. For five hundred years Natives have been reaching out to white people and yet there is no willingness on the part of white people to accept Natives. White people speak of tolerating natives. I am from India and I see here in Canada the whites are struggling to claim this land. The Natives don’t have a struggle with that, they and their ancestors offered to share the land with all people.

  5. As I was reading through your article, the word “Awesome” kept flashing through my mind. You are very wise for such a young person. I too, don’t advocate civil disobedience and I think our grassroots movement on social media, or communicating, is the most effective way of bridging our gaps. I too, have hope that all will come to care about Nature through this movement. We have a young man in our community, Jasyn Lucas, who is an artist and I hope you two connect in some way. He’s also a person with a good heart. Take Care, and keep it up.

  6. I am not native, and I am one of the people that was angry and frustrated by the blockades of INM. I dodn’t even understand what it is really. All I saw was anger…again. Then I read what you have written here. You are right, and very wise. .

    The blockades are not the way to gain support. Educating people, without insult will go much farther. Yelling at me at a road blockade will only be met with anger and little respect for the cause.

    I will spend some time researching the Idle No More cause today so I understand what it means. But I am doing it because of what you have said here. Not because of angry blockades. I am doing it out of respect…and love…and from your wisdom.

  7. sorry. I love your article, but I don’t agree with all you say. I do agree with lots of it though. I follow the Seven Grandfathers, and honour the 4 directions, and use my peace pipe with good direction.

    I am involved in the Idle No More Movement, but the peaceful side of it. I was involved in one of the block-aids yesterday. The idea is to let the government know that we have a voice. Not in a bad way, in a good way. The Blockaid yesterday we got 100’s of people out, not dozens. I don’t know the final count, but we had lots of people. We had the Grand Chief, and the Regional Chief of our area, as well as many other Chiefs and bus loads of people to come to the block-aid. And we had lots of non-Aboriginal people joining the rally as they see the real message of our movement. That it is about the future of our Earth, Air, Fire and Water.. the future of our human family. University Professors (non-Aboriginal) came out, youth supporters, school buses of school children…

    We had transports and people honking in support even after having been slowed down for over an hour. We did not stop traffic, just slowed it down.

    Isn’t that the point? To slow down what the economy is doing? We are using the resources and selling them off to quickly with no respect to Mother Earth?

    The Police came and helped us. They shuck our hands, they smudged with us, they made sure that all remained peaceful. Honestly, there was nothing hostile on either side. We handed out information pamphlets as well. Almost every car/vehicle/truck took one. What does this prove? We are being heard as a human family.

    The government will ignore anything that does not make noise. Yes, these bold movements does not coincide with our way of doing things, however, the government is not going to work with our traditions, and way of doing things, SO we have to make them see and hear us. Isn’t it good that we are doing this in a peaceful way? and that we are just trying to slow them down? If this is the “Language” they will pay attention to, then so be it.

    Just because we partake in it, does not mean we don’t follow our traditions.
    Even a parent needs to shake their fingers at the kids now and then. The government need this peaceful reminder that they are not being accountable for their actions.
    Peace and love to ya..

  8. I remember years ago being on a TTC streetcar and having a man from South Africa sit down beside me. He was black and asked if I was native. I said yes, I am. He said, why don’t you people fight back? Take control? You’re too passive. You need to rise up like we did. We fought them in the streets. You’re too peaceful. I thought about what he said to me over the years and wondered why it irked me so much. And now i’ve seen years down the road how those seeds of violence that helped liberate their people have enslaved them once again, back in to poverty, back into being controlled by corruptness even by their own leadership. The United States is another example of the seeds of violence which originally liberated them, continuously haunt them and dominate their society even today. Since the Sandyhook school shooting, over 900 murders have happened throughout the US. Is that what we want for a new reborn society? I don’t think so. People often underestimate the power of peace. It requires more strength and determination, groundedness and consideration in the face of what challenging society brings out in people resistant to change. When a person is also convinced in their mind and their heart, rather being forced or or strong-armed, then their loyalty and support will be that much stronger.

  9. Aaron
    You speak from your heart & soul . I loved your picture beautiful detail. Your such a wise person .
    I support INM . because I agree what they stand for. Your elders will be proud as will your ancestors using peace . I hope & pray one day there will be peace . No more hatred or racism .Are we not the same under the skin we all have a skeleton.We all bleed red blood . Thank you for your words of wisdom . Continue doing what you are doing , believe , be strong , for one day it will happen . Peace .

  10. I wish anyone that has information on the destruction of our land and water would bring all of this information forward, I bet Manitoba Hydro is shaking in their boots right now. Maybe if people were more informed they would all join INM! The Tarsands is a disgrace to even allow to happen, the toxicity from this actually affects the whole world, and nobody is stopping it! THAT IS THE FACE OF GREED!!!

  11. Thank you every one for reading and responding! Education, communication, understanding, these are what I believe INM stand for! I have been following your posts Aaron, thank you for always reminding people about the truth! I truly believe we need to go back to a Matriarchal Society as a Patriarchal society has not worked best for us! It is our healthy mothers that raise our children. I watch my wife with my sons and as much as I am involved with them I cannot match her love, care and concern that she has for them! Together we make good parents, but I recognize her strengths, compassion and gentle guidance that she offers our sons! I believe women are the best keepers of the fire!

  12. Keep trying to clarify the message – I’m having trouble understanding what this is really about because I hear several messages, and when it’s about too many different things, the audience lose focus and leave the room. Sadly, the media focus on conflict because good-natured discussion and respectful debate doesn’t sell. And unfortunately our government and media only reacts if enough people (voters) make a fuss. Occupy government and occupy MP offices – I agree that getting average Canadians mad at INM is not helping the movement.

    One thing I have not seen (maybe I don’t know where to look), is what is “your” vision of 20 years from now, or 40 years from now? Of course, there is no single vision, (just as there is no single one for all Torontonians or Edmontonians), but I would like to see some. I’m not American, but “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while respecting others to do the same” is a reasonable summary for me.

    It seems to me that with any vast problem, whether INM, Israel/Palestine, various conflicts in Africa, Afghanistan, and so on, that we will never be able to come up with something “fair”, because we cannot undo the past, as bad as it may be, to make something unfair to those who are in place by accidents of history. But we should strive to come up with a solution that is “reasonable”.

Share your awesome thoughts!