How Shawn Atleo and Idle No More will benefit from divisions among the chiefs
I wonder if some national Canadian journalists have ever given a thought to how social movements operate.
Over the past 24 hours, we've been treated to a steady stream of negative commentary about how the First Nations community is "divided" over its dealings with the federal government.
Some have speculated that the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, could be facing a mutiny because some chiefs refused to attend yesterday's meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The doom-and-gloom tone hints that this Idle No More movement might be on the rocks.
The reality is that when people work together to advance change, they will disagree over tactics and strategies.
And this can enhance the likelihood of success. That's because governments are often eager to negotiate with "more reasonable" people over the hotheads.
Smart leaders in social movements—and I include Atleo in this camp—will take advantage of this to gain concessions.
Mohandas Gandhi wouldn't have been as successful in the Quit India movement had it not been for violent freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Subhjas Chandra Bose.
The British knew that followers of Singh and Bose were willing to engage in armed struggle, so it was easier to deal with Gandhi and the Congress Party.
Similarly during the U.S. civil-rights movement, the existence of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers made the demands of Martin Luther King Jr. look reasonable in comparison. That enhanced King's standing in the eyes of the public and the mainstream politicians.
If there are divisions within the First Nations community, this could prove very useful to Atleo.
It's already gotten him and other chiefs a long meeting with the prime minister. And it's put aboriginal issues at the top of the national political and media agenda for the first time since the Oka crisis.
Social movements—and I include the more recent struggle for LGBT rights in this—are multsegmented entities swimming in a similar direction. They are often characterized by differences within.
These divisions can be beneficial if channelled properly. It's time that the national media recognized that there is enormous strength in diversity.
Atleo's position has been enhanced by the fact that some chiefs wouldn't meet with Harper.
He's going to be seen by the media, the public, and the government as the "good chief", just as Gandhi was the "reasonable" Indian leader and King was the "reasonable" African American leader.
Harper is smart enough to know that if he doesn't deal with Atleo, he'll likely face much bigger challenges from the Idle No More movement.
First Nations are making progress. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but that's always the case when people are bringing about major changes in any society.