Canada’s movement


The Idle No More movement continues to make strides, and gather allies

Rikkeal Bohmann

A National Day of Action for the Idle No More movement took place in about 30 cities across the nation Monday, Jan. 28. The day coincided with Canadian MPs returning to the House of Commons after their winter break.

Events spread internationally as well, occurring in Sweden, Australia and the United States, in solidarity with the Canadian driven movement.

Peaceful protests began two months ago, raising awareness about the Idle No More movement – a grassroots initiative started by four Saskatchewan women, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld. In October, the four begun sending e-mails to each other about Bill C-45, worrying it could harm indigenous rights in Canada.

Bill C-45 makes changes to 64 Canadian acts or regulations, one being the Navigable Waters Acts. This change makes 99 per cent of previously environmentally protected lakes and rivers now unprotected.

This change makes it easier for corporations to earn a larger profit because they no longer have to follow previous environmental laws the protected bodies of water. Many of these bodies of water happen to run through traditional indigenous territories. These Indigenous groups were left uniformed of the changes brought on by Bill C-45. 

Along with concerns about changes to the Waters Act, Idle No More is also concerned with the changes the legislation made to the Indian Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

“It goes against traditional First Nation lands, especially lands in the north, leaving them almost completely deregulated … This leaves big companies [with] no problem, [giving them] access to resources here and throughout Canada … All we knew was that it was a huge bill passed, more than 400 pages. The common citizen doesn’t read those bills,” said Leonzo Barreno, the Global Chair of Journalism at the U of R. Barreno was one of the guest speakers at the Regina National Day of Action.

The National Day of Action in Regina was a day of sharing. Hundreds gathered at the Conexus Arts Center to listen to various speakers talk about the Idle No More Movement’s goals and mission. People of all ages, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, were in attendance.

Barreno, though he does not identify as a member of Idle No More spoke on why the movement was becoming international and what the movement was about.

“People all over the world have access to social media, in this case Facebook. Facebook has been the main medium for organizers to spread their message, to tell people what the movement is and what it’s not. It has a lot of support around the world because it is peaceful. Despite the fact that there have been some blockades and demonstrations in Canada … and different parts of the world, they have not resulted in confrontations with the police. The third reason is the fact that it is led by educated women, both First Nations and white … This kind of female driven movement is unique and confuses the media and confuses the powers to be, because traditionally, what the media and powers expect is a movement driven by males, usually by militant males.”

Though Idle No More can be traced back to its founders, there is no clear leadership over the now rapidly spreading movement. This has created many misconceptions about what the movement stands for, and what it entails. A similar misconception was created with the Occupy Movement – as it grew rapidly, many no longer understood what the movement was aimed at 

“It is led by educated women, both First Nations and White… This kind of female-driven movement is unique and confuses the media and confuses the powers to be, because traditionally, what the media and powers expect is a movement driven by males, usually by militant males.” – Leonzo Barreno

According to the Idle No More website, the vision of the movement is to “continue to help build sovereignty and resurgence of nationhood … continue to pressure government and industry to protect the environment … [and] continue to build allies in order to reframe the nation to nation relationship, this will be done by including grassroots perspectives, issues and concerns.”

Unlike the Occupy Movement however, Barreno does not think that Idle No More will lose momentum.

“It has potential to be a bigger movement, especially if the bill stays, because then you will see all kinds of action by Aboriginal people,” he explained.

Many different groups have announced their support with Idle No More, such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) who recently pledged solidarity with the movement.

“The NFU is proud to declare its solidarity with Idle No More, which is bringing people together from across Canada to stop the Harper government from riding roughshod over our collective rights,” said Glenn Tait, NFU National Board member. “We want a better Canada.”    

Since the start of the movement in December, Idle No More is proving Canadians will not be passive about their politics any longer.

Despite this, many misconceptions have been surrounding Idle No More.

During the beginning of the protests, Attawapiskat Chief, Theresa Spence, had been on a hunger strike, protesting for Aboriginal rights. At the same time, Metis and non-status Indians’ rights were being recognized. Many people put these movements together as one.

“It shows you how uneducated most of the media are when it comes to Aboriginal people because they sometimes put all the groups in one category, when in fact, there are so many differences, culturally and legally,” said Barreno, “The main goal is about Bill C-45, that is the main thing. The general thing is environmental protection. When you protect the environment, it doesn’t matter who you are. This is not an Indian thing, it is a Canadian thing. That is why many Canadians are getting behind it, and that is why it has become international. Even people in very poor countries are supporting it… the phrase ‘Idle No More’ is very catchy.”

The issue of transparency in the Harper government continues to be raised, especially with the passing of Bill C-45.

“They were smart because they passed it before Christmas and under the name, ‘Budget.’ The name ‘budget’ makes you think it was the budget from last year…this wasn’t the case,” Barreno clarified. 

The Harper government introduced the bill on Oct. 18. It was named, “A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012, and other measures.”

The legislation passed on Dec. 14 and is now named the “Jobs and Growth Act, 2012.”

The future of Idle No More is currently in the air right now, as only time will tell what will happen. 

“It is unpredictable,” Barreno said, but as for their progress, “the movement already achieved more than they ever expected, which is making people aware of what the government is doing … it is vague and general, but it has no dark intentions. It is not driven by a politician or a popular figure, it was just created by common people like you or I.”

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