Saturday, December 29, 2012

Idle No More

"Idle No More"... Sounds catchy... and for the majority of First Nations people it resonated... Activism in First Nations is not a foreign concept; and historically speaking not as well organised as their brethren counterparts in the United-States. Grievances, annoyances, disturbances, made by First Nations in general have not been effectively reported by national newspaper syndicates. As coordinated efforts by Indian bands across Canada made themselves manifest, the federal government's position (Conservative or Liberal) have always been one of division. Reiterating the Indian Act is not the focal point of this article, but it must be said that in regards to Indian Affairs; this act has been the only official document in which federal Indian Policies have been made available to First Nations.
            Political pundits have been dismissive and a "let's wait and see" approach by most Canadian media syndicates proved to have acerbated the escalating discontent among First Nation activists. Instant dissemination of their protest through national media attention was of importance; with the added aim of projecting their displeasure over the latest series of proposed amendment bills being passed by the Conservative Government.
        Notwithstanding their challenges; Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps has been more adaptable in propagating the "Idle No More" campaign. The nature and sheer numbers connecting to "Idle No More" official groups on Facebook alone has forced the issue to be fought in a forum not easily anyone. The validation of such an organization through social media outlets such as Facebook might seem less disingenuous; perhaps even thought of as the unofficial diatribes of ignorant blusterous people preaching on their "soap boxes."
             Milada Rysan of the Calgary Herald said in an article on Dec 21st, "I am tired of the rhetoric of the Idle No More movement. It started when one woman on a remote reserve saw a comment on Facebook, and, without knowing anything about it, sent copious e-mails and then it went viral."1 adding "Aren't there any thinking people in the native communities who see issues in a real light and point out the brainwashing of the masses of predominantly young people? Isn't there anybody to say "wait a minute," what exactly are we asking for? Confrontation and threat of militant action will only be a dangerous step backward, and negate all positive developments. This is not the way civilized societies deal with problems in the 21st century."
            Milada Rysan is entitled to her personal opinion however any self-respecting journalist would attribute and reference her article based on opinions of members of the public who wish to go on the record; and the editor of the Calgary Herald should be more mindful as to what is actually being reported as per what is based on one journalist's personal views on the issue. Journalistic integrity aside, articles in newspaper syndicates such as the Calgary Herald continues to further fuel First Nations anger; and promotes the issues of First Nations as invalid, ignorant and based on false information.
       The Edmonton editorial of December 20th was more reflective of the current situation,"But if we are ever to tun the corner on this chronic national embarrassment, the frustration itself must not be dismissed. By almost instantly creating a national protest movement that has included road blockades and urban demonstrations, Idle No More has done the country a considerable favor by spotlighting a problem ... even if poor choices by some in more influential positions have played a role in creating the status quo. And third, it’s difficult to blame aboriginals for pointing the finger at the Canadian government, when that body is, institutionally, the one that created the current system and that is responsible for the residential schools that had such a catastrophic effect on native peoples and their relations with the rest of society. But does legitimate frustration among First Nations people translate into sound proposed solutions? That is to say, do the protesters have a good road map forward? Many Canadians may argue “no,” having come to the secret suspicion that the reserve system itself is part of the problem.”
       Incendiary comments made by Christie Blatchford’s article in the Calgary Herald epitomize the disdain and open skepticism towards reserves and Indian past federal policies in the media, "The bureaucracies, federal and provincial, which purport to serve First Nations often, make a mess of it. The Indian Act clearly breeds dependence and learned helplessness both, and infantilizes native people. The millions that flow every year to First Nations-Attawapiskat alone,the prime minister said last year at the time of the housing emergency, has received $90 million in transfer payments since the Conservatives were elected in 2006- seems to do nothing to raise the aboriginal standard of living. First Nations governance itself often offers a less than pretty picture,"3 said Blatchford.
         Blatchford does not articulate who and which political government instituted the Indian Act. She instead focuses her attention to last year's Attawapiskat housing crisis and the subsequent transfer payments as proof positive that Chief Spence is somehow manipulating the "Idle No More" movement and the raw emotions of First Nations Peoples for political gain. Whether or not Blatchford's opinion is correct is not at issue. The pursuance of Chief Spence motives to stage a hunger strike in conjunction with the movement is not at issue. What is of importance is the relation and descriptive validity and personal resonance First Nation Peoples attribute in regards to Chief Spence's act of activism...on the record.
