An Exercise in Justice

Idle No More, Courtenay. Photo by Taryn Scammell

Idle No More, Courtenay. Photo by Taryn Scammell

Human beings are not creatures content to let the world pass them by. Whether they be politicking or protesting, they are apt to change their environments. On December 10th, Canada saw one such statement of action: the emergence of Idle No More, a movement that has been gaining momentum not only at home, but all over the globe.

Idle No More is a grassroots movement born of the Indigenous peoples of Canada’s response to the Conservative government’s Bill C-45. The movement contends that the large omnibus bill, containing modifications to the Indian Act, abuses First Nations treaty rights and sovereignty over their ancestral land. The bill also amends laws which concern waterways, protection of the environment, and apportionment of land. No aboriginal leaders or groups were consulted in the passing of the bill, giving just cause for outcry.

The treatment of Indigenous Canadians by the federal government, which has been notably unjust for many years, was protested across the country, spreading quickly through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.

Chief Theresa Spence, of Attawapiskat First Nation, conducting a Gandhian hunger strike on Ottawa’s Victoria Island, became a symbolic leader for the movement. She called for a meeting with Prime Minister Harper, The Governer General and First Nations leaders to discuss the implications of Bill C-45. On January 4th, Harper agreed to a meeting on January 12th.

Her contribution to the movement is only one of many. From “teach-ins” to drumming circles, from rallies to flash mobs and road blockades, the movement divided like many cells, finding its niche in countless Canadian cities. At the Idle No More rally on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, on December 23rd, protesters of all kinds held signs, waved flags, and painted banners. Many local elders from British Columbia’s dozens of bands and nations spoke of the importance of land and water to indigenous peoples. In every instance, the movement has sought to keep the protest peaceful.

Large cities aren’t the movement’s only points of reference: organized demonstrations have sprung up the length of Vancouver Island. The Mind’s Eye spoke with Jessie Recalma, the principal organizer of Nanaimo’s Idle No More protest at Woodgrove Shopping Centre on December 21st, where nearly 100 drummers, dancers, and protesters arrived to show their support in a peaceful manner.

“The movement is more effective as a peaceful revolution,” said Recalma, a 23-year-old VIU graduate. He cited Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience in opposition to British rule in India, where the world was able to see that Gandhi and his supporters weren’t trying to enact any violence so any violence enacted upon them was an infringement on their rights.

“We have consciousness, but we all have to realize that we are in a state of power and we must realize that if we want anything positive to come out of any of these movements, we have to exert our power over these bodies in a proper, peaceful way so we can all benefit from the outcome.”

He says that Idle No More is an exercise in justice and the right to fair treatment.

“The entire goal is for First Nations people to have more of a say in how federal politics are conducted in regards to how they relate to First Nations people,” said Recalma. “So if there is something going to be happening on our land, we want to be able to have a say in it. If the government wants to do anything that’s going to affect us in any way, we want to be able to have a say in it.”

He says it’s also about holding people accountable for how they pick and choose the people who are in power. “We have a responsibility to realize that we have a bunch of our liberties being taken advantage of by the government,” he says, and being Idle No More, is about acknowledging that.

When asked what he would say to Stephen Harper if given the chance, Recalma just wanted him to listen. “The people who are speaking up feel there’s something wrong with the way you’re conducting this country. I’d like for you to hear what these people have to say and I’d like you to take their discussions into consideration.”

Peaceful protest and accountability aren’t the only points of importance for Idle No More. Solidarity, the inclusion of allies in the movement, is also a key point. Historically, movements have only been made stronger by the solidarity of allies. Indigenous groups around the world, such as the Maori of New Zealand and the Red River Nation of Minnesota, have offered their support of Idle No More. Aboriginal groups aren’t Idle No More’s sole allies: at numerous demonstrations, non-indigenous protesters can be spotted with signs like “Immigrants Support Idle No More” and “Palestinians for Indigenous Sovereignty”.

Recalma says that while Bill C-45 is a problem that affects reservations and lands in treaty negotiations, it’s not only going to be affecting First Nations, it’s going to be affecting everyone in the country. Idle No More’s website states that the movement “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”

The nature of Idle No More has lent itself to rapid transmission. It has multiple groups on Facebook, and the #IdleNoMore hashtag trended nationally, and it seems that the movement has definite longevity and staying power. But what is the impact of Idle No More? Does it have the same political power as Gandhi’s movement?

“I can’t say whether it does entirely or not. I think it’s become a powerful movement in the way it’s influenced the world. I think as long as we keep trying to bring attention to this matter, it can reach that power. Anything has that potential, really,” commented Recalma. “The only way we’ll really find out is once we no longer have to support the movement. Once we no longer have to be in this protest and we are content as a people, I think at that point, it will have had as much power as Gandhi’s movement. At that point, we will have succeeded.”

With millions of supporters around the world, the movement looks like it won’t back down for anything. It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Harper will take their words into account. For now, Idle No More is well on its way.

– By Erin