Although passed before the Senate and given royal assent, Stephen Harper’s omnibus budget Bill C-45 will fail to remain law when Parliament resumes in late January 2013, if the Idle No More protesters have anything to say about it.
A small movement that began with four Saskatchewan women on Twitter has grown into one of the most visible nationwide Indigenous undertakings to hit the news since the Attiwapiskat housing crisis of 2011.
All across the globe, outraged Indigenous protestors and non-Indigenous allies have gathered to oppose the passing of Bill C-45, a piece of legislation that if permitted will lead to the erosion of Indigenous land, sovereignty, and treaty rights outlined under the Canadian constitution.
The Idle No More protests began on December 10 and were fueled into action in response to the Harper government’s latest legislative agenda known as omnibus Bill C-45, which was compiled in addition to eight various other pieces of legislation that will be imposed upon and—much like Trudeau’s White Paper of 1969—attempt to assimilate and affect the special legal relationship which exists between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state.
Omnibus Bill C-45 plans to make amendments to the Indian Act by changing laws protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada, primarily in the realms of what has been titled the Jobs and Growth Act, beneath which falls Land Surrenders and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
As a result of Bill C-45, aggressive resource development done in an unsustainable way will be judged acceptable. First Nations’ treaty honoured land rights, political autonomy, and control over leasing reserve land will be undermined, and federal environmental protection will be removed from tens of thousands of waterways, thus making it easier for manufacturing to develop without fulfilling prior legal obligations to consult First Nations people.
The approval process for major pipeline and power line projects will be conducted more quickly, and unless a body of water has specifically been outlined on a list prepared by the transportation minister, “advocates aren’t required to prove that their project won’t damage or destroy any navigable waterway it crosses” (cbc.ca). The Harper government has been defending its stance by claiming that the passing of Bill C-45 was necessary for economic prosperity. However, other politicians, citizens, and Aboriginal leaders disagree.
“What you had was an imminent threat,” Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and associate professor at Ryerson University explained. “It was a piece of legislation that was being rushed through the House [of Commons] without any input or consultation, so we had no choice but to gather very quickly and react.”
Those opposing Bill C-45 and the various other bills have been organizing peaceful protests occurring in major cities across Canada in the form of daily online activity, ceremonial gatherings, traditional drumming, round dances, road blockades, pickets, flash mobs, and demonstrations.
On December 19, Idle No More supporters in Peterborough rallied at the corner of Clonsillla and Lansdowne St. West, then walked to Dean Del Mastro’s Constituency Office at 1600 Lansdowne St. West. Spirits were high, as more than 100 Indigenous protestors and non-Indigenous allies carrying signs, flags, and drums were present.
When speaking with Arthur, Elder Shirley Ida Williams illustrated that “We are witnessing a history in the making right before our eyes and if you are in denial, wake up. Understand what is going on, educate yourself, talk and listen, and be sure to analyze what you are reading. Is it true? If you feel suspicious and your gut is telling you that there is something wrong, ask or double check! The government is trying to get us to fight among ourselves now, and while this is going on, [Harper] will do whatever he wants to do and pass laws without us knowing.”
Noelle Ewing, a Trent University graduate with an Honours B.A. in Indigenous Studies, had the following to say:
“Idle No More has become a global initiative to stand up against the proverbial bully. Unfortunately, that bully consists of the federal government, major corporations, and other stakeholders interested in monetary profit at the expense of innocent people, communities, nations, the land, environment, and ecosystems. Empowerment is but one aspect of the Idle No More movement as it is also about creating awareness for the rest of the world. Just like the sweet grass teachings; one strand alone can easily break but enough strands together can make an unbreakable, strong braid. It is from the Earth, the mother of all living things, which the sweet grass grows, sharing with us teachings of kindness and strength. With Idle No More there is hope and positivity. This movement has created a community of like-minded and like hearted First Nations and allies.”
Don McCaskill, a professor from the Department of Indigenous Studies, also shared his thoughts:
“I think Idle No More is very exciting because it is largely driven by youth, women, and urban Aboriginal people. It is not controlled by one specific leader. There is a strong cultural component.”
In addition, many Idle No More activists have voiced that they now stand in solidarity with Theresa Spence, Chief of Attiwapiskat First Nation, who has embarked on a hunger strike on Ottawa’s Victoria Island, near the parliament buildings.
Spence began her hunger strike on December 11, hoping to secure a meeting with Stephen Harper to discuss basic human rights violations occurring within Canada, and to address the issue of the Canadian government neglecting to honour the constitutional treaty rights of Indigenous people.
“This is a crisis, and we cannot continue on this path of social indifference,” Chief Spence insisted.
On October 28, 2011 Theresa Spence’s remote northern community of Attiwapiskat declared a state of emergency brought about by a food and housing crisis. Deplorable housing, lack of education, unsanitary living conditions, no running water, and unfair access to food security skyrocketed, drawing worldwide media attention and international condemnation from the United Nations in a human rights council report made public on Dec. 17.
Although the James Bay Cree residents were met by a Red Cross rescue effort, and visited by federal Member of Parliament Charlie Angus, Attiwapiskat continued to face financial scrutiny from the eyes of the Harper government, and was placed under third party management.
A game of finger pointing ensued, during which long-term solutions to the challenges faced by northern First Nations communities were overshadowed by accusations of financial mismanagement. This, in addition to a 500 year history of colonial resistance, mounting frustration, and the beginning of the grassroots Idle No More movement, sparked Spence into action.
On January 4, 2013, after a 25-day hunger strike consuming only fish broth and tea, Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to Spence’s efforts by agreeing to meet a delegation of First Nations leaders “in the spirit of ongoing dialogue.”
Spence has stated that she is pleased by the enthusiasm Idle No More protestors have shown, but that she will continue her hunger strike.
“I think her hunger strike is completely necessary,” said Trent University student, Erin Hayward. “She is showing the world exactly what has and is still happening to many, many people in our communities. I have been praying for her every day and I’m really hoping that her spirit holds out and that the Creator gives her the strength to continue as long as she needs to. I just think that due to the length of time that it took Harper to respond, his career as PM is on the edge of a cliff. If there is one thing I am sure about in this situation, it is that the Conservative Party of Canada has lost my vote, as well as the vote of every member of my family for the rest of our lives.”
In support of Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement, Trent University’s Caleb Wazhushk, Alexandra Sonja Luke and Jack Hoggarth have planned a round dance flash mob to take place on Tuesday, January 15 from 11:45am until 1:05pm.
Participants will congregate on the Trent bridge, hoping to raise awareness among the student body. Currently, they are calling for singers, dancers, sign holders, supporters, and speakers to address the issues regarding Harper’s omnibus Bill C-45.
As we head into the uncertain future of 2013, Noelle Ewing’s voice echoes with the same message shared by thousands of others.
“I am not going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do,” she emphasized.
“However, I do believe it is in every Canadian’s best interest to pay attention. All Canadians are now invested stakeholders of Turtle Island, which leaves a responsibility to everyone to ensure sustainability, both economically and environmentally, for the next seven generations to come.”