Idle No More protesters gather in front of Canada’s Parliament on Friday. (Photo: Twitpic via Samson Cree Nation)
A movement spawned by First Nation activists over indigenous rights and environmental protections in Canada has spread far and wide as Idle No More‘s Global Day of Action spurred solidarity demonstrations across the country Friday.
“The goal is to raise the profile of the movement, demonstrate our global presence, and give visibility to the growing momentum as a people’s movement first,” announced one solidarity group associated with the movement.
A major rally outside Canada’s Parliament building occurred as a meeting between some First Nation leaders and representatives from the Canadian government began in Ottawa.
The Idle No More movement swelled to international prominence over the last month as Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, now on the 32nd day of a hunger strike, gave voice to anger over new government laws that undermined long-standing agreements with First Nations.
Though some leaders agreed to attend a “nation to nation” meeting between First Nation Chiefs and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Spence is boycotting the meeting saying it would not meet the demands declared by the Idle No More movement.
“I clearly stated from the beginning that the meeting has to include both the Governor General and the Prime Minister in attendance,” Spence said in a statement. “We continue to push for justice, equality, and fairness for all Indigenous peoples.”
Despite evidence of friction between some First Nation leaders, the Idle No More movement has in many regards outgrown specific earlier demands as a broader movement for indigenous and environmental rights has grown up around it.
As Canadian activists Maude Barlow and Ken Georgetti explain: “All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Theresa Spence’s and Elder Raymond Robinson’s hunger strikes. These individuals are calling attention to an intolerable situation among First Nations communities. They are also highlighting concerns common to many Canadians about dangers posed by unilateral government actions to the natural environment and the state of our democracy.”
Elsewhere in Canada, protesters in British Columbia set up a blockade at the Port of Vancouver with plans to march on City Hall. Demonstrations were also reported in other major cities, including Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal, and smaller cities and towns nationwide.
As part of the international day of action, indigineous people were encouraged not to buy anything Friday unless they do so on a reserve, CBC reports.
Rallies on campuses and other cultural sites around the country were also expected, including at the University of Winnipeg, Canadian Mennonite University, the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Native Education Centre in Vancouver.
Supporters in the United States were among those across the globe participating in the #J11 Global Day of Action events. Other solidarity actions were also planned in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.
Over 3,000 of demonstrators have overtaken Parliament Hill and blocked the main entrance to the prime minister’s office ahead of a meeting between the Harper and members of the First Nations community.
CBC News reporter Julie Ireton tweeted that protesters closed streets in the capital city, drumming and dancing as the swarm of people swelled as they made their way towards the Hill.
The demonstrators began their march on Victoria Island, where Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been camped for more than a month during her hunger strike protest.
In Montreal, a round dance spanned two city blocks as over 1,500 gathered outside the Palais des Congrès. You can view a live stream from the demonstration below.
Demonstrations spread far as this crowd gathered in the Northwest Territories on Friday afternoon.
Street art goes up in solidarity in Paris, France.
(Photo: Solguy via Twitter)
To Meet or Not To Meet?
First Nation women standing in solidarity with the Idle No More movement tried to block Matthew Coon Come, Chief of the Cree Nation, from joining the meeting with the Prime Minister and then voice outrage as he enters the offices:
Chief Shawn Atleo, head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), also attended the meeting. Like Chief Coon Come, he received scorn from some and threats that his ongoing leadership might be challenged.
Promises of more to come:
The Toronto Star reports that many First Nation chiefs are committed to continuing their campaign of protest regardless of what comes out of today’s meeting in Ottowa:
The threat comes as First Nations are calling for a national day of action on Jan. 16 that could fill streets with protesters and shut down rail lines and highways.
“We’re going to rally on Jan. 16 right across Canada,” said Wallace Fox, chief of the Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. While it’s billed as a peaceful protest, it also promises disruptions similar to what Canadians have seen in recent weeks from the Idle No More movement. “You’ll see more of that. Highway blockades, rail lines,” he said.
The meeting with Harper was cast in doubt as angry chiefs voiced their frustration with the prime minister’s refusal to meet on their terms.
