Something’s happened over the past few months. Protests have sprouted up literally around the world with signs much like those in the photo below (taken in San Jose in JIt’s a Native Canadian (referred to as “First Nation” in Canada) movement recently arising as a resistance to a series of bills initiated by Canada’s Conservative government. Although the “leadership” can traced to the initiative of a handful of women, it’s organization – such as it is – is decentralized so that it’s drawing comparisons to the Occupy Movement, and drawing similar criticisms from its detractors.
It began with omnibus Bill C-45, essentially intended to gut the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) of 1882 – including the name itself (It will be referred to as the Navigation Protection Act (NPA)). What the NWPA did was require a rigorous approval process, which included First Nation input, before any major development could take place on national waterways. In mind was apparently clearing way for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The “NPA” limits the process to a specific list of lakes and rivers, leaving a significant amount of new waterways (that are largely on Indigenous lands) vulnerable to expanded industrial development and environmental damage.
Basically it’s a twofer – deregulation of most of the waterways, and seizure of the already limited legal power of the tribes. C-45 isn’t the only bill targeted by this movement however. The list:
- Bill C-38 (Budget Omnibus Bill #1)
- Bill C-45 (Budget Omnibus Bill #2)
- Bill C-27 First Nations Financial Transparency Act
- Bill S-2 Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act
- Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act
- Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations
- Bill C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
- Bill S-207 An Act to amend the Interpretation Act
- Bill S-212 First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill
- “First Nations” Private Ownership Act
These bills are a focus, but not the sole focus. Really it’s about the process Harper’s administration took, which was to essentially bypass even what passed for a process of communication in order to muscle through some “reforms” being pushed by some very strong lobbies, within Canada and without.
The movement began with a teach-in involving activists Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon in November 2012, in Saskatoon - the name of the event being “Idle No More.” But credit may also go to one Tanya Kappo who twittered the concept as early as November. And Chief Theresa Spence initiated a hunger strike aimed at a dialogue with Stephen Harper, but her effort actually underscores the first division within the movement as it is primarily focused on winning hearts and minds – educating and impacting the general political climate – not aimed at a specific legislative or in-system strategy.
The Conservatives have employed Native members of their ranks to discredit the movement, pointing out that some of the “reforms” proposed are supported by some Native leadership (including some elements of the Assembly of First Nations), and they criticize the movement for extra-parliamentary system tactics and a lack of focus. But again, the point of the movement is education and revitalization, leaving the Realpolitik to other efforts. The proposed legislation was the trigger, but not the whole point. The Conservatives certainly understand this, or they wouldn’t be taking so much trouble to discredit Idle No More.
What is amazing is that without centralized organization, solidarity protests have sprung up throughout Canada, the United States, Latin America, Europe, and even Egypt. And in most places, the efforts are adapting the “flash mob” tactics, involving chants, music, and a very upbeat tone despite the very serious issues involved. The photograph above was taken by INM supporter Carole Flynn at a solidarity demonstration in San Jose last month.
It’s hard to judge the effectiveness of a movement like this one, as it doesn’t necessarily result in the passage or defeat of a certain bill, and as with the Occupy movement the gain can seem intangible until the talking heads have their say. But even they acknowledged that Occupy may have turned the climate around to be a serious factor in Obama’s win, or at least Romny’s defeat. Right now, the INM protests are being credited for having forced extensive dialogue between the Canadian government and First Nations leadership – a good thing although INM voices have been very critical of the First Nations on many different levels. And there are internal disagreements about strategies and tactics, and probably even some ego/power struggles, which will be played up by the media. And there are inconsistencies. And there is garbled messaging. And I’m sure all the usual suspects of sectarians and pols will rush to jump on the coattails and take credit where they can. And while INM activities are in a lull since February, the media will probably try to write its epitaph, just as they did to the Occupy Movement on a weekly basis long before it petered out.
But there is also drive, energy, and focus. And there is optimism – for the first time in a long while. INM may not sustain itself in present form indefinitely, but I expect it will ebb and flow furiously for some time. Already, even well-intentioned progressives are feeding into the potential meme of the movement as a flash-in-the-pan, but Google news “Idle No More” and you’ll find that there’s plenty of activity whether it’s getting national or international coverage.
Not much coverage in the US media just yet, but plenty in the Canadian media. Lots of youtube videos, including this collage of the issues and events leading up to the first protests. It spread like wildfire by word-of-mouth. I first heard about it from a friend, not the media. That it spread internationally so quickly indicates a very strong grassroots presence. The Canadian government is right to be afraid.