On Nov. 10, one of the largest First Nations movements in Canada’s history celebrated its one-year anniversary.
Idle No More set out to create a peaceful revolution that addressed the concerns many First Nations citizens feel have been neglected.
The movement began last November in Saskatoon with a conference in response to federal Bill C-45. The bill contained measures to change the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act. Opposition to the bill led to meetings across the country and Idle No More grew into a nation-wide grassroots movement.
Local Idle No More organizer Chantal Chagnon explained what the movement means to her.
“What Idle No More is saying is nobody has to be idle anymore. We all have to stand up together, rise up and work together to get things done. The government is not going to do that for us,” Chagnon said.
On Dec. 10, 2012, Idle No More hosted its first nationwide Day of Action, drawing supporters from across the country. On the same day, Attawapiskat First Nations chief Theresa Spence announced a hunger strike.
Chief Spence’s 43-day hunger strike drew considerable attention to the movement. This led to a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leadership — a meeting Spence ended up boycotting. In the following months, demonstrations were staged in different Canadian cities including protests, railway and highway blockades, youth marches and teach-ins.
A teach-in is an opportunity to educate the public on the movement. Though protests and rallies usually attract more attention, Chagnon said education is key to the health of the movement.
“We explain what’s happening with Idle No More, where we came from and where we intend to go with it,” Chagnon said. “So it’s basically getting those conversations started. Saying these are your rights, don’t let anyone take them away from you.”
As a grassroots movement, Idle No More is about different things to different people. Some see the movement as the best way to fight for clean drinking water on reservations, while others see it challenging perceived violations of First-Nations treaties. Because of this, the movement has been criticized for not having unified objectives.
Chagnon said critics of Idle No More don’t see the movement’s common assumptions.
“There is still that message at the core. The core is about the environment, human rights and our future. And there is nothing you can argue about that,” she said.
Followers of the movement have shown their support in city streets and on social media by the of thousands since last November. The Idle No More movement has also prompted demonstrations in Europe, Africa and a number of American states.
Chagnon said Idle No More supporters in Calgary are not in short supply.
“Calgary is really special. There is something incredible happening here. What we’re seeing is a lot of people asking really good questions and really hard questions,” she said.
The movement continues to be active across Canada.