First a disclaimer. I have no inside knowledge of Idle No More. I haven’t spoken with anyone representing them nor do I know anyone active in it.
However, I believe it may be the most significant political action since the American Civil Rights Movement. Idle No More (INM) is a growing group of First Nations or indigenous people in Canada who have tired of the endless negotiations with the government of Canada carried on mostly through their elected chiefs. Progress is so slow it could fairly be argued that indigenous people are losing more ground than they gain. In fact recent legislation in Canada such as Bill C-45 is a motivating factor in the emergence of INM. Among other things C-45 strips environmental protection away from the majority of rivers and lakes within native territories.
But recent problems are hardly the only motivating factors for INM. Canada has a long, sorry history of mistreatment of First Nations people. The residential schools, the last of which only closed in 1996, are a national shame and disgrace. Indigenous children were taken from their parents, stripped of their language and culture and frequently abused in church administered schools far from their homes. Idle No More has grown out of frustration, mistrust of the dominant white culture and anger at the continual delays and roadblocks to settlement of their land claims.
Idle No More is a grass roots movement wary of their own official leadership, the band chiefs and councils of chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, who speak for them and to the government on their behalf. They are mostly young but include all ages and have generated a groundswell of support among indigenous people across the country both on and off the reservations. Their leadership is articulate, informed and many are well-educated. People like Pam Palmater. That’s Dr. Pam actually. She has a law degree, followed by a Masters in law and a Ph.D in the Science of Law. She’s worked for the Government of Canada and is currently an Associate Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto where she is chair of Indigenous Governance.
And that is where they are now. INM is not looking for a fair share of the pie anymore–if indigenous people ever were. They are concerned with their rights as nations, independent nations. (As an non-indigenous person I can editorialize that they could hardly do any worse than has been done to them by the white colonial society they live under.)
Like most overnight successes INM has been many years in the making. But it has only recently come to public consciousness It has caught our imagination and for many, their sympathy. And it has touched the consciousness of indigenous and non-indigenous people all over the world. It has persuaded me that the most important issue we must deal with is the rights of indigenous people here and everywhere colonialism holds sway. What’s at stake is not only justice for them but perhaps our last chance to save ourselves. Indigenous people want what we all need: a respect for our environment and fairness, justice and equity in our dealings.
Idle No More has left me with a serious question: Is Canada even a legal entity? I actually doubt that it is unless you fully subscribe to the principle that “might is right.”
Finally, as a postscript: I have been to a couple of Idle No More events. They are serious in intent but fun in execution. The spirit is infectious and hopeful. I hope for them and all of us that they keep moving forward!