During the past month, the voices of individuals across Canada aiming to protect the rights of First Nations peoples have grown louder. It’s all due to a movement called Idle No More.
Idle No More is a grassroots group that, according to its website, “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills indigenous sovereignty,” protects the land and water and stops attacks on the rights of First Nations peoples in Canada. Across the country, individuals associated with the Idle No More movement held demonstrations throughout December designed to shed light on First Nations treaty issues.
The new movement has clearly put some wind in the sails of Canadians who want to see more action from Ottawa when it comes to First Nations issues. But whether the momentum gained will be maintained is a question worth considering.
Idle No More has risen to prominence as Chief Theresa Spence of northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation continues a hunger strike that began on Dec. 11. Spence – who has undertaken her action while living in a teepee on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River – has said she is willing to die if the government does not show more respect for First Nations treaties. She has asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss her concerns, but so far the prime minister has yet to respond to the request.
A year ago, Spence declared a state of emergency in Attawapiskat due to the poor state of housing in the community, which has made headlines across Canada and beyond for its sub-standard living conditions.
As well as concern about the situation in Attawapiskat, Idle No More supporters have grown in number due to a general sense of frustration with what they see as a lack of consultation with First Nations peoples by the federal government. That issue of a perceived lack of consultation was raised during an Idle No More protest at Brant MP Phil McColeman’s constituency office in December. About 40 activists associated with the movement showed up at the MP’s Christmas open house.
“First Nations treaties are the last stand in the protection of the environment in Canada,” said Dakota Brant, a spokesperson for the local Idle No More group. “We need to educate (the federal government) that we feel underrepresented in consultation.”
The protest at McColeman’s office was not the first time local First Nations demonstrators have raised concerns about a perceived lack of federal consultation. For his part, McColeman said the federal government has consulted First Nations peoples on legislation in Parliament and that he is willing to meet with members of the group that demonstrated at his office to address their concerns.
But even if federal politicians meet with individuals raising concerns as part of Idle No More, the movement has a long way to go if it hopes to make real change.
Without a sustained effort by the group, it will be easy for the government to push aside the concerns of Idle No More supporters. If Idle No More fizzles in coming weeks, it may well be remembered as little more than a story that made headlines, but led to little more than that. (Remember the “occupy” movement?) The outcome of Spence’s hunger strike will surely have a big impact on where the movement goes from here.
Will the federal government address the concerns of Idle No More supporters? Will movement fade? Will it grow into a larger political movement? These are questions that will have a significant impact when it comes to setting the tone for the federal government’s relations with Canada’s First Nations peoples in 2013.