I’d like to introduce you to a powerful movement happening in our neighbor to the north. It’s called Idle No More, and it began as a movement among Canada’s many First Nations groups.
A bill called Bill C-45 was introduced by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper under the legislation category of Jobs and Growth; this so-called jobs and growth includes the expansion of tar sands production on protected lands and waterways. These lands and waterways are primarily on and near First Nations reservations and therefore Bill C-45 violates treaties that were signed between the Canadian government and First Nations leaders over a hundred years ago. What’s more, Prime Minister Harper has refused to discuss the environmental impacts and treaty violations of Bill C-45 with those who oppose it. Theresa Spence, the Chief of the Attawapiskat Nation in Northern Ontario has made an effort to meet with Harper for months to discuss the promises that he’s broken. His harsh refusal induced Spence to endure a hunger strike, which went on for 43 days and just ended as some political progress was made. Her protest has received international attention. A Canadian Parliament Member and representative of Aboriginal Affairs named Jean Crowder remarked on the situation, saying:
“...[I]n January the Prime Minister promised to work with first nations and to consult with them before introducing any policy changes. He broke that promise with unilateral changes to the Indian Act in Bill C-45.
On December 10, grassroots organizers of Idle No More will be gathering outside the constituency office of the Prime Minister, demanding more accountability from the government.
During these education funding negotiations, will the minister commit to a clear, open and honest process?” Source: OpenParliament.Ca
The history of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada is very similar to that of the Indigenous Peoples in the States, or in any part of the world for that matter. After bringing disease, war and destruction to the Indigenous Peoples, Canada’s colonizer (the British Empire) put forth treaties for the leaders of each nation to sign. There was great resistance to these treaties from the Indigenous leaders since the benefits for the Europeans greatly outweighed the benefits to the first inhabitants of the land. In the end, the leaders signed the treaties to ease the suffering of their people. Natural resources and other forms of life that had sustained the Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, like the bison, had been so dramatically depleted and withheld from them that they had begun to starve. Like the Aboriginal People in the United States, they had been forced to choose survival, accepting the trifling terms laid before them. As you can probably guess, many of these treaties have been broken by the colonizers, including the recent approval of Bill C-45.
The Idle No More movement began in October of 2012 in response to the reality that, like any other country, Canada must deal with the foolishness that the government often dishes out. The party and Prime Minister leading Canada right now are extremely conservative and they’re obviously quite smitten with the oil industry and the money that it brings. The land isn’t sitting on a wealth of oil reserves; it has become known for the production of the dirtiest oil in existence: tar sands. For this, the Parliament has fought and blatantly violated human rights. Are you surprised? If you’ve been keeping up with the Keystone XL Pipeline, you shouldn’t be. The company pushing this monstrous project in the United States is TransCanada. The Canadian Parliament has already approved the creation of tar sands within its borders and pipelines are already in use. While this may seem far away to many of us, consider North Dakota, which has already been feeling the same painful reality that those in Canada have felt.
But of course, the tar sands fields are not in any old place. They are on the reservation lands of the First Nations. This is not accidental, it’s strategic. The treaties signed long ago have limited the power of the people living on these reservations, and as a result not only are they witnessing the destruction of the beautiful land that has always been their home, but they are also witnessing the deterioration of their health. Diseases like asthma and cancer have become more prevalent, no doubt due to the dangerous practice of drilling for and refining tar sands. Who would want conditions like this anywhere near their home? No one deserves to be subjected to such a harsh environment, but once again it falls upon the People of Color, those viewed as less likely to complain or do anything about it.
So why do I care? The difficulties faced by all Indigenous Peoples in the Americas and colonized peoples all over the world catch my attention because that is my ancestral heritage; this has deeply affected my mindset. Also, this movement has caught my attention, as it address environmental injustice if I ever saw it. All of those who have suffered, unable to breathe clean air or drink clean water in their own communities can look to Idle No More for inspiration.
Why should you care? This movement has reached an international level, mainly due to the power of social media. This is not just a movement of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada, it is a movement for all people who have become fed up with being disrespected and mistreated in their own homes. It a movement towards unity and equality. Idle No More can serve as an example for every marginalized group of people on the planet. With beautiful, nonviolent protests, as you can see in this video, it’s clear that anyone can take part in this movement because everyone can find something to fight for: protection of Indigenous rights, protection of labor rights (those who work to produce tar sands face illness too), protection of the planet and general respect from those in power. Is that too much to ask?
Whether through joining the movement or offering solidarity, you can offer support. Yesterday, Monday, January the 28th, was deemed a global Idle No More Day, which sought to further expand the movement.
To recognize this movement, I implore you to do more research of your own and to keep up with Idle No More events happening in your local area. There is a Facebook page and Twitter feeds dedicated to spreading the word about this movement. I’ll also continue to update you with background information on this movement as well as analysis on any news out there.
Had you heard of Idle No More before this? What do you think?