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800 Words on Idle No More

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member Robert (Bob) Muckle. Robert (Bob) Muckle is based at Capilano University in British Columbia. His most recent book is Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview (University of Toronto Press, 2012). He also writes a column called ‘Archeology in North America’ for Anthropology News and is on Twitter @bobmuckle.

January 11th, 2Idle No More013 is likely be the most important day in recent decades for the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, with potentially global implications. It has to do with the movement known as Idle No More.

Idle No More began in late 2012 as a grassroots movement among the more the one million people claiming Indigenous ancestry in Canada, culminating primarily from what is perceived to be an ongoing erosion of their rights, lands, and resources. The movement has largely been peaceful, including hundreds of events including flashmob roundances at shopping malls, rallies, media campaigns, and a handful of blockades. It has been a dominant story in Canadian media since mid-December and there have been dozens of events supporting the movement by Native Americans in the US.

January 11th is important because (i) members of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), representing the interests of the more than 600 First Nations in Canada, and the organization the government prefers to work with, are meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) to discuss concerns of First Nations; and (ii) many of those participating in Idle No More movement are wary of representation by the AFN, and at least partially in response to the meetings have declared the day to be a ‘Day of Global Action’ with well over 100 events scheduled in support throughout the U.S. and elsewhere.

While Indigenous rights are front and center, there is much more of interest that is being underplayed by government and mainstream media. One thing that is rarely mentioned is that the movement is giving voice to a many thousands of Indigenous Peoples of Canada, especially those who have been frustrated with the actions of their own nation’s chiefs and councils or national representation (ie. AFN) at addressing the wrongs imposed upon them through hundred of years of oppression. Although Idle No More claims to have no official leadership, leaders are emerging and they tend to be young (ie. 20s and 30s), smart, articulate, and dynamic. And, not unimportantly, many of them are women.

Social media has been fundamentally important in the movement. Twitter has been used to quickly organize events and share media. One of many Facebook pages devoted to the movement has more than 65,000 likes. Organizers and supporters use social media for live townhall-type  meetings.

There has been considerable emphasis in mainstream media about a hunger strike by one chief that began on December 11th.  While for many she has come to symbolize the movement, she is not a founder or acknowledged spokesperson. The January 11th meeting with the Prime Minister and Governor General was one of her demands.

There is significant support for Idle No More among non-Indigenous peoples. In addition to recognizing the erosion of Indigenous rights and resources, many view the movement as perhaps the best way of protecting the environment. An immediate goal of the movement is to withdraw or amend legislation reducing the protection of the environment, which many Canadian would like to see. Other goals are for the government to uphold constitutional and other rights as they apply to Indigenous peoples, including meaningful consultation. An ultimate goal is to have truly nation-to-to nation relationships with the federal government.

Other things I have seen arise out of the movement is a strengthening of relationships between the First Nations in Canada, and through their support, with Native Americans of the US as well as Indigenous groups elsewhere. I see a strengthening of relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations people in many circumstances through their shared common purposes of protecting the environment and righting the wrongs of past governments.

I see First Nations taking the opportunity through media, flashmob dances, and rallies to educate others and assert control over vocabulary. Words such as decolonialization and settler (as opposed to non-Indigenous or Euro-Canadian) are increasing in usage.

Unfortunately, I also see much racism and ignorance, especially when reading the comments following media stories.

I’m not sure what is going to happen on January 11th.   It is an important day for the AFN. For the past few years their relationship with the federal government has been viewed by many as being too cozy. If the AFN wants to retain relevance within First Nations communities, they will have to make some kind of significant stand in their meeting with the government that will be pleasing to those preferring the grassroots Idle No More movement. This will be hard.

I think the amount of support demonstrated by the Idle No More movements within Canada, the US, and elsewhere will be fundamentally important. If there is relatively little support, I think the movement will fizzle. If the support is significant, however, look for the movement to escalate further, into the United States and perhaps elsewhere.

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