Idle No More Changes Gears

Native Movement’s Tactics Continue Despite Dwindling Spotlight

The Idle No More movement is still going strong in Quebec. Photo Erin Sparks

Energy can’t be destroyed once it exists—only changed. A similar principle seems to be at work when it comes to social movements.

Idle No More began in October as a teaching platform on indigenous land and water treaty rights, which—according to its organizers—are being threatened by the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill, C-45.

By mid-December, the grassroots movement had grown into a national, multi-faceted social movement.

Idle No More soon found itself garnering international media coverage, largely aided by a 44-day fast by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence in support of the movement.

The hashtag #idlenomore became popular on Twitter, and several days of protest—some worldwide—were met with massive turnouts, aided by the movement’s significant presence across various social media outlets.

Momentum seemed quick to fade, however, and by February the number of headlines began to taper off.

Regardless, the movement’s provincial chapter leaders say that the campaign is ongoing—in Quebec, at least.

As it stands though, Idle No More seems to have landed back where it began—on the fringes.

No Fireworks

For Idle No More Quebec co-founder Melissa Mollen Dupuis, time in the spotlight can be fickle.

After Spence’s hunger strike ceased in late January, media attention on indigenous rights faded fast.

Spence had demanded a meeting between First Nations leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston to discuss issues pertaining to First Nations peoples.

A meeting took place between Harper and First Nations chiefs Jan. 11—albeit without Spence and Johnston—prompting thousands to protest across the country.

National days of action followed throughout January, with tactics including flash mobs, teach-ins, railroad blockades and border crossings.

But soon after the immediate flurry of demonstrations, media interest quickly diminished, Dupuis recalled.

“The media always wants the fireworks,” she said. “They don’t want the boring stuff, so since nobody’s been burning themselves on the cross, we don’t see ourselves a lot on the news.”

While the movement might be falling short of the mainstream media’s radar—that’s not to say that continued efforts have gone entirely unnoticed.

Some political leaders claim they are still paying attention.

Speaking at a debate at Concordia, Liberal Concordia co-president Cameron Ahmad said the Liberal Party of Canada has come forth with a policy of “mutual respect” to resolve land claims and replace the Indian Act.

The Conservative 2013 federal budget also included a $241 million First Nations Job Fund to train aboriginal youth.

Results May Vary

The budget, released March 21, included language to reaffirm relations between the prime minister and First Nations and to maintain dialogue.

But critics, including Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo, say the budget does little to address the causes of the unemployment and that aboriginal people themselves were not consulted.

“Idle No More made the government move—but they still don’t move the way we want.” added Dupuis. “They move on their own and they decide for us.”
The job fund also couples income assistance funding with mandatory employment.

“We kind of have nothing to lose any more. I mean, at [some] point, if we don’t fight back, we might as well die in the street.” —Idle No More Quebec co-founder Melissa Mollen Dupuis

“We believe that once we can bring First Nations people of Canada into the economic fold of Canadian success, then we’ll have a more prosperous confederation,” said Eric Scanlon of Conservative Concordia at the March 21 debate.

But Dupuis explains that, to First Nations people, employment is not the problem—it’s the jobs offered.

“The jobs they want us to train for are either mine-related or exploitation of the resources,” she said.

According to Dupuis, this creates a choice for First Nations youth—financial security or respecting tradition to preserve the land.

“We have to think bigger […] and stop thinking in the mindset of numbers—which are so logical, but in logic, a lot things can die out,” she explained.

“Money is logic, but like the great saying says: ‘Only when they will have poisoned the last river and cut down the last tree will they see that money cannot be eaten.’”

“Nothing to Lose”

Despite the setbacks, Idle No More hasn’t withered too much in Quebec, according to Dupuis.

“I don’t think it’s going to slow down, and we’re getting more and more solidarity from other movements,” she said.

“We have the 99 per cent, we have Occupy Montreal […] we also have the student movement here helping us out, cause people are getting hungry for social justice.”

March 21, dozens gathered around the Complexe Desjardins shopping mall for a flash mob marking the following day’s World Water Day, the movement’s first major demonstration in the city in weeks.

National media are also taking notice of the 1,500 km-plus walking journey of seven Cree from Whapmagoostui, QC to Parliament in Ottawa. The group, which began with seven walkers, has steadily grown to over 100 since it kicked off in January.

The group arrived at Parliament on Monday.

Dupuis said plans are in motion for demonstrations to coincide with Earth Day on April 22, and that across Canada the movement is increasingly narrowing its focus to concentrate on band council corruption.

But, since the protest numbers and the national media coverage have died down, many still question why Idle No More proponents are fighting.

“We kind of have nothing to lose any more,” Dupuis responded. “I mean, at [some] point, if we don’t fight back, we might as well die in the street.”