by Jarrah Hodge
When four women from Saskatchewan – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean – came together to oppose Bill C-45 in early October, I’m not sure they predicted how their group would spark a national movement spread through the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore. Leading up to December 10, the women organized rallies and teach-ins about C-45, the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill, which makes significant changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act without First Nations consultation.
“Bill C 45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” says Sylvia McAdam, pointing out the reduction of environmental proections, and also that the bill decreases the consent required for the government to make changes to reserve lands.
In Alberta, Tanya Kappo organized an Idle No More event at the Louis Bull Cree Nation. Promoting the event through social media, Kappo drew 150 people to hear her and other organizers speak about the budget bill. Here is Kappo’s introduction from that night:
If you’ve been paying attention to Twitter recently, or if you read independent media like Rabble , you’ll know these gatherings were only the beginning. The hashtag went viral and started being used more broadly on Indigenous rights issues. On Tuesday, December 4 discussion of the hashtag came up at an Ottawa meeting of the Assembly of First Nations and soon National Chief Shawn Atleo called for a march to Parliament, which was voting on the bill.
According to the CBC: “With the help of NDP MP Charlie Angus, the group spoke with Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver outside the Commons about their concerns over the bill” but there was a “scuffle” as the group was prevented by security from entering the House of Commons.
On December 10, Idle No More held a National Day of Solidarity and Resurgence, for which protests were organized from coast to coast, from Vancouver, BC to Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador (see pictures from Toronto here).
On December 11, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike, pledging to continue until the Prime Minister and Queen agree to meet with Chiefs about respecting colonial and Canadian treaties with First Nations. Attawapiskat was in the spotlight last year due after the Red Cross came in to provide aid for the reserve residents, many of whom were living in deplorable housing conditions without plumbing or electricity – an intervention that embarrassed the federal government. The government’s response was to attack Spence and the rest of the band leadership, stripping them of their financial authority and appointing a consultant to manage band finances.
Spence said in her press conference that the issues are bigger than just her local situation. She objected to Stephen Harper “making legislation and bills and laws that are impacting our future…He has no right to make plans for our future.”
“I am willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what it’s doing to us,” she added.
Supporters are encouraged to participate in 24-hour fasts in solidarity with Spence and the people of Attawapiskat (information here).
Unfortunately, although more than a dozen rallies took place on December 10, the national mainstream media largely failed to cover them, apparently in favour of devoting time to the “Ikea Monkey” story or the fact that Rush is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It may not have been widely publicized and it didn’t stop C-45 (which passed without amendment), but #IdleNoMore is continuing and hopefully growing stronger. Wab Kinew writes in the Winnipeg Free Press:
Kappo says Tuesday’s events “closed the gap” between the chiefs and their constituents, adding, “If there’s going to be real and profound change, it’s not only about the relationship with the feds, but also the relationship with ourselves.” Now she and others are planning other events to raise awareness under the Idle No More banner and the chiefs in Ottawa are discussing their next move.
Alberta Metis activist Chelsea Vowel points out that #IdleNoMore was always about more than Bill C-45:
Whether the particular focus has been on housing, or education or the environment, or whatever else. What lies at the heart of all these issues is our relationship with Canada. And Canada? This relationship is abusive…When the relationship between indigenous peoples and Europeans first began here, it was based on Treaties of Peace and Friendship. As indigenous peoples understand this relationship, it is one that should work to the mutual benefit of all involved. That relationship quickly became overshadowed by one more focused on extinguishing aboriginal rights, particularly as they relate to the land.
I am not speaking about events hundreds of years ago. I am telling you that Canada continues to focus on stripping away all of our rights and land while at the same time telling the world that it is doing the opposite.
The Idle No More website makes that broader view clear in its mission statement:
Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.
So what can you do? Because it’s imperative to do something. I think about all the times I’ve been at an event or meeting where I joined in recognition of the fact that we were on un-ceded First Nations territory. I think about the few times someone raised that we should do more than just pay lip-service to it. Now is our chance to show solidarity with Indigenous people and support their campaign for Indigneous rights.
Here’s the list of suggested actions from the Idle No More website: