Canadians, are you still idling or idle no more?

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      By Tiffany Pan, Kara Giesbrecht, Kimberly Bui, and Madihah Asif

      If an opinion piece is a place to start a dialogue, then as four UBC students, we hope this can serve to open a space for discussion surrounding indigenous rights in Canada. News coverage of Idle No More has waned in recent months, and for some this seems to be an indication that the movement is also losing momentum. However, as part of a fourth-year UBC political-science seminar looking into the role of the ethical advocate, we felt the need to address the disconnect between the inclusive message of INM and the often vicious public reaction to the movement. We are not First Nations people and cannot hope to speak on these issues with equal authority, but as Canadians, we are often bewildered by public attitudes toward and media coverage of INM.

      Idle No More rose to national consciousness through the hunger strike of Chief Theresa Spence, and was ignited by the infamous Bill C-45; it soon spread internationally as an inspiration for many indigenous people also living under neocolonial oppression. Their emphasis on respecting treaty rights and First Nations’ environmental sovereignty should concern all Canadians, and is part of a greater call to recognize power structures in our society. Given these concerns, we notice a backlash of non-Native Canadians—be it anonymously in comments on news articles, or loudly from the mouths of our politicians—expressing a contempt for INM. These reactions are often exemplified and borne out in the media, with news stories and articles selectively covering the negative and disruptive aspects of the movement. Implicit in the media bias is an acknowledgement of the many arguments advanced by those who are against INM. The general argument goes that “First Nations are at fault for their own problems” (pointing to alcoholism and corruption with a thinly veiled racism) and “we are all equal so they should not get extra benefits” (an erroneous judgement that tax breaks or affirmative action equates to preferential treatment). Even more disturbing is the underlying sentiment of acknowledging indigenous rights as proper theory but somehow improper action, as seen by the public outrage after railway blockades in Ontario. The non-Native public seems to support rights and recognize, albeit vaguely and partially, the colonial past of Canada. Yet concrete policies and on-the-ground activism somehow rubs our sensibilities the wrong way.

      A few intersections between INM allies and the non-Native public illustrate this fantastically. When two members of Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus, Senator Patrick Brazeau and MP Royal Galipeau, mock Chief Spence’s hunger strike, commentators on news websites quickly begin playing the same game of blaming and name-calling. One person calls Chief Spence greedy; another calls her a fraud. The former commentator uses statistics that seemingly come from nothing but a fervent dislike for INM to imply Chief Spence not only mismanages funds as an elder in the community but also actively seeks monetary gain in her hunger strike. The latter commentator assumes that because Brazeau is also First Nations, somehow piggy-backing on his disparaging sentiments is legitimate. Prejudices become exposed as the media creates a forum that shifts our attention away from the activities and intentions of INM, and toward the insensitive and biased reactions of our political representatives. Quickly, there becomes a dichotomy between “us”, the non-native Canadians, and “them”, the INM supporters. This is troubling on several levels, not least of which is that drawing such sharp lines misses the point of indigenous sovereignty.

      Indigenous rights has little to do with arguments like “First Nations have been here longer and therefore deserve more”—rather their sovereignty is a shared obligation, one that Canada has repeatedly violated. Canadian society marginalizes our indigenous populations, and the oppression of First Nations has a long and sordid history—from residential schools, to systemic cultural genocide, to structural violence as evidenced by the vulnerability of First Nations women in the Downtown Eastside. We forget that reparations or profit-sharing agreements for resource exploitation is another form of buying complacency. Our politicians hope that somehow dollars and cents will erase the deep and spiritual connection between land and people, between the roaring Fraser River and the ancestral memories of First Nations. To address some of the issues outlined here, we have created a website, Are You Idling?, to attempt to create a space where discussion and critical thinking can occur. Grounded in the greater context of Canadian history and the current living conditions of indigenous peoples, we are at a loss to explain how the non-Native public are still “idling” in their opinions and attitudes.



      Chelsea Sweeney

      Mar 26, 2013 at 10:23pm

      AS a fourth year UBC student myself, I could not agree more with these four authors. Very well said indeed. I hope some Canadians open their eyes to the events and issues occurring in this country. I feel like a majority of Canadians have no clue what kind of movement is occurring here in Canada right now. It is time to become educated and realise what policies, agenda's, and class of people our government is really supporting. And it is not the environment, First Nations rights, lower or middle classes, education, or even the Canadian economy. What kind of future is this unconstitutional "Harper's Government" providing for us? Sounds like a future that is dictated by foreign resource demands, financial investors, and colonial attitudes...which are actually the very same elements that make up the founding story of Canada in 1867. It is time to grow up Canada.

      Stuart Bagnall

      Mar 26, 2013 at 10:43pm

      Well said!!

      Joe Public

      Mar 26, 2013 at 11:35pm

      Want to understand public opinions and attitudes?
      1. You are highly interested in the depth and complexity of the issue, as UBC poli-sci students should be. Most people are not.
      2. Activism such as blocking roads or rail lines just inconveniences the public, and is not seen as constructive in any way.
      3. Canada has been built by ethnic groups with tortured histories who managed to get over it. Most are mystified as to why aboriginals can't do the same.

