What is the #idlenomore movement? Better still, have you even heard of #idlenomore? I’m hoping that by now news of this movement has made its way into the consciousness of at least a quiet majority of people, but I know that like many other grassroots movements, the Canadian mainstream will be hesitant to recognize its importance.

If you don’t know what #idlenomore is read this brief synopsis from Wab Kinew. He says it far better than I would and if you’re interested feel free to click any of the text below to read Wab’s full article.

“The name Idle No More comes from a recent meeting in Saskatchewan. Sylvia McAdam and three others were mad about Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill. Their biggest frustration was that nobody seemed to be talking about it. Two provisions in particular upset them: the reduction in the amount of federally protected waterways and a fast tracked process to surrender reserve lands. In McAdam’s view, if Aboriginal people did not speak out it would mean they “comply with [their] silence.” So she and her friends decided to speak out. They would be “Idle No More.” They held an information session under the same name. Co-organizer Tanya Kappo fired off a tweet with the hashtag “#IdleNoMore.”

#IdleNoMore struck a nerve. Though bill C-45 has become law, many of Aboriginal people have voiced their opposition to it. Many of the other tensions in the indigenous community has started to bubble up to the surface and “Idle No More” now encompasses a broad conversation calling for recognition of treaty rights, revitalization of indigenous cultures and an end to legislation imposed without meaningful consultation.”

I’ve known that I needed to write something about #idlenomore since I saw reporter @wabkinew and Western student @naomisayers00 tweet about it far in advance of interest from the mainstream media. Figuring out what to write has been a bit of an odyssey because I still haven’t come to a point where I’m comfortable with the place for my own voice on the issues being brought to the nation’s attention by #idlenomore. It’s also hard to find my voice because I suspect that many of you don’t know my connection to some of the concerns represented by Canada’s First Peoples. Even as I say that I know that it is a little bit absurd to suggest that you have to have some sort of personal connection to these issues to use your voice, but nevertheless I know that there are many others like me who are searching for the right way to express something about #idlenomore. So, I am going to speak about what I know, avoid professing expertise and lead by saying that there is something positive about #idlenomore.

Whether you agree with grassroots, protest approaches to activism or not we can all likely admit that Canada has work to do to find a way to better work with its First Peoples. Take a trip to one of the reserves in Canada and talk to people there. They don’t want to tear down the country, they don’t want handouts and they don’t want to prevent Canada’s economic development. The majority of people want to be treated like partners in the development of our country and want to be at the table to help us create a sustainable future for everyone that shares this land. One thing is for certain, they don’t want to be at the table just to tell mainstream Canada that it is wrong. They want to be there to help it ‘be better’.

Many people would say that we have to work to better support First Peoples but I hope that #idlenomore can help us to reframe the debate to one of cooperation and mutual benefit instead of one of patronizing support and assistance. For some reason we haven’t allowed First Nations peoples to be part of the ‘tradition’ (this is in air-quotes for a reason) of Canadian government and therefore we have relegated them to a place outside of the ‘tradition’. When you are outside of the ‘tradition’ it is very hard to make your ideas sound anything other than ‘radical’ or ‘other’. If you boil down the ideas and demands of the #idlenomore movement you can see that there is nothing particularly ‘radical’ about what First Nations Chiefs, politicians, activists and people are talking about. Why should we be afraid of recognizing treaty rights, revitalizing indigenous cultures or ending legislation imposed without meaningful consultation? Broaden this and ask yourself why we wouldn’t be supportive of efforts to alleviate poverty, improve access to education and vital services and efforts to strengthen our communities. Are these ideas radical at the core? I certainly don’t think so and I suspect that most other people don’t think so either. However, a simple issue does not necessarily warrant a simple solution and when it comes to First Nations communities we have to respect that it isn’t Canada’s place alone to come up with the solutions. This doesn’t mean that we should abandon the issues or just hand over money blindly, but it does mean that we must commit to an integrated approach that allows all relevant parties to engage at the strategic level to come up with real change.

Now, on a personal note I want to say that I have experienced first hand the tremendous resilience found in one of Canada’s First Nations communities. I spent the summer of 2009 on the fly-in only First Nations reserve of Eabametoong, ON (about 400km North of Thunder Bay). Every First Nations community is different, so I never want to assume that my experience in Eabametoong gives me a window into life on every reserve, but I know that my experience there changed my perspective in a lot of ways. The experience opened my eyes to the fact that Eabametoong had not given up. Yes there was tremendous poverty, yes there was substance abuse and yes there were political machinations that were detrimental to the community but overall a spirit still remained. People were searching for something–they didn’t all necessarily know what (really who ever does)–and they hadn’t given up the search. I left Eabametoong feeling like the community had filled me with something that I could not have found anywhere else. I took a lot from the community and really had to question whether what I had left would match what I had taken away. The answer I’ve come to is ‘no’. The people of Eabametoong filled me with knowledge, perspective and experience that I never would have been able to obtain otherwise. I left everything that I could in the community but I know that Eabametoong, or Fort Hope as it’s known locally, will be with me for the rest of my life. I guess what I’m saying here is that we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that just a short exposure to a different way of being might have on our society. In my case that exposure was incredibly positive and will stay with me forever. Maybe it could be that way for our country too.

So, as Wab Kinew says, before you judge #idlenomore as just another “Indian” thing, think about what that means and if you still really want to dismiss the movement by conveniently applying a set of stereotypes. At the end of the day all of us are searching for our place in one way or another. I don’t see #idlenomore as any more threatening to our society than the daily pursuit of meaning that we all go through. #idlenomore means that it’s time for us to pay attention and to avoid paying lip-service to issues that need real, concrete attention. It could also mean that a group of people across this country is starting to find its voice–its up to all of us to figure out if we can hear ourselves within the narrative. Whatever your political views I urge you not to shut your mind to this movement. It’s worth listening to, worth pondering and worth recognizing as something real. Don’t agree with everything that is being said–these issues don’t just have two sides and anyone who tries to convince you that one side in this debate is completely right or wrong is selling you something that you shouldn’t buy. Be sympathetic to all views–listen to all of them–especially the ones that you don’t agree with and try to believe that everyone actually does want to see the country make progress on these issues.

For more information on #idlenomore you can read the website here: http://www.idlenomore.com/

PS – Don’t let anyone dismiss things like the recent UN Human Rights/Amnesty International report by saying this, “We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes.” Our problems are still problems despite the fact that other people have other problems. I could write a lot about this, but I’m holding my tongue. Just click the link and read.

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