(Photo Courtesy of Tanya Eagle Speaker)
A movement started by a group of women in Saskatchewan who wanted to inform their aboriginal brothers and sisters of the consequences of Bill C-45—which they say is an attack on aboriginal land and water rights—has grown into a national call for action. Idle No More is rising among Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and their supporters, from decades of lacking control and consultation over educational rights, land rights, treaty rights and the health and safety of First Nations people.
The movement has been taken on by hundreds of thousands nationwide in the forms of protests and campaigning over social media. Idle No More is a reaction to the lack of action taken to address the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and the fact that aboriginal women are twice as likely to be violently murdered. It is a reaction to the Canadian government failing to provide documents obtained from church groups relating to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and a failure to produce documents on residential schools from any other ministry outside of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is not any one thing, but decades of outright ignoring of a specific group of people.
First Nations People are no longer willing to tolerate decisions made by the Canadian Government without consulting them, and both young adults and elders are forging a unified voice to inform the government they are not going to tolerate active ignorance.
Action was seen throughout the middle of December in the form of rallies, round dances, blockades, marches and flash mobs. December 21 saw a national and international day of peaceful action in Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto, Prince Albert, Winnipeg, Whitehorse, Denendeh, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Sudbury, Sioux Lookout, Peace River, Prince George, Iqaluit, Owen Sounds, Vancouver, Victoria, Hamilton and many other cities across the country including small cities like Lethbridge and High Level, as well as towns that populate reservation territory like Standoff and Brocket in southern Alberta.
Idle No More grew because of a grassroots movement to communicate the needs of a people to the Canadian Government. While tribe councils have issued statements in support of Idle No More, it is their citizens that galvanized the official reaction. Myron Eagle Speaker, a recently elected councillor with the Blood Tribe Council in southern Alberta notes, “The Blood Tribe is going to take a stance against Bill C-45. We figure that with Facebook and Twitter, and if [reaction] was going to run rampant, we don’t want our people to get scared and start panicking, so we called for a teach-in and had a number of people come out.”
Eagle Speaker also noted that the grassroots nature of the campaign is critical and it is band council’s role to act in support. “We’re working side by side, recognizing them for their efforts organizing the peaceful protests and supporting others in different communities,” he says.
Social media platforms are being used to unify events across Canada, and spread information about the movement. It is also being used to put pressure on council governments to respond to the campaigns and protests, and to show action in solidarity with Idle No More. Eagle Speaker and other Blood Tribe Council members felt the need to put out a release in order to address some of the criticisms about the lack of action from elected members.
“We were the front runners in making that statement. Monitoring Twitter and Facebook, only now do I see other nations putting out statements as well,” says Eagle Speaker. “The government is saying they did consult, but the question has been asked if there were any consultations to let us see it in writing and none of that has come forth.”
As noted by Waubgeshig Rice, who is involved in Idle No More, it is this lack of consultation for years and unilateral action on behalf of the federal government that has pushed aboriginal people to the point where it is clear meetings and panel discussions with government officials have gone unheard. For many, Bill C-45 was simply the point where it became clear action was necessary.
In an open letter, the Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo called upon the First Nations community to work together in solidarity, and for the Government of Canada to meet with the Assembly to resolve these issues. It is clear from all comments from aboriginal leaders that solidarity and unity is the first objective.
Idle No More is bringing people together. This is echoed in Chief Theresa Spence’s desire to see peaceful, unified action. In the Attawapiskat First Nation chief’s commitment to fast until Prime Minister Harper meets with her, she remains steadfast in calling for peace, though she does recognize that if her fasting leads to her death there will be a great deal of anger. She told news organizations, “If I die, things might get bad. Back home, there’s been talk of people shutting the mine down, there’s talk of roads being closed. We want peace, but we can’t control what happens if things get worse.”
Alberta has taken a leadership role in this movement, with members of bands throughout the province holding multiple rallies, teach-ins, round dances and road blockades. Both in southern and northern Alberta, where land loss and resource development have caused health concerns, water contamination and a loss of rights over traditional land, highway blockades are being used to get attention and demonstrate the urgency of these issues.
Grand Chief Charles Weasel Head issued a statement on behalf of the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs Executive of Treaties 6, 7 and 8: “We are in prayer and support of Chief Spence in her sacrifice to bring attention to the plight of First Nations in Canada and for the reconciliation of our inherent and treaty rights and title. We need to be meaningfully consulted and have free prior and informed consent on any legislation impacting First Nations. It’s so sad that Theresa feels she has to resort to this extreme measure to make this assertion, but that is why, more than ever, we must stand together in solidarity in order to move forward to ensure our rights are protected.”
The Blood Tribe made Harper an honorary Chief, giving him the name “Chief Speaker.” When his title was bestowed, Weasel Head commented it was because Harper, “Speaks as the chief. His words are words that come from his position.” For many Blood Tribe members, Harper’s decision to remain silent during Idle No More and his lack of communication with Spence has brought dishonour to this name and to the honour inherent in becoming an honorary chief.
Idle No More was galvanized by Bill C-45, but it doesn’t begin there or end there. It begins with a desire to see change and to simply be heard—to be acknowledged as a community of people who have autonomy—with rights that need to be respected.
Originally published December 22nd, 2012 in VUE Weekly Issue #897.