When Idle No More (INM) hit the front pages of the newspapers and the internet on Facebook and elsewhere I felt a certain amount of hope but also trepidation. Having taught sociology and Canadian History for decades and thinking about social movements I wondered how long Idle No More would stick to its original program especially because there were mixed messages coming from various quarters in and around the movement. There is no question that the early impetus for the movement came from aboriginal women in Saskatchewan. Idle No More, from my perspective, had as a prime objective an ‘awakening’ of aboriginal people and their mobilization to protest their continuing colonial relationship with the federal government partly expressed in the very structure of reserve politics. Since the beginning in our area, the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, INM events have been very First Nations focused and recently have been held exclusively on reserve. There was an initial demonstration at John Duncan’s office in December then a week later or so another much larger demonstration at Simms Park leading to a march to Duncan’s office. The next event was held in front of Duncan’s office in downtown Courtenay. Since then, events have been held on the Komoux reserve along the Dyke Road between Courtenay and Comox. In all cases, aboriginal and First Nations leaders were the featured speakers at these events, rightly so, in my estimation. As I noted earlier, INM was in its inception an aboriginally led movement for and by aboriginal people. In my mind, as a movement, this is its raison d’ètre. That being the case, the First Nations people who arose to lead the INM demonstrations made it clear that they welcomed the support of non-aboriginal people. In fact, many people recognized that the movement could not be successful without broad support from ordinary Canadians.
To repeat, Idle No More very early on asked all of us to support its objectives of the emancipation and empowerment of ordinary aboriginal people and to help in the struggle against Bills C-38 and C-45. They asked us to support Idle No More. Many of us, non-aboriginals, attended and still attend the INM events as supporters of the movement. But there was also talk that this movement was not just an aboriginal movement. According to the proponents of this view, the movement must involve all of us because we are all threatened by environmental degradation. We were (and still are) urged to come together in a common cause, one that includes all Canadians. I don’t want to be misunderstood here. I very much support the environmental movement and I deplore the Harper government’s erosion of democracy although it’s been clear to me for a long time that ‘democracy’ as it’s practiced in most places, including Canada, is a slight diversion for politicians who are clearly the servants of business corporations and not of the people.
It’s important for us all to support Idle No More while understanding the special legal and moral status that aboriginal people have in Canada. We must support aboriginal people in their struggle for unity when the government has had a clear agenda to divide them, marginalize and dehumanize them while sowing disunity as much as possible in aboriginal communities and on reserve. Make no mistake. Idle No More is about First Nations.
It just so happens that many First Nations and individual aboriginal people, not all, are also very concerned about the state of the planet, environmental degradation, pipelines crossing pristine wilderness and oil tankers in our coastal waters. We, as human beings with families, children and grandchildren, must be concerned about our planet, our home, and its future. We cannot continue to foul our air and water.
So we do have a common worry and need to act collectively, First Nations and otherwise, on the issues we have of common concern. But we also need to act respectfully toward First Nations as they rise to their challenge of finding ways to communicate with each other, organize at the grassroots and unite the over 600 bands in this country into a powerful force the Canadian government cannot ignore. I support Idle No More.