Indigenous ‘Idle No More’ Movement Spreading Worldwide

Sarah Cobarrubias

Young New Dawn drummers in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, play in support of Idle No More. (Photo by Virginia Johns via Idle No More’s Facebook .)

The past week has been a momen­tous one for Idle No More, a grass­roots abo­rig­i­nal move­ment work­ing to defend the envi­ron­ment and native peo­ples’ treaty rights in Cana­da. Sup­port­ers have been tak­ing to the streets and pub­lic spaces across Cana­da to ral­ly against the recent changes to the fed­er­al Indi­an Act, par­tic­u­lar­ly the addi­tion of Bill C‑45, a bud­getary bill that the cam­paign says will infringe on Indi­an Reserve land rights and abate envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions. Yes­ter­day, demon­stra­tors in Que­bec block­ad­ed a rail line by set­ting up a camp­site on the train tracks, say­ing they would remain indefinitely.

We’re tar­get­ing the car­go rails, the trains which are trans­port­ing our resources that were exploit­ed here in our back­yard with lit­tle or no ben­e­fit to our peo­ple,” a spokesper­son for the block­aders told the CBC. The move fol­lowed a sim­i­lar block­ade in Sar­nia, Ontario that began on Dec. 21, but was tak­en down ear­li­er today.

The move­ment was launched in Octo­ber by four women con­cerned about the upcom­ing leg­is­la­tion, but the cur­rent upsurge began on Dec. 4, when First Nations rep­re­sen­ta­tives were barred from the House of Com­mons, where they planned to voice their concerns.

In response, chief of Attawapiskat First Nation There­sa Spence has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 10, sub­sist­ing on only fish broth and water for more than three weeks. She’s promised to starve to death unless Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harp­er meets with First Nation lead­ers and the Gov­er­nor Gen­er­al to dis­cuss treaty rights and the country’s rela­tion­ship with its indige­nous people.

Dec. 26, in addi­tion to being Box­ing Day in Cana­da, was a major push for­ward for the cam­paign. Flash mobs broke out at bustling shop­ping malls in Cal­gary, Edmon­ton, Rag­i­na, Saska­toon and oth­er loca­tions, fea­tur­ing hun­dreds of pro­test­ers, drums and tra­di­tion­al round dances. In a sep­a­rate ral­ly, pro­test­ers stopped pas­sage on the traf­fic-heavy Bur­rard and Rob­son Streets in Vancouver.

Today, Spence and oth­er First Nations lead­ers are meet­ing to clar­i­fy her demands and push for a res­o­lu­tion. While the Sar­nia block­ade has been dis­man­tled and Spence’s request has so far gone unan­swered, one thing is clear — pro­test­ers aren’t qui­et­ing down. Ral­ly­ing has con­tin­ued across Cana­da and tak­en off in the Unit­ed States, includ­ing flash mobs at Mall of Amer­i­ca in Min­neso­ta and at Des­tiny USA mall in New York. Protests have even spread as far as New Zealand and Australia.

In a report pub­lished in Decem­ber 2012, Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al called on the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment to acknowl­edge and redress per­sis­tent abus­es of the rights of indige­nous peo­ple. The orga­ni­za­tion noted:

By every mea­sure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, lev­els of pover­ty, aver­age life spans, vio­lence against women and girls, dra­mat­i­cal­ly dis­pro­por­tion­ate lev­els of arrest and incar­cer­a­tion or access to gov­ern­ment ser­vices such as hous­ing, health care, edu­ca­tion, water and child pro­tec­tion, indige­nous peo­ples across Cana­da con­tin­ue to face a grave human rights crisis.
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