David P. Ball
A flash mob in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Idle No More Enters a New Phase, Seeks Next Steps

David P. Ball

Idle No More’s founders and leaders are determined to keep the movement’s momentum going and to maintain pressure on aboriginal leaders and the federal government to enact concrete change.

As Parliament resumed on January 28, activists in at least 30 cities held a second Idle No More day of action, continuing to set themselves apart from official leadership and the six-week-long, liquids-only fast of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, which ended on January 24.

“Our nationhood can’t just be words in a constitution,” said lawyer Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaq, chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto and runner-up in last year’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief race. She told Indian Country Today Media Network, “It has to be recognized and implemented and ­respected—and that’s what this movement is about: shifting everything.”

Idle No More wants to keep aboriginal issues on the radar of mainstream Canadians and in the national dialogue while going beyond the flash mobs and rallies with which the movement has become virtually synonymous.

“We have seen the demands emanating from the grassroots sharpening and becoming even more precise,” Glen Coulthard, assistant professor of First Nations Studies and Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), told ICTMN. “Before, it used to be housing conditions, the material conditions on reserves, and the attack on some of the environmental and land concerns with omnibus Bill C-45. Now we’re focusing on the core issue: setting right the relationship between indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

Sylvia McAdam, Cree, one of the four female founders of Idle No More, wants to continue broadening its support. “I keep telling as many people [as I can] that it’s not an indigenous movement, because Bill C-45 affects all of us,” the Big River First Nation member said. “I believe that the voice of Idle No More—the voice of grassroots people—will become clearer and more focused.”

Some fear the movement could lose energy following the January 11 meeting that Atleo and other AFN chiefs had with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others see the 13-point Declaration of Commitment signed by the chiefs, including Spence, on January 24 as an attempt by aboriginal leadership to co-opt the grassroots movement. There are even whispers about a possible coup inside the AFN by those who felt the Harper meeting was a capitulation of sorts.

“There’s going to be political fallout,” Palmater said. “Where progress will be made is in the reunification of leadership with the grassroots people. The kind of core, fundamental breakthrough that we’ve been looking for is that the chiefs would listen to the people and stand by their people.”
But some are wary. McAdam insisted that Idle No More is independent from leadership, even if some chiefs have shown support. “Once leadership takes over, the movement shifts,” she said.

Some recommended taking a more aggressive and independent stand.

“We need to alter our strategies and tactics to present more of a serious challenge on the ground to force the federal government…to respond to us in a serious way,” wrote Mohawk author Taiaiake Alfred, professor of indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, in a blog post. “We need to focus our activism on the root of the problem facing our people collectively: our collective dispossession and misrepresentation as Indigenous Peoples.”

UBC’s Coulthard, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, believes that actions such as flash mobs and blockades are an effective tool in Native struggles—at least until there is a substantive change in the indigenous-Canadian relationship. At the same time, he wants the movement to discuss economic and political ­alternatives as concrete­ solutions to today’s crises.

But Chief Steve Courtoreille, of Mikisew First Nation in Alberta, urges moderation. Courtoreille is one of the leaders taking the Bill C-45 fight into the courts through a treaty rights lawsuit filed with Frog Lake First Nation in January. And while he favors confrontation, he is wary of alienating potential allies.

“It’s time now the country pulls together on this very issue—to make the government of Canada rethink their plan,” he told ICTMN. “I don’t support blockades—I support the Idle No More movement’s peaceful rallies. The more the Canadian people understand what’s going on, I know they’ll come on board.”

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James G. Learning's picture
James G. Learning
Submitted by James G. Learning on
Canadian people in general have to redefine democracy. Aboriginal people have to believe they can be a part of the democracy defined. This should not be an us and them society. It should be us as cultural entities. Aboriginal lands shold not be bought and sold for the few. Crown Lands must be expliteed in environmental friendly ways, regardless of the singularly monatry value. Value of lands must be absolute in all facets.

ernie crey's picture
ernie crey
Submitted by ernie crey on
My goodness, quit with the threats to the AFN already! Some people ran for the top job at the AFN and lost. Get over it.

resis_tanz68's picture
Submitted by resis_tanz68 on
In retrospect of what we n8ves have accomplished so far, when the non-violent spirit of unity and awareness is then intermixed with a more confrontational shift (which should be conducted, or held as a last resort), then you have the potential to lose much more than what you have gained. An example was the non-violent Ghost Dance movement that came to the U.S. Plains Tribes during the late 1800s. A Paiute Holy Man, Wovoka shared this non-violent dance to bring hope to our peoples provided it was done in its original context of instruction. When some messengers shared this and then added their own extreme spin on it, the Ghost Dance soon faded after the tragic and bloody massacre at Wounded Knee, SD when misinformed and ignorant white settlers, agents reacted by bringing in both vigilante "home guards" and Federal troops to quell something they perceived as a prelude to renewed hostilities and warfare on the Great Plains. To keep this movement vibrant, energized, and going strong, we need to be mindful of what worked, and what didn't work during our historic resistance that carries on to this day in the 21st Century. Danitoh!

Jim32's picture
Submitted by Jim32 on
It's a shame that attention seeking radicals like Pam Palmater have hijacked the Idle No More movement for their own political gain. The reason Idle No More has been an complete failure is that it's original message has been diluted and subverted by a multitude of special interest groups, each with their own agenda. Ask the average Canadian what Idle No More is about and they will either shrug their shoulders and say, "I'm not sure." or say, "It's about the Indians wanting more money." People like Pam Palmater can continue to delude themselves and others into thinking that the movement continues to grow stronger, but without the full support of the average Canadian citizen, it is doomed to remain a fringe movement that will ultimately end up in the dust bin next to Occupy et al.

Dorothy Coyote, Chilcotin Nation's picture
Dorothy Coyote,...
Submitted by Dorothy Coyote,... on
Chief Atleo Quit dining and eating the white mans food. You are asking for trouble. How do you know you might get poisoned. Where is your helper the Native one who packs your food and water. There is more to all this. Then prancing around in your Coastal Regailia. Your Medicines go deep you live near the Waters