Idle No More: what it means and why it matters

When you went to bed on Dec. 5, 2012 you probably never dreamed that when you woke up on Dec. 6 over 30,000 lakes and over 2 million rivers in Canada would no longer be protected.  You were probably distracted, stressing about exams and looking forward to the holiday break. I wonder if the timing of this bill was on purpose? Welcome to Canada’s stepped-up sell-off and accommodation of resource extraction under Omnibus Bill C-45.

Specifically, because of changes to the, Navigable Waters Protection Act, we now have only 97 protected lakes and only 62 rivers, creeks or canals. The last Omnibus Bill, C-38, stripped environmental assessments and protections from lakes, rivers, fish and wildlife. You can rest somewhat easy, Lake Ontario is one of the lakes that is covered, (whatever that means now) but just think for a moment what it would be like if it was not under protection and no one cared that you were getting sick; the fish, surrounding plants and animals were dying; your children got rashes when they bathed or developed cancer and died young.

Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have been living this reality; mercury poisoning from paper mills, increased incidents of cancer down river from the tar sands; and they have been resisting for years. Their fight has taken on new urgency with Bill C-45 and other pieces of legislation aimed at removing their remaining lands and the fact that the Federal government is trying to vacate their responsibility to consult communities before law changes, or development projects begin. These changes open up reserve land held in trust by the government, to corporate development, with little to no consideration, or benefit, for the communities living on the land.

It was concern for the land, air, water, animals and everyone’s future generations that brought four women, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean (indigenous and non-indigenous women), together in Saskatchewan in October. They discussed the ramifications Bill C-45, and other legislation the government was tabling, would have on the environment and on Indigenous Peoples’ sovereignty. Knowing that time was pressing, they began to hold a series of rallies and teach-ins, educating communities about the effects the legislation would have for us and our children. That was how Idle No More was created; a movement to oppose the massive assault on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, a call to fight for sovereignty and to stop the environmental destruction that will affect all peoples for generations.

As learning spread through teach-ins, both indigenous and non-indigenous communities mobilized; Idle No More called for a “National Day of Solidarity & Resurgence” on Dec. 10. It was an opportunity for indigenous grassroots communities to voice their opposition to the Bill C 45 and to reach out in solidarity with other nations and the non-indigenous community using ‘flash mob’ round dances (a dance of friendship, traditionally at gatherings) and leafleting information to engage the public and raise awareness. Grassroots activists have used these gatherings to highlight the issue of Canada’s failure to respect treaty rights.

Treaty agreements were made between the ‘Crown’ and various First Nations in regards to land use, education, and compensation for resources. Treaties are internationally recognized agreements between nations. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which Canada signed in November of 2010 after consistently saying No to since its adoption by the UN in 2007) states that Indigenous peoples have the “right to free, prior, and informed consent and governments have the duty to consult” before any changes can be made.

Supporting treaty rights might be the only way indigenous and non-indigenous people have to stop massive natural resources extraction and its toxic by products being dumped in our lakes. Sylvia McAdam during a Jan. 6 teach-in at the Boys and Girls Club in Calgary said, “I think our European relatives need to understand that at this time, where we are at, now that Bill C 45 is through, our last stand is the treaties. That’s the only thing protecting our lands and our waters right now”.

The Idle No More movement has brought Indigenous Peoples and non-indigenous people together to resist; through the use of ceremony and education leafleting, they are raising awareness of Canada’s ongoing colonial treatment of Indigenous Peoples. Idle No More supporters and allies are engaging in different forms of peaceful resistance, including spiritual fasts by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat and other leaders and grassroots members, highway protests, border shut downs and rail blockades. All actions are to raise awareness and inspire others to learn more about Canada’s relationship and history as it relates to indigenous peoples and how supporting treaty rights might be the last and best way all people can save the environment.

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Idle No More: what it means and why it matters