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