Beginning with four women from Saskatchewan, the movement is driven largely by grassroots organizers using social media like Twitter and Facebook. With the advice of elders, it’s committed to peaceful public events highlighting unacceptable realities in the lives of First Nations people, the Metis, Inuit and others.
Their spontaneous activities have reached across Canada and beyond. The initial spark was Stephen Harper’s second Omnibus Budget Bill (C-45), and a host of legislation passed by the Harper government without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous people impacted by these measures.
In that incoherent hodge-podge of dozens of unrelated measures – all lumped together to prevent intelligent scrutiny – the Conservatives slipped-in several items that detract from the inherent rights of indigenous peoples, including weakened environmental rules and intrusions on First Nations’ land. There was no prior consultation or consent. There was no respect for the original treaty relationship. It was totally arbitrary.
But Idle-No-More is about more than C-45.
It’s about this government running roughshod over the rights of First Nations – something the Conservatives were bluntly warned about by none other than former Cabinet Minister, Jim Prentice.
It’s also about Mr. Harper’s failure to take any meaningful action to help build some genuine hope for the future following his 2008 “apology” for the tragic legacy of Indian Residential Schools. All those fine words are proving vacuous.
And then, just over a year ago, along came the housing crisis and human misery at Attawapiskat. The government’s reaction was a combination of indifference and scorn. They were shamed into meeting with indigenous leaders last January, but 12 months later the results are nil.
In the spirit of Idle-No-More, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is now on a hunger strike in Ottawa, trying to get Mr. Harper to pay some attention. He doesn’t seem to realize that he has a personal constitutional obligation toward Chief Spence and all other Aboriginal people.
What’s needed is a rekindling of the hopeful sincerity that generated the “Kelowna Accord” of 2005.
It took 24 months of personal effort by then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to establish trust, respect and a genuine government-to-government partnership upon which progress could be based – engaging the federal government, all provinces and territories, and all national Aboriginal organizations. Sadly, that ground-breaking initiative was cancelled the moment Stephen Harper took power.
And nothing of consequence has been accomplished since. On things that indigenous peoples need, the Harper government has been painfully idle far too long.