      Mike Bell

      Mar 27, 2013 at 2:30am

      I am aboriginal and do not support the Idle group, for several reasons. First, they have abandoned the street people, like at the soup kitchens for example. Second, I grew up in horrendous conditions and there were no elders, medicine people nor helpers from any reserve to help me. I spent time in residential school and foster homes and don't remember any native or aboriginal person there to assist me in any way. When I needed mentoring later on in life no elders were to be found and even today they are elusive. It was other cultures that helped me. I do not support how they run the reserved with all the infighting and politics and hidden salaries etc. but the greatest reason I don't support them is their abuse and misuse of spirituality to support their claim they were destined to be who they are. That is totally disrespectful and if you ask them about the seven sacred teachings, and how they apply to the movement, there is silence...they believe in karma and I think it's happening now and I predict an implosion from within to disband this disgraceful group...amen, Mike Bell, Manitoba

      hungry no more

      Mar 27, 2013 at 9:06am

      great insights, mr. bell.


      Mar 27, 2013 at 10:23am

      The whole thing with chief Spence was started when the Gov. wanted to see how the MILLIONS of dollars were spent by her,so instead of presenting the papers she starts idle more.
      It seems to me that these UBS students stop blaming everything on Harper as he did not write the charter for aboriginals and to change this it would have to go through parliment.And I belive the MILLIONS should be accounted for and not just put in her bank account.then ask for more.
      Hunger strike My A-- she gained waight,and the show took all eyes off the original problem.
      I do not see that the FNSs should have more rights as other Canadians ,as if we put a road block up we would be arrested,where as they get away with it.And now we have to ask for their blessing on everything the ELECTED Gv. wants to do.Dont we PAY for Canada over and over in the Billions of yOUR TAX DOLLARS TO THE BANDS ALL OVER cANADA to pay for the right to live here.
      Treaties with the FNs were broken by them over and over but we shoul abide by them.
      Most Canadians are just sick and fed up with them now electing themselves to run OUR country and make it seem that they are looking out for OUR land .
      The blame of these poor bands with no mony lies in the hands of chiefs like chif Spence as she is supposed to share these million dollar cheques that she recievs from the Gov. each month.

      James B. Bandow

      Mar 27, 2013 at 5:12pm

      Very well said. The general public simply does not understand the issues. The 'spark' for #IdleNoMore was Bill S-8 which got slipped into the giant omnibus bill (along with 70 others) disguised as 'The Budget'. I've noticed that some posters think that'native issues' are one large national 'problem'. This is false. Some issues fall under the following, 1) General Land Claim: that there was no historical surrender of land to the crown; 2) Specific Land Claim: Treaty Surrender to the Crown that has been violated by the Government(s); 3) Theft of First Nation Land Trusts (eg. Six Nations); and 4) Issues of Governance: resource rights and royalties. The most contentious issues are the last three. Most of the extreme poverty and welfare communities are the result of the first issue (community not recognized as a native polity, hence no federal financing) So try to imagine your Township functioning without any provincial or federal funding. Yet, Canadians seem to have no problem with the differential treatment between various forms of government in Canada EXCEPT when it comes to First Nations government. People will pontificate about how we should all be treated equal despite the obvious fact Canadians never have been equal! Just look at provincial taxation for instance. And I need not bring up issues of gender inequality. I would encourage all Canadians to educate themselves on these issues.


      Mar 27, 2013 at 7:47pm

      Chief Spence and other "leaders" want all the government money they can get. What they don't want is accountability. End of conversation.

      Heinz Rode

      Mar 27, 2013 at 8:47pm

      the indians were simple taken over by superior peoples.It happens all over the world.their thousand year history was stuck for 700 years and not much progress made over the last 300.its use less to point that out.look forward ...besides every body has a thousand year history.I have never heard from those Indian boosters how they would have handled the native school issue.How would you have handled that ?A spars population over a huge are speaking hundreds of different languages to teach them a common language andteach them to read and write; well how would you?yes there may have abuse here and there, even today but Ithink alot is made up by comparing by different schooling standarts by then and now. when I went to school in Germany corporal punihsment was a daily occurance.Ms.Stern would hit her teaching book around your ears for forgetting one or two vocables. oh horror it did not dammage me for the rest of my life. You cannot for ever keep former Goverments blaming for for things they did, for things you young people know nothing about. Look forward not backwardsthere is nothing in the past.


      Apr 1, 2013 at 11:08pm

      Mr. Heinz,

      I'm sorry to hear that you had a difficult upbringing in Germany, but your entire argument was flawed from the very first line. What exactly do you mean by "superior peoples"? Why are they "superior"? What makes them better than the rest of us?? (Answer: nothing, other than a 0.001% difference in DNA, which probably accounted for lighter hair and skin).

      Also, us "young people" might "know nothing" but we're going to be around here for a little longer than you are, so unless you have something constructive to contribute that is actually useful, please hush.