          Blatchford may believe Indians are too damn ignorant and biased to comment and support the behavior of such a "shady" character; however it is not her or anyone else in the media to question the intent of "Idle No More" without attribution and quotable persons directly involved in the movement of affected by it. Blatchford further added in her article, "So, while Chief Spence and others, may long for "nation-to-nation" discussions,  there is I think a genuine question as to whether there's enough of aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn't irreparably damaged already. Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make. It is tempting to see the action as one of intimidation, if not terrorism: She is, after all, holding the state hostage to vaguely articulated demands. But if she were to die on Harper's watch, it would not only be tragic, but also disastrous. There is no end to the stupidity bred  by hunger strikes when even friends and family argue that death becomes the person starving."
          This statement is not reporting the news. It is merely stating her opinion as to the legitimacy of First Nation's ability to identify themselves as Treaty Indians at all. Furthermore according to Blatchford, it smacks of conceit for Chief Spence to position her hunger strike ultimatums directly at he feet of the Prime Minister Harper. Again, I fail to see a single attributable source in which support such statements made by Blatchford.
            First Nations Chiefs and activists would characterize such arguments as racist, and not nearly illustrative of the continued efforts by Conservatives to pass the “White Paper” of 1969 through the back door by amendment bills such as B-C45.  Mobilization efforts were well under way prior to “Idle No More” as the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs meeting in Gatineau, Québec on December 4-6, 2012 attested, “There is little the country can do if First Nations unite and decide to rule their own destinies. Now it’s time to push back,” said Ovide Mercredi a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations during the conference. Mercredi added, “Parliament can pass all the laws they want. We’ll just ignore them. They’ll try to enforce them, but who’s going to do that? The RCMP? 4
        Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief, Derek Nepinak articulated specifically his frustration over the process involved with Ottawa; “I’m tired of seeing our people run over by all of this. If First Nations ignored treaties the way Ottawa does, the legal foundation of Western Canada’s property laws and resource industries would be thrown into chaos. It’s time First Nations people step up and tell their leaders what other measures to take up.” 5
            The underestimations of Harper in regards to the incremental aggressiveness of First Nations ability to mobilize and focus on one targeted issue; exemplifies the overwhelming degree of nonchalance the Conservatives Party and Conservatives across Canada seem to adopt as it pertains to Indian issues. Braydon Mazurkiewich, former President of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party’s youth wing stated on Twitter, “Lord Have Mercy”…If they build a reserve inside this city (Winnipeg) I think this will be the last straw and will finally leave what is becoming the laughing stock…of the country,” 6 adding “Oh shit. Well, maybe we’ll have cheap cigarettes?”
       Astonishing is probably the mildest form of criticism I would attribute Mr. Mazurkiewich’s comments; sadly the under-current stereotyping and racist comments made by Conservatives is very common. If a Conservative elected member feels that such public comments made in regards to a Federal Court ruling explaining the failure of the Federal Government to “…force the federal government to reckon with First Nations treaty rights concerning such properties,” 7 said Kush and Rabson, then to what degree can we realistically ascertain exists within Canadians who share the same philosophy expressed by Braydon Mazurkiewich?
        Examples abound, for instance Québec Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau said in the Ottawa Citizen on December 28th, in an article by reporters Teresa Smith and Natalie Stechyson, "The sad reality is that there are a lot of people who would like to meet with the prime minister but...there is a chain of command within our parliamentary process," said Brazeau on Wednesday, "The minister involved in this particular issue has extended his invitation and has opened his door to meeting with Chief Spence, and I think that she should think twice and perhaps think hard about the opportunity that is being presented to her." 8
           Perhaps the patience and faith in due process involving federal cabinet ministers has been somewhat eroded; an act of setting aside due protocol is maybe what is best under the existing circumstances. Prime Minister Harper will not publicly acknowledge Chief Spence's request; as the nation-to-nation clause clearly contravenes Mr. Harper's position as to what needs to occur for First Nations. Assimilation within Canada; not existing as a sovereign entity within Canadian borders.
            Nathan Klippenstein is a teacher residing in Winnipeg and seems critical as he was part of a contingent of drivers who on December 15th were impeded by a blockade organized by the Sandy Bay First Nation on the Trans Canada Highway, "As I understand, the intention was to garner support  for their cause regarding omnibus budget Bill C-45. I can report unequivocally that if failed miserably. The 40 minute delay caused by a detour did nothing to neither further anyone's understanding of their ongoing plight nor do anything to make us want to look further into the many genuine issues they currently face. As I am sure some of the activists will report the intention was to  "inconvenience" us as they too have been "inconvenienced...well that's just plain petty and infantile response." 9
