A Global Indigenous Uprising

The return to nation-to-nation negotiation.


In his article, “Is Idle No More the new Occupy Wall Street,” Mark Gollom of CBC states: “it is not clear that a protest dedicated solely to aboriginal issues will have a similar impact or spur any kind of change.” Idle No More is not just another “protest.” It is not like the anti-pipeline protests, wildcat strikes, or austerity uprisings. #Idlenomore is much more than all that, it is a major movement aimed at mending historical and ongoing injustices that Canadian society at large has lost sight of (if not obfuscated).

For us settlers, it is important to recognize that these very issues that Gollom labels as “solely aboriginal” in fact overlap with many of the pressing concerns that Canada’s diverse Left is fighting for: social justice, human rights, environmental protection, resistance against total corporate control, the safekeeping of our natural resources for future generations. As Pam Palmater, Mi'kmaq lawyer and spokesperson for Idle No More, stated so aptly, “Canadians need to realize that we are their last best hope at saving the lands, waters, plants, animals and resources for future generations because our Aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally protected.”

Idle No More is an anti-oppression movement, and as such it is more comparable to the civil rights movement and the women’s movement of the 1960s and 70s. As Judy Rebick explains for Rabble:

What Idle No More wants is as significant, if not more significant, a change to our culture and our country as the black liberation or the women’s movement. And just as white people and men have to recognize their privilege and how they benefit from the oppression and discrimination of black people and women to be true allies, so we settlers have to recognize the great privilege each of us has, as a result of the colonial exploitation of First Nations historically and today. The problem of the relationship between First Nations and Canada is not just a government problem, not just a problem of a right-wing philosophy, it is all of our problem. This means trashing the stereotypes, learning the history and the real economics of the relationship between Canada and First Nations. This too Idle No More is accomplishing by inspiring through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, articles and teach-in as well as alternative and mainstream media coverage.

Indeed, for settlers to recognize themselves as such is an uncomfortable, disorienting realization. No wonder so many run from the responsibility that stems from the recognition of one’s privilege, immunity, and even complicity in a colonial culture. As former Prime Minister Paul Martin recently declared, “We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power.”

It is probably far easier, for example, for North American individuals to recognize how they contribute to the degradation of the environment through their actions and lifestyles – and it's relatively easy to change ones lifestyle for the better (which is not to say that composting and bicycling will reverse global warming). But to understand what it is to be a settler is a much more confusing process because many white settlers think, “I’m not a settler. I didn’t take Indian land.” But every person who benefits from the theft of indigenous land is a settler. That is, every day that you live in Canada, make a living in Canada, and enjoy its notably high standard of living, you are part of ongoing settler colonization, as it is soberly explained in this video.

Settler Colonization: imposed changed of lifestyle (industry, progress, consumerism, finance) in places we claim as ours; the perceived right to live on others land without their permission, and in turn our white-settler-ancestors stole, murdered, raped, attempted genocide and assimilation. Colonization is not only about soldiers and conquests, it is about the millions of people, families and communities who pursue wealth and freedom at the expense of indigenous peoples and their culture – and indeed most of us alive now do this unawares. Understanding the way systems of power work on us and through us, perpetuating inequality and subjugation – is yet another thing many settlers will have to learn more about in order to understand their role, should they step up, in this movement. Educating oneself and others is the first step in becoming an ally to indigenous communities – but it is just a first step.

As Chelsea Vowel, a Plains Cree-speaking Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, states: there must be a commitment to renewing and restructuring the settler/First Nations relationship. Vowel reminds us that, “Indigenous peoples and settlers began this relationship as equals,” Vowel reminds us, “and [they] chose to make treaties with one another to enshrine two concepts: peaceful co-existence and non-interference.” Eventually, settler Canadians disavowed and abused that original commitment, and what ensued was very much a sinister inverse of those historical promises. Many Canadians remain in the dark about the history that followed – a history of violence, violation and marginalization that First Nations people have faced for several hundred years here on “our home on native land.” Now, we have polluted the land, air and water which we all share, turning Canada into the world's gas tank. The price: on many reserves, the water is so toxic that it can catch on fire, animals which drink it produce offspring without eyes, salmon and trout that swim in it are so mutated that women who eat fish can't bear children.

Today, the meeting between Stephen Harper and several First Nations leaders produced empty gestures, at best. Harper and Chief Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, agreed to meet again within a month to continue their “high level dialogue” on comprehensive land claims, but Harper did not vow to remove the controversial environmental provisions he snuck into the latest two omnibus bills. Those who expect these meetings to be the be all and end all of Idle No More have a limited understanding of it. The rally cries we are now hearing on the streets and through social media are not emerging “suddenly,” but are rooted in a five hundred year long struggle for self-determination. Idle No More is not just a movement reacting to a sneaky and sinister omnibus bill; the voices we hear today have been part of centuries of resistance to colonialism – a long history of indigenous struggle for self-determination at a national and international level. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal, Section 35 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are all the result of the history upon which Idle No More is standing. But even these mandates and documents have not been enough.

In this video, John Lennon asks “what are they [the American government] doing for them [Native American’s]?” He answers himself, “not enough.” Idle No More is saying “enough,” that “the time has come to end broken promises and recognize the rights of the first people of this land.”

Today is #J11 – a Global Day of Action, Solidarity and Resurgence. Tonight, alas, the Governer General will meet with Chief Spence and a hundred other chiefs. Why the aboriginal people were so adamant about meeting with both the prime minister and the Governor General is because the original treaties were signed with the crown, not the government. Chief Spence and Chief Atleo hope this will be the beginning of effective dialogue and negotiation, nation to nation. Meanwhile, #Idlenomore solidarity protests, rallies, blockades, marches and the like have spread across the globe. Indigenous people near and far are rising up and joining together, and more and more non-natives are seeing the importance in standing with them. There are over a hundred actions going on in Canada, across the USA, in Chile, New Zealand, Egypt, Australia, Finland, Colombia, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, and in the UK. This won't end tonight, at the end of this weekend, or in the next month. This is the beginning of an international movement, a global indigenous uprising, and a full-fledged freedom fight for all of us who want a proud future for Canada, and the planet.