Opinion: The KSA’s aboriginal representative explains why students should care about Idle No More.
By Melinda Bige
[KSA aboriginal constituency representative]
The Idle No More movement represents a turning point in Canada’s history as First Nations groups lead protests against the federal government’s sweeping changes to legislation directly affecting the independence, environmental concerns, and health and safety of First Nations groups.
Idle No More is a movement sparked and organized by four women: Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon and Sheelah McLean. It is an Indigenous movement, a woman’s movement and above all, a people’s movement, yet many Canadians remain unaware of the movement growing right under their noses.
It sprouted as Parliamentary bills such as C-45, S-2, S-212, S-8, and the First Nations Education Act brought major changes to Canada’s environmental regulations, Aboriginal sovereignty, land claims, and governance. There was no consultation whatsoever with First Nations groups on any of these bills. The common theme among First Nations groups and the Colonial system is a forced relationship between both groups by the Canadian Government. The assumption that the system in place now is better, naturalized, and normalized discredits any system from other cultural standpoints. These laws ignore First Nations’ rights to their land, and to govern their own communities as they have done pre-contact.
To make such drastic changes that directly affect First Nations communities without consultation is further evidence that the Canadian Government had no plan to make amends for the colonial abuses that First Nations have suffered. Even though Stephen Harper made a public apology, six months later he denied any colonialism existed in Canada at the G-8 and G-20 summits.
These bills make it so that the Government of Canada can wash their hands clean of providing proper plumbing and drinking water to First Nations communities, allowing land to be forfeited to non-First Nations people upon the ending of a marriage, dishonours land claims, and takes control of education on reserves (which is all too reminiscent of residential schools). These bills remove the government’s responsibility to consult with First Nations groups when removing natural resources on reserve land. These bills remove Indigenous peoples’ right to their own governance, proper living conditions, and forces them into city centers for the purpose of stripping the land of its resources to support our economy.
Canada’s economy is dependent upon the export of natural resources. Instead of moving away from dependence upon natural resources, Harper is further moving into dependency. Our government could support alternative forms of economic income, and self sustaining forms of energy use such as windmill power, and solar power. However, the Canadian government is using the tar sands to make their place in the global economy. It makes sense that the bills put forward would directly attack First Nations groups, as they are a monumental barrier to the Canadian Government getting ahead quickly in the global economy.
Chief Spence of the Attawapiskat nation has taken a stand against further domination via a peaceful hunger strike. Her terms are she will go hungry until a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General take place with First Nation Leaders. Chief Spence has been on hunger strike for over a month now and had given Prime Minister Stephen Harper 72 hours to respond and co-ordinate a meeting with her. Those talks were mired in controversy and her protest continues.
The living condition of the First Nations group brought Canada’s attention to the ghettoization of First Nations people on reserves. The question remained; who is responsible? The blame came down to the governance of the First Nations group as deemed by the state. This gave ammunition to the government to continue its racist ideology that “Indians can’t pay their bills”, and Canada swooped in to save the day with more legislation.
Demonstrations will continue as the rights to sovereignty of First Nations groups in Canada still need to be acknowledged, respected, and supported by the Canadian Government. Many of these demonstrations occurred in malls across North America as protestors participated in round dancing and drumming. In many places across Canada, road blocks have been organized to get Canadians’ attention. Peacefully pursued, this is the most impactful and most covered movement led by Indigenous peoples of Canada.