Idle No More movement urged to remain grassroots ahead of January 11 protests

Stephen Harper meeting not the end of Idle No More, local organizer says

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      Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to meet with a delegation of First Nations chiefs on Friday (January 11), a long-time indigenous activist says this should not be viewed as a success for the Idle No More movement.

      Indeed, Gord Hill told the Georgia Straight the high-level meeting actually represents the co-optation of the grassroots indigenous-sovereignty movement by band chiefs and councils that owe their power to the paternalistic Indian Act. According to the 44-year-old Kwakwaka’wakw author of The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, the Canadian government has historically used these “elites” to suppress efforts by First Nations people to fight colonialism and oppression.

      “I wouldn’t even focus on January 11,” Hill said by phone from his East Vancouver home. “That’s something that the colonial regime and its collaborators are doing, so I wouldn’t even focus on that. People need to focus on the long-term strategy and methods of organizing.”

      Hill calls himself a “critical supporter” of the Idle No More movement, which was started in October by four women in Saskatchewan, has rallied around hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence, and has seen thousands take to the streets inside and outside the country. Although he hasn’t yet joined the ranks of Idle No More protesters, Hill is considering participating in the “global day of action” set to coincide with Harper’s meeting on Friday.

      Meanwhile, Khelsilem Rivers, a Skwxwú7mesh community organizer, is helping coordinate January 11 protests in Canada and internationally. The 23-year-old activist previously helped stage Idle No More flash mobs at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Waterfront Station, and Park Royal.

      On Friday, Rivers will attend an Idle No More rally at Vancouver City Hall (453 West 12th Avenue) at 1 p.m., which will be preceded by a march from the Native Education College (285 East 5th Avenue) starting at noon. There will be a flash mob at Robson and Burrard streets at 5:30 p.m.

      Rivers stressed that Harper’s meeting won’t mark the end of Idle No More but the beginning of the “unprecedented” movement’s next phase. According to him, Idle No More has brought many indigenous and nonindigenous people together to discuss and take action on common issues, including the erosion of aboriginal rights and environmental protections by the Conservatives’ Bill C-45. Such conversations can help clear up misunderstandings among many Canadians about the role and history of First Nations in Canada, Rivers told the Straight.

      “They see us as another ethnic minority with special rights, so they talk about it in terms of equality,” Rivers said by phone from his home on West Vancouver’s Capilano reserve. “What they fail to understand is that there’s a long history of legal and constitutional reasons for why indigenous people are considered nations and why we identify as nations.”

      Skwxwú7mesh community organizer Khelsilem Rivers is helping coordinate the January 11 protests.
      Stephen Hui

      Judith Sayers, a former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, describes herself as “just a part of the movement”. The UVic visiting national-aboriginal-economic-development chair told the Straight the federal government must stop “ignoring” its constitutional duty to consult First Nations, whose people are now rising up to save what’s left of their lands and resources. And she cautioned that without unity between the grassroots and the chiefs, Idle No More will fail.

      “I am excited that people are engaging, that I can see the common community person standing up and saying, ‘I’m opposed to Bill C-45 because blah, blah, blah,’ ” Sayers, 56, said by phone from the UVic campus. “How long has it been since I’ve been able to see that in our communities? People are standing up; they’re wanting to get engaged; and they want to talk about systems of government other than the Indian Act.”

      For his part, Hill sees the Idle No More flash mobs, round dances, and blockades that have occurred as “really positive steps” because they’ve mobilized many previously “idle” indigenous people. But the activist argues that if the movement is to gain substantial concessions from the government, it needs to learn from social movements in Latin America that are capable of “paralyzing the economy” of their countries. So he’s critical of the founders and some organizers of Idle No More for opposing any actions that fall outside of peaceful protest.

      “This is disarming the people,” Hill said. “It’s imposing pacifism on them, and it’s dampening their warrior spirit—their fighting spirit—which we need in a resistance movement.”

      The Idle No More movement has planned a “global day of action” for January 11.

      Jarrett Martineau, a 35-year-old PhD student in indigenous governance at UVic, helped create the website to promote Friday’s day of action. Although the member of the Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta believes that no one should tell people “this is the only way to protest,” he maintains that peaceful civil disobedience can be and has been effective.

      Indian Act chiefs have a “relationship” with the movement, Martineau told the Straight. But he argues that First Nations need to reestablish their traditional forms of governance. Fortunately, many youth involved in Idle No More are “in it for the long haul”, according to Martineau.

      “We’re trying to point the focus away from what’s ultimately an administrative, photo-op meeting—that’s going to be the thing with Harper—towards the bigger movement,” Martineau said by phone from Victoria. “I think that’s partly, for us, why we think it’s going to be a historic day, because it marks a transition in terms of the people’s movement really taking ownership of the movement itself, independent of elected leadership.”



      Ginger Gosnell-Myers

      Jan 9, 2013 at 4:36pm

      Idle No More is especially important for all within the 'younger' cohort, whether Indigenous or mainstream Canadian people, to participate in, because I think we can all agree, we are not going to school or whatever to nurture the status quo.

