Adrienne Shumlich/the Gauntlet

Idle No More: a model for protest

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With the Arab Spring, Occupy and the Quebec student uprising, among others, 2012 could be considered the year of protests. Idle No More continues this trend into the new year, however, with a style that is unique, and one that can be a model for future protests.

Protests, like the ones mentioned, are generally a rally of expression used to object to government actions. The Idle No More movement continues this trend in objection to Bill C-45 that sparked a worldwide call to action, and the methods being used are very familiar: blockades, hunger strikes, social media presence and rallies. 

What makes Idle No More unique is that it is multi-directional. It is not purely a movement that challenges the government’s underhanded changes in Bill C-45. The movement is slowly becoming a multilateral dialogue between the government, media and the Idle No More protesters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a chance to leave a legacy and gain a role in Canada’s history books if he can effectively listen to demands of aboriginal Canadians.

Idle No More has clear, tangible goals that can be attained. At the very core, the message of Idle No More is one that all Canadians should get behind: First Nations should have a say in First Nations’ affairs.

On the other side of things, the intense media coverage of the movement comes after an internal audit of Attawapiskat spending and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s unveiling of chiefs’ salaries. After Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency last year over deplorable housing in Attawapiskat, an audit was conducted that found millions of dollars of federal spending not accounted for. More transparency on both sides and open dialogue need to occur. 

The Conservative government has made major cuts to aboriginal affairs, while suicide, incarceration rates and housing issues continue to be problematic. The Harper government needs to be proactive and mediate honest dialogue, however, if both sides can co-operate, positive change beyond what protesters are asking for can occur.

Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam said the protest has hardly any communication with Spence, however, most media coverage and criticisms of the movement have been surrounding her. Spence has been on a hunger strike, consuming only fish broth, water and tea, since Dec. 10.

She has been striking until First Nations leaders are able to meet with both Harper and Governor General David Johnston to address issues with the recent passing of Bill C-45.

Harper met with First Nations leaders on Jan. 11. It was a good first step, however, it showed the divisiveness within the Idle No More movement. Spence continued her hunger strike and, in solidarity with Spence, chiefs from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories boycotted the meeting because of the absence of Johnston.

The mission statement of Idle No More is to “call on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfils Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”

“Revolution” is a strong word, however, given Canada’s track record, a revolution is what we need in order for Canadians to stand up for their rights and demand more from the Harper government. 

Criticism about Spence and the actions of some protesters blocking roads and crossings have clouded what is important. 

Although there have been aggressive protests, the message behind Idle No More stands alone. Bill C-45 doesn’t only affect First Nations, it affects Canadians and people around the world.

Despite the divisiveness within the movement, Idle No More has been unifying people on some of the most fundamental issues of our time.

Harper must continue to address the demands of the Idle No More protesters and genuinely listen to what they have to say in order to continue the two-way path. Hopefully Harper can pull it off and create meaningful change for all Canadians.

If the Idle No More protesters and the Canadian government can co-operate and create meaningful dialogue, the multi-directional protest will be a model for future protests and leave a mark on Canadian history.