“We’re not going to meet with Harper on his agenda because we initiated this as chiefs,” Fox said. Instead, Harper has dictated the terms of the meeting “on my terms, my turf,” he said. “We’re not agreeing with that.”
Idle No More‘s promo video for #J11:
Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 by Rabble.ca
Why Idle No More Has Resonated with Canadians
Imagine a country where the national government introduces and passes legislation that detrimentally affects all of its First Nations communities but it doesn’t bother to consult with them. Then a chief of an impoverished northern First Nation community goes on a hunger strike to get a meeting between the First Nations leadership and the government several months after this legislation was passed. Does this have implications for all Canadians? You bet it does. This will not be the last time that individuals or groups will take such extreme measures in response to the federal government’s public policy process or lack thereof.
All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Theresa Spence’s and Elder Raymond Robinson’s hunger strikes. These individuals are calling attention to an intolerable situation among First Nations communities. They are also highlighting concerns common to many Canadians about dangers posed by unilateral government actions to the natural environment and the state of our democracy.
The hunger strike has galvanized widespread protests by youthful and energetic supporters of the Idle No More movement. These are all predictable responses to a government that routinely bullies anyone who does not agree with it, refuses to consult, and prefers ideology over evidence when developing and implementing public policy.
Of major concern to First Nations and many other Canadians are two omnibus budget bills (C-38 and C-45) that were imposed upon the country during the past year. These bills each comprised hundreds of pages and contained legislative changes that went far beyond what was contained in the budget.
The omnibus bills will have an especially damaging impact on First Nations communities. Bill C-45 amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act to ensure that future resource projects will no longer trigger a federal environmental assessment or force corporations to notify the federal government of their plans. Certain key rivers in British Columbia, along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, for example, will now be excluded from federal government environmental oversight.
This same bill also changed the Fisheries Act in ways that First Nations believe will adversely affect their traditional fishing rights. The omnibus bills also replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with new laws that will limit First Nations involvement in environmental assessments on their own lands, as well as doing away with assessments entirely for some projects. All of this will limit the ability of First Nations, and the public at large, to present views and concerns on the environmental impact of various resource development projects.
Bill C-45 also makes changes to the Indian Act that will make it easier to lease out land for economic development without adequately consulting band residents. The Assembly of First Nations believes this means resource exploitation on reserve land can occur without the solid consent of their community.
The government acted in a similarly high-handed way when, without any consultation, it used Bill C-38 to raise the age from 65 to 67 at which Canadians are eligible for the Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. When this change is implemented, its greatest negative effects will be felt by the most vulnerable workers. Those who have toiled for low wages, often in the most physically demanding jobs, will be forced to work for two extra years before receiving old age security benefits. This happened despite overwhelming evidence from experts across the political spectrum that this change was unnecessary.
Here is the problem. This government drafts public policy and passes laws without facts or evidence to support its positions. Ottawa allows only limited and perfunctory consultation for stakeholders. If you stand up and speak out, you are criticized and attacked in the House of Commons and the Conservative public relations machine goes into overdrive to discredit your position or organization. If you are a recipient of federal government funding, you lose it by the next budget cycle. It’s bully American-style politics at its worst.
Many Canadians are deeply ashamed of the persistence of poverty and deplorable living conditions in First Nations communities, and that we still have not settled land claims with them. Many also share First Nations’ concerns about the environmental implications of changes to fisheries, environmental assessments, and water protection.
The hunger strike by Chief Spence and actions undertaken by the Idle No More movement have resonated with Canadians. National Chief Shawn Atleo has arranged for a crucial meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss urgent issues that cannot wait. We salute individuals and the movement that have created the conditions to force this conversation to occur. It is completely un-Canadian and a national disgrace that it took a hunger strike and national protests to create an opportunity for dialogue and input that should have happened in the first place.
The real shame is how little Canadians expect of their national government and how disengaged and unaffected they feel about politics at the national level. It is only a matter of time before Canadians realize that this government serves only the interests of a few. Citizens will begin to contemplate individual and collective responses and actions to change this situation.
Decisions that leave people behind force them into the streets. This was true of the Occupy movement and the Quebec students’ protest, and now we are seeing it with Idle No More. It is likely Canadians will witness more in the future given this government’s tendency to make substantive policy changes that alter the fabric of society without consultation.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Ken Georgetti is president of the 3.3 million member Canadian Labour Congress.
Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 by Huffington Post
Idle No More: Think Occupy, But With Deep Deep Roots
I don’t claim to know exactly what’s going on with #IdleNoMore, the surging movement of indigenous activists that started late last year in Canada and is now spreading across the continent — much of the action, from hunger strikes to road and rail blockades, is in scattered and remote places, and even as people around the world plan for solidarity actions on Friday, the press has done a poor job of bringing it into focus.
But I sense that it’s every bit as important as the Occupy movement that transfixed the world a year ago; it feels like it wells up from the same kind of long-postponed and deeply-felt passion that powered the Arab spring. And I know firsthand that many of its organizers are among the most committed and skilled activists I’ve ever come across. In fact, if Occupy’s weakness was that it lacked roots (it had to take over public places, after all, which proved hard to hold on to), this new movement’s great strength is that its roots go back farther than history. More than any other people on this continent, they know what exploitation and colonization are all about, and so it’s natural that at a moment of great need they’re leading the resistance to the most profound corporatization we’ve ever seen. I mean, we’ve just come off the hottest year ever in America, the year when we broke the Arctic ice cap; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was when I was born.
Thanks to the same fossil fuel industry that’s ripping apart Aboriginal lands, we’re at the very end of our rope as a species; it’s time, finally, to listen to the people we’ve spent the last five centuries shunting to one side.
Eighteen months ago, when we at the climate campaign 350.org started organizing against the Keystone XL Pipeline, the very first allies we came across were from the Indigenous Environmental Network — people like Tom Goldtooth and Clayton Thomas-Muller. They’d been working for years to alert people to the scale of the devastation in Alberta’s tar sands belt, where native lands had been wrecked and poisoned by the immense scale of the push to mine “the dirtiest energy on earth.” And they quickly introduced me to many more — heroes like Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Cree Nation who was traveling the world explaining exactly what was going on.
When, in late summer 2011, we held what turned into the biggest civil disobedience action in 30 years in this country, the most overrepresented group were indigenous North Americans — in percentage terms they outnumbered even the hardy band of Guilty Liberals like me. And what organizers! Heather Milton-Lightning, night after night training new waves of arrestees; Gitz Crazyboy of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta absolutely on fire as he described the land he could no longer hunt and fish.
In the year since, the highlights of incessant campaigning have been visits to Canada, always to see native leaders in firm command of the fight — Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus in Yellowknife, or Chief Reuben George along the BC coast. Young and powerful voices like Caleb Behn, from the province’s interior; old and steady leaders in one nation after another. I’ve never met Chief Theresa Spence, the Attawapiskat leader whose hunger strike has been the galvanizing center of #IdleNoMore but I have no doubt she’s cut of the same cloth.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice if he wanted to keep developing Canada’s tar sands, because there’s no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.
Canada’s environmental community protested in all the normal ways — but they had no more luck than, say, America’s anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There’s trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta’s tarsands, and Harper’s fossil-fuel backers won’t be denied.
But there’s a stumbling block they hadn’t counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the Aboriginal Nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the Crown, and others haven’t, but none have ceded their lands, and all of them feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper’s power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada’s total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world’s second largest pool of carbon. NASA’s James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we’re combusting will mean it’s “game over for the climate.” Which means, in turn, that Canada’s First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.
And luckily the sentiment is spreading south. Tribal Nations in the U.S., though sometimes with less legal power than their Canadian brethren, are equally effective organizers — later this month, for instance, an international gathering of indigenous peoples and a wide-ranging list of allies on the Yankton Sioux territory in South Dakota may help galvanize continued opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would help wreck those tar sands by carrying the oil south (often across reservations) to the Gulf of Mexico. American leaders like Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Indian Reservation have joined in the fight with a vengeance, drawing the connections between local exploitation and global climate change.
Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of native communities — because they were poor and scattered in distant places, they could be ignored or bought off. But in fact their lands contain much of the continent’s hydrocarbon wealth — and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet’s future — and #IdleNoMore is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense.
© 2012 Bill McKibben