‘Idle No More’: Behind the Protest and Why Canadians Should Care

Stephen Harper and the Conservative government in Canada have long been under scrutiny for their tendency to pass legislation without prior and informed consent.  The omnibus budget Bill C-45 is one example, which expedites the sale of reserve lands without consultation and which removes federal protection of our waterways.  But beyond groaning and writing about frustrations in editorials, Canadians have done little to oppose the passing of these un-democratic bills.

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First Nations groups across Canada, however,  have finally decided that enough is enough.  Stephen Harper continues to pass legislation that is not only kept from public review, but which flouts the longstanding treaty relationship that First Nations have with the Canadian government.  Chief Theresa Spence, a First Nations leader, bravely started a hunger strike on December 11th, 2012, demanding that Harper agree to a meeting with the Governor General and First Nations leaders like herself. The Idle No More campaign, started by four aboriginal women and now led primarily by youth across Canada, has been gaining tremendous momentum and supports Chief Spence in her goal.  The movement is fueled by anger towards inadequate living conditions for First Nations peoples, as well as the governments’ reckless endangerment of Canadian lands and waterways, many of which First Nations rely on for their livelihoods.  The movement has inspired flash mobs and sustained demonstrations across Canada and in the U.S. as well.

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Chief Spence

So why should non-aboriginal Canadians support this movement?

The Conservative government of Canada affects us all.  We are all ‘treaty people’ in that sense, and we have a responsibility to ensure that our government lives up to its commitments to First Nations as well as to the citizens and environments of Canada.  Allowing our government to ignore treaties and pass damaging legislation without consent is simply unacceptable.  “Critics say Bill C-45, which received final Senate approval last week, will wreak environmental damage and dismantle provisions of the Indian Act pertaining to land sovereignty and other treaty rights”, says Karen Seidman of the Montreal Gazette.

Jeff Dennis, Assistant Professor at McMaster University, explains “..it is a matter of social and environmental justice. When corporate profit is privileged over the health of our lands and waters, we all suffer. When government stifles debate, democracy is diminished. Bill C-45 is just the latest in a slew of legislation that undermines Canadians’ rights. In standing against it, the First Nations are standing for us too.”

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Brigette DePape of Idle No More adds, “Instead of big signs of advertising for perfumes and shampoos, Idle No Moreis filling our shopping malls with posters and signs against Harper. I’m incredibly inspired by the young Indigenous women who began Idle No More to not only built in opposition to Bill C-45, which would reduce protections over waterways, but also to build a revolution for Indigenous sovereignty and to defend the earth. Idle No More is exposing the ruthlessness of the Harper government. Chief Theresa Spence is risking her life for all of us.”

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Harper continues to deny Chief Spence’s request for a meeting, and the protest rages on.  Canadians everywhere should spread the word and emphatically support and join in the Idle No More campaign.

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