Power of Idle No More movement lies in direct action, says UBC prof
The Idle No More movement is undergoing a moment of “pause and critical reflection”, in the view of one participant.
But that pause is also accompanied by a “rise in our collective anger and frustration” with the federal government, according to University of British Columbia professor Glen Coulthard.
Speaking at an Idle No More “teach-in” event at the University of British Columbia on February 1, Coulthard addressed the potential impact of direct actions staged by the movement.
The political science and First Nations Studies faculty member argued that grassroots forms of protests such as blockades have historically led to changes on indigenous issues.
“Historically, I would venture to suggest that all negotiations, over the scope and content of aboriginal people’s rights in the last 40 years, have piggybacked off of the assertive direct actions, including the escalated use of blockades, spearheaded by indigenous women and other grassroots elements of our community,” Coulthard told a crowd of more than 300 students and members of the public at the First Nations House of Learning at UBC.
Coulthard, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, disputed what he said is an assumption that official negotiations among leadership are the “most productive means to forge real change in the lives of indigenous communities”.
"I think that there’s a latent understanding that the negotiations aren’t about making the transformative changes that indigenous peoples need in order to live healthy, cultured lives, and if you look at the history of negotiations, they’ve always come in order to placate the transformative energy that has emerged in more grassroots forms of protest actions,” he said in an interview.
In fact, he argued, inquiries such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the B.C. missing women inquiry wouldn’t have occurred if sustained direct actions led by indigenous communities hadn’t brought attention to the issues.
Coulthard noted it wouldn’t surprise him if Idle No More demonstrations escalate to “more assertive” forms of peaceful protest. Idle No More actions in Ontario have included railway and highway blockades.
“I think that it’s pretty clear that the federal government is maintaining its stance on the problematic pieces of legislation that have upset indigenous peoples so much,” he stated. “And if history has taught us anything, these cycles of anger and pent-up frustration will tend to be played out in activism.”
The demonstrations were initially sparked out of opposition to federal omnibus legislation that included changes to the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Coulthard noted that the movement has gained unprecedented sustained attention from the general population.
“I think it’s because Canadians, nonindigenous peoples, are seeing their own interests perhaps better represented by indigenous peoples, especially concerning environmental sustainability and the land,” he said in an interview. “These legislative changes are also violations of nonindigenous peoples’ aspirations with respect to the integrity of the land, having it shared more equitably.”
In Coulthard’s view, movements like Idle No More “have within their sights, now more than ever” a restructuring of the relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada. But he added that changes to that relationship are a “distant, long-term goal”.
“The impacts [of the movement] will be long-term, and they will eventually compel Canada to come to the negotiating table on equitable terms, honor its treaty obligations, and correct the colonial relationship between indigenous peoples and the state,” he said.
“The inequalities and the privileges that have built up are centuries old now, so it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Feb 6, 2013 at 5:21pm
At this time in Canada, direct action is the only way to get the attention of governments.
Feb 6, 2013 at 6:30pm
Until the whole world is looking on, there should be no lull in action.
Ghost of George MacMartin
Feb 7, 2013 at 3:32am
Highly doubt that the changes to the Indian Act and Navigatable Waters Act are unrelated to the uncovering of the MacMartin diaries.
Feb 7, 2013 at 7:51am
I view the Idle No More movement as one component of a grass roots ascent into planetary consciousness:
Feb 7, 2013 at 8:38am
Sounds like another academic completely out of touch with how mainstream society feels towards FN's and INM.
More direct action will only alienate the public even more than it is already. There is a growing chorus of society saying 'move on' and get involved in society without the need for more rights than any other citizen.
Feb 7, 2013 at 12:45pm
Devils Advocate sounds out of touch with the reality facing human kind today. Mainstream society has always behind the learning curve. There wasn't much support for the civil rights movement either but the laws were changed and it took the American 'main stream' another twenty years to come around in there thinking. Idle no more is't about solving the so called 'Indian Problem' It's about solving the 'colonizer problem'. These old Imperial ways of thinking based in the lies of Christendom have run there destructive course. It's time for the 'main stream' to awaken to fallacies in which they structure there conventional world views upon. Time for you to swallow your smug ego and 'move on' from your Old Testament colonialist thinking and and allow your self to be enlightened. Get involved in society? The survival of our species is at hand you idiot! The Harper regime and bone heads like yourself now want to make indigenous peoples accomplices in destroying the environment that supports all life. Indigenous peoples and cultures have always adhered to Natural Law and therefore thrived for millennia. Your 'main stream' society is a doomed fools game. The consequences of your 'Manifest Destiny' way of thinking will be lethal and merciless. You and your 'mainstream' are dinosaurs and I suggest you 'GET OVER IT' and move on with the rest of us who can read the writing on the wall.
Feb 7, 2013 at 2:26pm
its too bad that Dr's Christie, Nason, Johnson and Kesler were not included in this peice as their words provided valuble insight into the Idle No More Movement and also to Dr. Coulthards persective. I also think that the highlight of this event was the comentary from Victor Guerin and Miles Richardson.
Check it out for yourself, A pod cast of the event can be found here http://www.citr.ca/index.php/schedule/special-broadcasts/
Gerda van de Windt
Feb 8, 2013 at 4:30am
Thank you Dwayne Rourke. Your article on the mythic implications of the Idle No More movements is extremely enlightening. May we all see the light as we enter a new age together. Satya
Feb 11, 2013 at 11:35am
Good move. Certainly no fan of the competitive academic industrial complex.
"Until all of us are free, the few who think they are, remain tainted with enslavement."
Salish Sea Collective
Feb 16, 2013 at 8:12am
Idle no more does not have much legitimacy in the eyes of most Canadians. Nobody wants native indians to live in poverty and squalor. However, their community needs to take a hard look at some of their leaders and where the millions and billions have gone.
In cases of criminal negligence or incompetence, the RCMP should become involved.