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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.

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© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.l.lopez.58 Kevin Lee Lopez

    You are a good writer, but not effective because you retain negative and argumentative snide remarks. Your writing would improve, and has the potential to become lasting and significant once you transcend the need to indulge in your own need to win a small point.

    • MaggiesBear

      One person’s snide is another person’s critique. Sometimes the truth hurts but the truth is always the truth.

  • John Roth

    This site was recommeded by a family member. Ive just spent 3 hours here. Great stuff Mr. Bear

    • MaggiesBear

      Thank you. I’m glad you dropped by.

  • http://carinsurance89.com car insurance

    I am impressed by your writing. Actually, there is very little can write like you.I will back to read again .Carry on writing.

    • MaggiesBear

      I appreciate the compliment but to be honest, I’m never satisfied with it. My syntax is raw at times and my spelling, even with Spell Check, is atrocious. Mrs. Jamieson, my Grade 8 grammar teacher would be appalled.

  • Bobby.Canuck

    I think someone needs to tell all these Canadians (and especially Aboriginals) that many of our ancestors immigrated well after the country was federated, let alone when all the real bad stuff was happening to the Indians. In the community where I live, the vast majority of white people are descended from refugees from Eastern Europe and the Baltic region. They were fleeing things like the Red Army of the Soviet Union, extraordinary poverty and Holodomor (the Ukrainian genocide which killed somewhere between 2 and 8 million Ukrainians). And now only 3-4 generations later, after becoming successful and making a better life for ourselves we’re somehow supposed to be the bad guys? We owe these people money?

    This is a blatant and selfish movement concocted by the greedy and supported by the ignorant. As much as I dislike Harper I wish he’d just swat these people down with the Law (which only ever seems to apply to Canadians who obey it) and sweep this stupid waste of time and attention away. Scrap all the Indian rights, make them normal Canadians, and make them improve their own lives like most of our ancestors did or the first generation immigrants have to do today. Then we can focus our attention on the shadier aspects of this act, like the environmental concerns. Of course Harper’s government doesn’t want us paying attention to the real issues, and the Indians think the real issue is their free ride, so once again the only people being screwed are normal, work a day Canadians.

    In Algeria a couple Canadians were killed by terrorists during a hostage crisis. Yet Idle No More makes the front pages. Despicable.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Two of the terrorists in Algeria were also Canadian citizens. I find that even more despicable.

  • http://www.civicengager.wordpress.com Warren

    Fantastic article; not too left or right.
    I work for the Government and manage public correspondence, unfortunately not related to Idle No More or aboriginal concerns. If anyone would like to learn about how to write the Government over these issues, whatever your position, please read first at: http://www.civicengager.wordpress.com

  • http://website.offerte.nanorion.be/ Twitter24

    Hi, just wanted to say i liked this article. it was practical. keep on posting.

    • MaggiesBear

      Thank you for taking the time to drop by and read it.

  • brenton siddons

    sorry that should read assimilation.

  • Bill Gobert

    I agree with much of what the Bear had to say. There are valid reasons to side with the First Nations people, but there is a definite need for accountability. We are well past the days of blank cheques with no oversight and now need to follow Premier Wall’s lead with stated goals & measurably accomplishments.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I believe that the Indian Act is racist and paternalistic and that it needs to be scrapped. I also believe there are some sharp, focused aboriginal leaders like Clarence Louie who can lead First Nations’ people to a stronger and more prosperous future. It isn’t going to happen simply by trying to negotiate more out of government under the current Indian Act and it isn’t going to happen by blockading highways or failing to come together to a unified understanding of what needs to be done within the First Nations. I believe that ultimately, the future success of First Nations in Canada will only be achieved if first, government gets out of the aboriginal management business and second, First Nations step up and take full and complete responsibility for themselves.

  • Kevin Lee Lopez

    Your article over emphasizes negative and limited characterization of a growing global movement. There are so many great new things accomplished by Idle No More: increased dialogue between the races, new articulations of environmental policies, the contemplation of history and politics, the question of indigenous and national identity, and the envisioning of a shared path into the future. I am blessed to have witnessed the fairly peaceful movement of Idle No More. If I were a Canadian Indian, I would be angry at the government, and if I were Canadian, I would be threatened by the Conservative agenda. I did not realize how racist some Canadians are; some of the comments are truly hateful. I think seeing the hateful comments by Canadians teaches me how easy it was for “white men” to kill Indians throughout history. I wonder if history will repeat itself and if the Indians will get killed again. I don’t think your article contributes to a lasting vision of peace and constructive vision. I do think that you are a good writer though, and that you should continue to write more articles on other subjects.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Not being Canadian and not living with the realities of what has and is happening here, you are hardly in a position to lecture me or anyone else about the situation. You have a romantic view of what is little more than a confused and divided movement that is fostering division within the country and the aboriginal community itself. As for the accusation of racism, I am tired of it. It was a Mohawk nation that evicted the non-aboriginal spouses and partners of band members simply because they weren’t aboriginal. That was racism that broke up families and when people start owning up to the truth in their own tent, they can start pointing fingers at what is going on in others.