      Idle No More is an opportunity - its not a threat. It is not and should just not be seen as just a native thing. I hope all people, especially young people pick up their Iphones and head down to the Idle No More marches to participate in what could be the beginnings of true nation building and meaningful relations. #IdleNoMore!


      Jan 9, 2013 at 6:15pm

      Maybe Chief Theresa Spence should give up some of her tax free 71000.00 /yr. wage and sell that big beautiful hummer, so that the people she says she represents can have a decent living.


      Jan 9, 2013 at 8:12pm

      I think I'll go and protest how a governing body can award an obvious conflict of interest contract to the live-in-boyfriend of the person supposedly in charge to the tune of $850.00 per day. Yeah, the audit report may be a leak to discredit an incompetent leader, but that doesn't change the fact that the facts of the audit are true.


      Jan 9, 2013 at 10:59pm

      I encourage everyone to inform themselves and be Idle No More. What is happening to the First Nations people in this rich country is a travesty of justice. The facts are out there. The solutions will or at least ought to be deeply and heatedly and civilly debated, thoroughly researched, logically argued, and presented for the maximum benefit of future generations.

      It is my current conclusion that the First Nations have not benefited from policies meant to give them a different way of life than Canadians not governed by the Indian Act.

      I myself have a concern that accords and treaties signed many years ago, while probably well intentioned at the time, are archaic and have only a tangential connection to 21st Century realities, the primary of which is that we now consider it weird if not disgusting to assign differential treatment about legal rights and freedom of residence on the basis of race alone.

      To give perspective, we as a society do not adhere to 18th century precepts about any other area of their then-current expertise, such as engineering or medicine or homosexual marriage or global warming. We use today's standards.

      No, I recognize that the courts recognize that the treaties are still legally valid in whatever extent; what I am saying is that the First Nations have no obligation that I can see to want to uphold them. Just as the football team can decline an award of down that would take away the yardage gained on the play, they could opt out of them as well.

      The trend in human rights legislation is always to the benefit of the individual, not the group. Identity politics are always dangerous and what's the real advantage of doing it on this tribal basis, which had historical validity at first contact but now, centuries later, is absurd given the generations of intermarriage, dispersal, and the radical shifts in culture of the so call invading nation(s) as well.

      Treaty rights cause cognitive dissonance. Let's deal with it.

      Rick in Richmond

      Jan 10, 2013 at 12:10am

      Occupy fell apart because it was hijacked by Black Bloc thugs, wannabe anarchists, and people incapable of determining an agenda.

      Occupy is no more because it never understood leadership in a democracy. Occupy thought that churning was the same as movement.

      Occupy disappeared because, in Vancouver, it degenerated into a tent slum featuring drug overdoses, endless whining, and utter indecision.

      Idle No More will fall apart for the same reasons if it does not learn from the blunders and chaos of Occupy. Taking advice from the glib 'activists' of Vancouver will doom INM to the same fizzled outcome.

      Martin Dunphy

      Jan 10, 2013 at 1:04am


      I'm glad to see that you've dropped your usual practice of ad hominem attacks against named individuals whom you hold responsible for standing in the way of "progress" in the DTES.

      Your lashing out at the so-called Black Bloc and the wholly manufactured "anarchists" (yes, the same fictional bomb tossers blamed by the police and our mayor as being responsible for the Stanley Cup riot), however, only betrays your preferred media sources.

      Do you listen to the radio station that ran with the manufactured and unattributed story about the hordes of rats running amok throughout the Occupy encampment and endangering the law-abiding, non-rat-loving citizens of Vancouver?

      Or maybe you get your nightly news fix from the TV station that actually invented that story? You know, the one whose assignment editor's son ran the simultaneous election campaign for Suzanne Anton against Gregor Robertson? The same Suzanne Anton who immediately played up the rats as a major campaign issue and (non)photo op?

      Bill Thom

      Jan 10, 2013 at 2:47pm

      How about a counter movement called ApartheidNoMore to promote racial equality?

      " day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.." <- the guy who said that would be labeled a bigot by these hypocrites.

      the pope

      Jan 10, 2013 at 3:23pm

      I love Canada with all my heart and soul,it would definitely be the best country in the world to live in if every person,every citizen was equal.No more different rules for what have you...everyone the special treatments for different groups.....


      Jan 10, 2013 at 4:30pm

      Hey Pope, I agree. If the aboriginal people want to be equals, why do they consistently demand concessions other Canadians don't get???? We are each responsible for ourselves. Compassion is wonderful, but is giving people something for nothing that keeps them in a state of weakness and subservience compassion???? Life isn't what happens to you, it's what you choose (or not choose) to do about it.


      Jan 10, 2013 at 7:27pm

      IdleNoMore isn't about the corrupt chiefs. IdleNoMore is sick of the chiefs profiting on the backs of the people. IdleNoMore wants the chiefs to QUIT TALKING AND GET ON WITH THINGS. Either that - or get out of the way. You will note though that Harper will only meet with the chiefs. Kinda says it all.....