          "Idle No More" is provoking Canadians of all professions to partake in a national conversation, via newspaper comments, social media and among their own communities. It is also focusing worldwide attention to First Nations issues and how the Conservative government of Steven Harper will address the growing public social civil unrest across the country, "Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is quoted in the British media referring to the "Idle No More" grassroots movement stating, "That's social media, so we'll just have to see where that goes," said Content and News Director James Murray in a December 21st, 2012 editorial, adding, "It is a statement that demonstrates that the Harper Conservatives are following an ages old adage- Democracy is where the people don't vote in a new government, they vote the old one out. John Duncan and the Conservatives in their understanding of the new medium of social networking and Facebook are showing their 'best before date' and representation of being a little to far out-of-touch with today's Canada."
     According to Murray, the Conservatives are experiencing significant memory lapses in judgement, "In the case of the Conservatives, the voters sent a message for several elections to the Liberals that their term as the ‘National Governing Party’ was over and that the party needed a complete overhaul. The initial degree of trust in the Conservatives was not that high so the voters gave them a pair of minority governments before finally kicking the Liberals to the curb. That John Duncan could utter the idea “that’s social media, so we’ll just have to see where that goes” is a demonstration that the Harper Government has in only a very short time in office already hit the point that the Liberal Government before them were at after eight years in power." 11
        Indeed as to why Conservatives have done away with such "grassroots" ideology maybe due to the belief that "He who has the gold makes the rules" and Canadians at large, though they may bicker and grow angrier by the PMO's "modus operandi" still have another three years before seeking another majority mandate before the Canadian public. Time enough; to sweep the Idle No More movement out of the Canadian consciousness...or will it? 
       Tim Groves is an investigative researcher and journalist based out of Toronto and does not believe so, "Spread through social media and fueled by both the current and historic treatment of First Nation communities by the Canadian government, the Idle No More movement has spread across the continent and around the globe. Within Canadian borders over 100 events have taken place, including rallies, flash mob round dances, teach-ins and blockades. Actions have been held in every province and territory of Canada.   Solidarity rallies and flash mobs have taken place around the world. Over 30 events have been held in the United States, across the continent and in Hawaii. Solidarity rallies were also held in Stockholm, Sweden, London, UK, Berlin Germany, Auckland, New Zealand, and Cairo, Egypt, and messages of support have come from Croatia, Ukraine and Palestine.” 12 
          Groves believes the added pressures by international solidarity movements in support for “Idle No More” may be the antecedent to more civil unrest in Canada, "These blockades may be a sign of things to come. A group known as Turtle Island Movement has called for January 5th to be a day to shut down Canadian border crossings, "To show the government that we are willing to escalate this to a point where we shut down the country." Groves may be correct in his current assessment insofar as the progressive momentum undertaken by grassroots First Nations People. A spiritual comparative to "Wounded Knee" as it were, only more profound.
            It requires a certain amount of courage to post and associate your name and geographical area when making replies on media reporting by conglomerates such as the National Post, the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, ET AL. Being vulnerable to instant retributive, often negative feedback is not an easy thing to confront. There are many who choose to brave this issue by sheer belief in what they have to communicate is something worthwhile and of importance. Those who continue to be heard and express their opinions articulately in social mediums, newspapers, internet blogs, have the ability to transform change through the ballot box. "Idle No More" may be the single determining factor in which may bring about the political arena from newsprint to acts of activism on the scales of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's in the United-States....

  4.  Free Press, Aboriginal leaders call for action on legislation, by Alexander Paul
  5. Free Press, Aboriginal leaders call for action on legislation, by Alexander Paul
  6. Free Press, Reacting to decision on Kapyong, by Bruce Owen
  7. Free Press First Nations 1, Ottawa O, by Larry Kush and Mia Rabson
  8.  OTTAWA CITIZEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS, by Teresa Smith and Natalie Stechyson, Fasting chief should meet Aboriginal Affairs minister, Aglukkak says…

    9.Free Press, Letter of the Day, Blockade, ‘petty and infantile’

   10.James Murray in the Thunder Bay editorial,

   11.James Murray in the Thunder Bay editorial,


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