I’m sure Canadian families discussed the Idle No More protests over the Christmas holiday.
I can just imagine the so-called hard truths being passed down to so-called naïve and idealistic children, many of which likely went something like this: “Canadian taxpayers have been supporting Native people for centuries; Aboriginals need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get with modern times. What’s done is done; they need to get over it.”
I’ve heard that last statement too many times in my life. It’s the last-bastion argument for those who are either blind to history or simply resentful of any effort to deal with Canada’s wrongful treatment of First Nations.
So much is wrong with this argument; it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m not going to dispel it in detail.
Many native people have already done so, and I’ll let them speak for themselves—from bloggers like Chelsea Vowel to published academics, such as Thomas King, author of The Inconvenient Indian.
So why do I repeat this here?
I do so because it strikes me today that perhaps the most powerful argument against this kind of diatribe is also an environmental one.
Canada’s “land and resources” ultimately made this country one of the richest in the world, but it’s the exploitation of those resources—both past and present—that accounts for many of First Nations’ grievances, and it also accounts for the environmental movement’s main problem with the Harper Government.
The much-maligned Bill C-45, which was recently passed by the Canadian Senate, is a barely concealed attempt to aid further exploitation of those same resources, by loosening environmental regulations and speeding up assessments.
An open letter signed by a long list of both First Nations and environmental groups, and posted in November by Ecojustice, put it this way:
The changes proposed in this omnibus bill would further weaken Canada’s environmental laws, remove critical federal safeguards, and reduce opportunities for the public to have their say about major industrial projects that could threaten the air, water, soil and natural ecosystems on which all Canadians, and our economy, depend.
Now, if we compare these concerns with those laid out in Idle No More’s Manifesto, it becomes very clear that these are not just First Nation grievances; they should deeply concern all Canadians. And these are not merely “historical” grievances that we should all just “get over.”
The issues that are galvanizing First Nation groups in Canada are in direct response to the exploitative treatment of the land in this country, and to the inequitable treatment of any group of people who just happen to get in the way.
The current government is accelerating industrial development throughout the country—from the tar sands in Alberta to the pipelines and super tankers carrying that oil to a world market. For those with a long view of history, these developments are best understood as a continuation of our colonial past; an unsustainable and inequitable treatment of the land and resources we all hold so dear.
That is why the Idle No More protests are so fundamentally important, and why all Canadians should take up the cause.
Fraser Los is the editor of thegreenpages.ca.