Idle No More: Uniting Anger In An Unintended Way
Idle No More, now in its third month, has done something that few have accomplished in recent years. It has started to unite Canadians from all sides of the political spectrum and to focus them on aboriginal issues although perhaps not quite in a way that Idle No More was hoping to achieve.
After the revelations of the living conditions on Attawapiskat, there was a considerable amount of good will among Canadians to see the First Nations’ issues addressed, particularly with regards to education, water and poverty. That good will is slipping away like water through the fingers of the aboriginal community.
While its original intentions may have been good, Idle No More has been hijacked by cynical chiefs trying to use the movement as a hammer to prevent having to disclose their incomes and how they spend band money; by extremists, some of whom are neither Canadian or even aboriginal; and by foolish people like Theresa Spence who increasingly lacks credibility with any thinking person, aboriginal or non-aboriginal alike.
Canada is basically a nation of fairly decent people. We argue among ourselves over politics and sometimes trivial things but we are quick to respond when there is a human need, regardless of our political ideologies.
When Attawapiskat came to light, Canadians didn’t just demand action from their government on behalf of that beleaguered community, they responded with donations of clothing, boots and other needed supplies. When the CBC did a subsequent follow-up story on the reserve, there sat all those donations in a room not only not distributed but not even unpacked. There were many who took that as having been spit upon.
And there are many taking the current situation with Idle No More protests and demands in much the same way. If the First Nations are looking for ways to galvanize support for their cause, they’ve picked a poor way to go about it. Spitting on those who control both the government and the money typically only galvanizes resentment.
Canadians have lived through these protests before and with a certain amount of empathy for the First Nations’ cause but that has been changing in recent years. The mess in Caledonia which saw homeowners bullied, threatened and assaulted by aboriginal protesters did nothing to encourage sympathy for whatever issues that band has.
Likewise, blockading rail lines, highways and border crossings now is creating a fair amount of uniting anger among Canadians who are demanding their police and governments enforce the law. It goes beyond mere anger, however, this time Canadians are getting informed.
For the first time, Canadians are getting informed not only about aboriginal issues but the treaty disputes. Copies of the numbered treaties are being circulated through the Internet and Canadians are reading and commenting on them. Increasingly they are not finding themselves necessarily in agreement with the position taken by some First Nations.
Canadians are questioning the lack of accountability for the $9 billion of their tax money that is being provided to aboriginal communities but which doesn’t seem to be making a dent in poverty, substance abuse, teen suicide, water purification or better education. They are also questioning why some of the leadership on some reserves seem to live pretty large while the majority on their reserve live below the poverty line.
Canadians are also tired of being accused of genocide by people like Pam Palmater and of the hypocritical charades of people like Theresa Spence.
Chief Spence clearly was never on a hunger strike and even if she wishes to call it a sacred fast now, it is equally clear that this was a grandstanding attempt to distract attention from her own failed management on her reserve. It hasn’t worked. All it has accomplished is to further undermine her own credibility and that of the Idle No More movement.
In fact, Idle No More has done a very poor job of protecting its credibility. Too many speak for it and while the founders of the movement have attempted to delicately distance themselves from people like Theresa Spence and some of the other chiefs and extremists, they haven’t been very successful.
Instead, the movement has only served to bring into sharp focus just how divided the First Nations are on the issues and on their own leadership. Some now are even demonizing AFN Grand Chief Sean Atleo at a time when a united leadership was never more important.
Despite having been told by the office of the Queen that her majesty does not involve herself in the negotiations of these issues, Theresa Spence continues to demand a meeting with her representative, the Governor General. It isn’t going to happen. The Governor General is not empowered to negotiate on behalf of the people of Canada. That was changed in the 1800s by constitutional amendment. Only the Prime Minister and his cabinet can represent Canada in any negotiations with First Nations.
There is an arrogance to the expectation that Chief Spence has the right to decide who will speak for Canada. It would be as if Canada dictated to the First Nations who could only speak for them.
I believe Idle No More would have been far more successful with Canadians and for aboriginal peoples if it had focused its anger on its own leadership with demands for change and accountability. There is no doubt in my mind that the movement would have found many allies among Canadians and in that way would have seen increasing pressure on both the Canadian Government and First Nations leadership to negotiate concrete agreements that would benefit people living on reserves.
Instead, the movement fell back on the same tired blame game and pointless protest actions that have driven away much of the support they could have had. Along with the usual and predictable accusations of racism because there is a growing backlash against the pointless illegal blockades, it chose grandstanding instead of working to create a broad consensus of the issues being faced by indigenous people. In the end, Idle No More allowed others to hijack their agenda and to fall back on the same, shopworn disruptive but unsuccessful demonstration and protest tactics of the past.
Canadians have had enough and are becoming increasingly frustrated by continual rounds of demonstration and accusation that never accomplish anything..
They are angry at being accused of racism and with the constant demands for more funding without accountability for the billions and other free benefits already being provided by taxpayers. Now Canadians want answers for the money that has been spent by the leadership of the First Nations. They want their laws enforced on their highways and at border crossings and they their government to hold First Nations accountable for the living conditions and mismanagement on too many reserves.
It isn’t, I think, what Idle No More was hoping to accomplish.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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