      Your understanding of the facts in Canada is too weak for your comment to have any merit whatsoever.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.l.lopez.58 Kevin Lee Lopez

        Nobody accused you of racism, I hope? And it’s not a lecture, bro. Just some comments. Try and lighten up.

        • MaggiesBear

          I have often been called a racist but only by those who are annoyed with me because I don’t agree with them.

    • brenton siddons

      Give your head a shake mate. You do not have the vaguest idea as to what this smokescreen is all about. I have first hand knowledge and this have witnessed the faulty nepotistic self serving leadership ascribed above, however, I do have the highest level of respect and love for canada’s native population. They have progressed light years since Confederation, unfortunately some of that progress , as in all societies, has been on the negative side. This article is on point and the evolutionary next phase will deal with accountability, personal responsibility and effective community management. The howling Chiefs are more worried about the pending legislation than perceived past injustice. Canada’s native peoples will not become a footnote of history through assikilation, as has happened in the U.S.,Mexico and South America.

      • http://abearsrant.com thebear

        I’m not sure how you simultaneously arrive at the conclusion that I haven’t the vaguest idea about what this is all about but that my article is on point. I’ll leave it to you to resolve that contradiction. Clearly, you haven’t taken the time to read any of the treaties or the Indian Act, have not looked beyond any issues that don’t support your particular opinion and completely unaware of the broad division within the First Nations as to what the issues are or how to deal with them. Get back to me when you’ve done your homework.

        • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.l.lopez.58 Kevin Lee Lopez

          You read Brenton’s comment as mine. If you weren’t so eager to argue vehemently, you’d be a more careful traveler. Your words wouldn’t be so confusing then, and you’d be a better writer. Keep at it.

  • Archie

    What I understand the Idle No More movement has the full backing of the Electricians Union in Alberta. One of their representatives basically ripped into me, saying this had nothing to do with the natives, but what the government was doing to the lands and waters and the Union supported it. They also consider Theresa Spence as hero for what she was doing. If this one Union was backing the movement, how much do you want to bet the other Unions are doing the same, maybe even funding some of the protests.

    With this in mind, is this protest a way for the Unions to get back at the government for forcing them to report their finance’s and is possible is there union money is funding these protests.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Unions were quick to support the Occupy Movement until Occupy bit them on them ass with their “Occupy The Ports” actions on the west coast of the U.S. and Canada; and they were right there sending financial support to the student tuition protests in Quebec. It is a misuse of membership dues, quite frankly, and an abuse of leadership authority by union leaders who are more concerned with their political activities than with representing their members in the workplace. There is a growing backlash against that as well as is seen with the ‘right to work’ legislation being passed in more and more states and the demand in Canada to take away union monopolies and give workers real choice.

      In the end, union support of Idle No More is precisely the kind of thing that is killing the Idle No More movement. It is just one more group piggybacking on the high profile of the movement for their own purposes and that is what is undermining Idle No More. It has been hijacked by cynical chiefs, eco-activists, anarchists, radicals and unions, each with their own agenda and all well-served by keeping the disruption going. Aboriginal issues – the real issues – are not in the least important to these groups as Idle No More is learning.

      Sometimes, what looks like support really isn’t.

  • http://tahoe-is-walking-on.blogspot.com Peter Jalkotzy (@Tahoe58)

    Excellent piece and well articulated, much appreciate your efforts with this post!

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Thank you

  • Pingback: The numbers are in. | Cory Morgan ranting and raving

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Thank you Cory.

  • JoeFrmEdm

    I whole heartly agree with you, PAY NO MORE……….

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I’m not saying the government should cut off funding. What I am saying is that Canadians are concerned about the mismanagement of the funding already provided by some bands and their leaders. Increasingly, Canadians are becoming frustrated with having their lives disrupted by a people who have problems to work out among themselves before they start blaming the rest of us.

      For my part, I have no issue with honouring our financial commitments but have the courtesy to tell us where the money is going. I have no problem with negotiating new agreements either but don’t keep yelling at us and accusing us of things – talk to us. When and if that happens, we will all accomplish a lot more than is currently being accomplished by Idle No More.