It is being called the largest indigenous mass mobilization in recent history.
You may not have heard yet of the ‘Idle No More’ movement, but you will; it’s momentum has been steadily growing in recent weeks, and, is being fed by a myriad of kindred human rights movements, environmental organizations, and eco-justice/direct action groups all across North America, and now, increasingly, the world.
By most accounts, the movement emerged in response to the Canadian Parliament’s passage of Bill C-45 on December 14, of last year. The bill makes fundamental changes to Canada’s Indian Act while it also removes environmental protections to traditional native lands and “further erodes the treaties with native peoples through which Canada was created.” [source: see link below]
In response to weeks of protests, rallies, and social media campaigns, and finally, to a hunger strike by Chief of the Attawapiskat Theresa Spence (who had been petitioning Prime Minister Stephen Harper for over three weeks before commencing her hunger strike), the Canadian government finally capitulated to a meeting with the chief and other First Nations representatives on January 11, 2013 to discuss the Bill.
Under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, the government is required to consult with indigenous peoples before passing laws that impact their lives and livelihoods.The Harper government is widely viewed as fiercely pro-energy industry. Native leaders have accused the Harper government of “ramming through” legislation without debate or the required consultations.
Indeed, representatives of First Nations were barred from entering the House of Commons on December 4 to discuss concerns about the (then) proposed bill. One week later, chief Spence began her hunger strike.
Although there is some dialogue, little if any substantive change for the better in Canada’s aboriginal policies has come of this meeting. But the import of the emergent movement has grown beyond the specific law that is C-45 to encompass broader issues of environmental protections and human rights that derive from the nation’s colonial past and native grievances going back over a century.
Citing weakening environmental assessments and the removal of protections for lakes and rivers on native lands, Eriel Deranger, Communication Coordinator of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (which is directly downstream from toxic tar sands mining), stated: “Indigenous people’s rights are intrinsically linked to the environment.”
This is the key message, the acting principle, of this hybrid peaceful-direct-action and social-media-driven movement.
Canada’s economy has long been based upon extraction industries such as timber, oil and mining (with its biggest export partner being the U.S.). But with dwindling public forest lands and older wells and mines nearly depleted, recent years have seen a major push by industry players to get greater access to timber and minerals on traditionally native lands. In the case of the proposed ‘Northern Gateway’ pipeline, the push is for access through native lands, which runs the risk of oil spills, leakages and damaged spirit bear habitat.
Many First Nations are deeply concerned that this law will pave the way for the destruction of Canada’s (native lands’) pristine ecosystems, wilderness areas and natural resources in its rush to become a global energy “superpower” –resources and ecosystems that many first peoples depend on for their way of life, their health and livelihoods.
But it’s not just a native movement (anymore); the issues at stake affect everyone.
The movement has inspired solidarity actions all over North America,with emerging and growing movements in Europe, New Zealand and even, recently, the Middle East.
You can follow events on twitter using the hash tag #idlenomore and there is also a major facebook following.
For more on this story, check out the YES! Magazine article:‘Idle No More: Indigenous Uprising Sweeps North America’ by Kristin Moe
The Idle No More movement actually has deeper protest roots that the recent passage of Bill C-45, starting with an obscure (to most folks outside Canada), decade-old direct action referred to as the Grassy Narrows logging blockade in which two Anishinaabe youths used their bodies to blockade a road into a popular tourist area that was also being heavily logged by timber and paper companies, leaving behind mercury-contaminated rivers, lakes and streams in the process.
To read more about this seminal protest, and to view an historical timeline of indigenous protests and actions taken before and after Grassy Narrows to stop the destruction of their native lands, please read the Truthout article ‘First Nations Logging Blockade in Canada Passes 10th Year as “Idle No More” Support Grows’ by Carmelle Wolfson.
Top Photo: Idle No More Flash Mob outside of the Vancouver Convention Centre on December 27. Photo by Caelie Frampton.
Bottom photo: Rainforest Action Network