By Rachael Petersen
Thousands of people across Canada mobilized December 10 under the banner “Idle No More” to protest the effects of current and proposed government policies on the nation’s indigenous peoples.
While it has received little mainstream media attention, Idle No More has capitalized on social media networks to spread information about the widespread rallies, protests and roadblocks, causing the hashtag #idlenomore to trend on Twitter in Canada last week.
The rallies, which continue to take place in major cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary, are the broadest expressions of discontent from First Nations that Canada has seen in years.
The movement has been deemed by some as “Native Winter,” in the style of the “Arab Spring” revolutionary wave that overtook the Middle East beginning in December 2010.
In one of the more high-profile actions of the Idle No More movement, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike, which she plans to continue until President Stephen Harper and Queen Elizabeth II agree to a treaty meeting with First Nations Leaders.
She stated that she is willing to die for her people unless the Conservative Harper government shows more respect for its indigenous citizens. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has offered to meet with Chief Spence. Supporters have vowed to fast in solidarity with Chief Spence and are organizing via Facebook events in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
The Attawapiskat Nation received international attention in October of last year during a winter housing crisis that brought to light dismal living situation of the small Northern Ontario First Nations community. Protestors point out that the Attawapiskat incident is just one example of the Conservative government’s negligence of First Nations’ needs.
A colonial relationship
The Idle No More movement was sparked by events on December 4, when First Nations representatives were blocked from entering the House of Commons in Ottawa to discuss their concerns about Bill C-45, the Harper Administration’s omnibus bill, which has served as the rallying cry for the Idle No More movement.
Also known as “Jobs and Growth Act 2012,” Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian Act without the consultation of First Nations. It includes extensive amendments to more than 60 laws, including the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Fisheries Act and others. Opponents argue these changes violate existing treaties and weaken environmental protection of land and water.
In her powerful and widely-discussed piece, The natives are restless. Wonder why?, Métis blogger Chelsea Vowel points out that this movement goes beyond protesting Bill C-45 to resisting a more systemic state-citizen relationship:
“What it all boils down to is this. Canada has not committed itself to addressing the colonial relationship it still has with indigenous peoples. Canada is in denial about that relationship.”
For up-to-date information about this nation-wide movement, check out www.idlenomore.ca or join the movement’s Facebook page. For images and updates on the campaign, please follow the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society.
The next major Idle No More gathering is set for December 21.