The grassroots movement Idle No More is rapidly gaining indigenous and non-indigenous support as First Nations, Métis and Inuit people fight for their sovereignty in Canada.
While many of the movement’s supporters don’t want to restrict Idle No More’s message to Canadian lands, the bulk of the dissent is centred upon the federal government’s omnibus Bill C-45.
Critics of C-45 argue that it does not honour the treaties and it drastically eliminates protection of many lakes and rivers. However, as Jeff Denis wrote in the Toronto Star Dec. 20, “one could feel the movement brewing for years.”
Denis highlights actions Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has taken during its time in power that have pushed Canada’s aboriginal community to revolt.
“Since 2008, the Harper government has cut aboriginal health funding, gutted environmental review processes, ignored the more than 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada, withheld residential school documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, abandoned land claim negotiations, and tried to defend its underfunding of First Nations schools and child welfare agencies.”
Harper was also criticized by many Canadians and federal opposition parties last year for his handling of a crisis in Attawapiskat, Ont.Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who has emerged as an icon for Idle No More, made headlines last year when she declared a state of emergency in the northern Ontario town located along James Bay. Spence, along with other community leaders, cited inadequate housing and a lack of electricity and running water as major problems that needed to be addressed before winter hit that year.
Harper removed Attawapiskat’s finances from the local government’s control and placed the town under third-party management. Federal opposition parties as well as Spence criticized this move and many opposition leaders urged Harper to visit the town, which he declined to do.
Now Spence has joined the Idle No More movement and has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11, urging Harper and the Governor General to meet with her and other First Nations leaders. The strike, which Spence began one day after the movement’s National Day of Action, helped bring widespread media attention to Idle No More.
Idle No More was founded by four Saskatchewan women — Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean — and the movement held its first event on Nov. 10 at Station 20 West in Saskatoon. This first event was a small discussion — especially compared to the larger rallies held more recently — on Bill C-45. The next week, events were held across the province in Regina, Prince Albert and North Battleford as well as in Winnipeg.
The movement picked up a lot of its steam on Dec. 10 with the National Day of Action. The day of action, which occurred one week after First Nations chiefs were denied entrance into the House of Commons following an attempt to express their frustrations with C-45, saw protests held in Toronto, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Whitehorse and several other Canadian cities.
These cities, along with an increasing number of Canadian communities, have hosted numerous other rallies since Dec. 10.
The movement has now spread into the U.S. and Europe as people all across the world use social media to express their solidarity with Idle No More.
Idle No More first crossed the border Dec. 21 when rallies were held in front of the Canadian Consulates in Los Angeles and San Francisco.[box type=”info” icon=”none”]
Senate passed Bill C-45 in the House of Commons Dec. 14. It will become law once the Governor General signs it.
The Idle No More movement and several other First Nations refuse to honour the bill. They claim that C-45 violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples because it does not honour the treaties or indigenous sovereignty and because the federal government did not adequately consult with First Nations before instituting the legislation.
Idle No More spokesperson Eriel Deranger told Global News that changes to the Indian Act will make it easier for the federal government to remove land from the First Nations. She said that not only can the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs now call a referendum for land removal but also that the referendum’s results will stand no matter how few members of a First Nation attend — previously, a referendum had to include all members of a First Nation.
She also said that changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, Fisheries Act and Environmental Assessment Act will weaken Canada’s environmental laws.
The 130-year-old Navigable Waters Protection Act will be changed to the Navigation Protection Act, which will see thousands of Canadian lakes and rivers removed from federal protection. The government argues that the new act makes it easier to begin necessary infrastructure projects along waterways but Idle No More supporters believe the amendment too highly prioritizes industrial development over the environment.
C-45 critics also argue that changes to the Fisheries Act, which previously required companies to build new lakes or streams when one of their projects damaged waterways, will allow companies to opt out of these environmental commitments. They also argue that changes in the Environmental Assessment Act will too significantly relax the environmental review process. [/box]