The story of the Idle No More is far from over. Over the holiday season, when people are generally too busy celebrating with friends and family to pay attention to political or social movements (there’s a reason why Stephen Harper shut down Parliament not once but twice in December). However, Canada’s indigenous people have shown that they are not going to allow their treaty rights to be ignored, no matter what the season, and have kept up the momentum that started on December 10. The Idle No More movement calls for a new relationship based on mutual respect between Canada and its First People, and for the protection of the waters and the land. There have been round dances in shopping malls, marches blocking highways, and blockades of roads and railways across the country. Chief Theresa Spence is in her third week of fasting within sight of our House of Parliament, and has been joined by a handful of elders across the country. All of these events have been peaceful but they show a steadfast determination on the part of First Nations to stop the deterioration of the treaties that Canada was founded on and to ensure there is clean water, clean air, and a stable climate for future generations.
I don’t think Stephen Harper, wily politician though he is, has any idea of the fire he has ignited. Although the embers of discontent with his dictatorial, non-parliamentary ways have been glowing for years, and his particularly abrasive brand of neoconservative, pro-corporate, anti-science and anti-consensus politics has been fanning them even more strongly since he was elected to a majority government in May 2011. One would think that any politician with the smarts to get himself elected Prime Minister of Canada would be savvy enough to realize that ignoring the request of a First Nations leader who feels strongly enough about the plight of her people to go without food, and settle in a tipi away from home and family over the Christmas season, makes him look churlish and uncaring. It would have been easy for Mr. Harper to stop by to see Chief Spence on Christmas Day, and offer her what she was asking for – the opportunity to have a conversation about the plight of her people with the leader of Canada. But Mr Harper chose not to do this. In fact on December 21st when tens of thousands of Canadians, Aboriginal and Nonaboriginal, were marching and drumming and dancing in protest of his government’s legislation, and Chief Spence was in her second week of fasting, our prime minister tweeted Mmm… bacon along with a link to a Simpsons video. Really, Mr. Harper? That tweet, while appropriate for an adolescent, is not fitting to one who is in the position of leading the nation. Mr. Harper has been very successful at the politics of divisiveness and confrontation, but has no tools to respond to a humble Aboriginal woman who is willing to suffer greatly, even unto death, to improve the lot of her people and protect the land. Harper’s dilemma is almost Biblical, during this season when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of a child born into the humblest of circumstances.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
The mainstream media has even started to take notice. An opinion piece in Macleans magazine written by Brigette De Pape, the Parliamentary Page who became Canada’s most famous protestor when she held up a “Stop Harper” sign in the House of Commons , wrote that Idle No More is a Christmas gift to all Canadians:
In the face of a Harper majority government, which was elected with a mere 39 per cent of the vote in 2011, we’ve been asking for an end to unjust policies, and a transformation of a broken system.
In the face of climate change that threatens the survival of humanity, coming to the public consciousness in the 1960s with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and then by the UN Commission in the 1970s, we’ve been searching for a solution to a path towards a clean future.
Since the beginning of consumer culture, we have been searching for some kind of meaning amid all the stuff.
Since the 15th century and the beginnings of colonization, we’ve been searching for a way to face our history, and to transform relations between settlers (non-Aboriginal people) and First Nations.
All the things we have been asking for have arrived at a shopping malls near us – in the form of the Idle No More movement.
Sylvia McAdam, one of the four Saskatchewan women who called for a National Day of Action on Bill C-45 that inspired the Idle No More movement, put it this way:
“Bill C 45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water w all share from across this country.”
First Nations from coast to coast are standing together and declaring “We are the land. We are the water. We will protect ourselves.” They are offering the descendants of settlers the opportunity to recognize our part in the colonization of this country and its indigenous people, and to build a new relationship of mutual respect for each other and the land. Perhaps the much-heralded end of the Mayan Calendar on December 21st 2012 wasn’t about the end of the world, but rather about the end of the world as we know it. The Idle No More movement offers all of us the incredible opportunity to be part of creating a brave and bright future for everyone.