January 2013, Week 2


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Sat, 12 Jan 2013 01:38:37 -0500
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Idle No More: A Profound Social Movement That Is Already Succeeding

By Judy Rebick
January 8, 2013

I haven't written about Idle No More yet because I am
inspired by the plethora of Indigenous voices that we
are finally hearing across the country, including of
late in the mainstream media. If I learned anything
from the women’s movement it is that we have to speak
for ourselves, not be represented by others, however
well meaning and supportive. Instead I have devoted my
support for the movement to sharing the many brilliant
and informative articles, the announcements and reports
of events and the beautiful graphics and photos from
Idle No More to my rather large social media network.
The spurious attacks against Chief Theresa Spence over
the last couple of days have made me decide to speak

I don’t know if Theresa Spence is a good chief. It
seems to be that is up to the members of Attawapiskat
to decide. Others, more informed that I, including most
eloquently Chelsea Vowel who writes the blog
âpihtawikosisân, have countered the attacks against her
by pointing out, among other things, that most of the
problems reported in the audit happened before she was
elected chief in 2010. A fact that most media is

What I do know is that Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger
strike has inspired a generation of Indigenous youth to
stand up, organize and speak out. “She is prepared to
die for us,” one young man explained. Whether or not
she is a good chief to her reserve is irrelevant to the
fact that she is a courageous and inspired symbol for
her people. What’s more, she has accomplished what no
one else has been able to do, including the premiers.
She has forced Stephen Harper to do something he didn’t
want to do.

The other thing that is driving me crazy is this
constant questioning of whether Idle No More is a
movement, whether it is the new Occupy, what it can
possibly accomplish. Yes, Idle No More is a movement.
I’ve been part of and studied social movements all my
life and it fits the description of a movement
perfectly. Of course, it looks different than the
movements people of my generation, like journalist and
environmentalist Terry Glavin, are used to. It is a
21st-century movement decentralized and deeply
democratic in the sense that much of the initiative
belongs to the grassroots. In that way, it looks like
Occupy but as Pam Palmater, now a spokesperson for Idle
No More, has explained, it is a movement of a group of
people with a common identity and despite the different
history and cultures of their nations, a common history
in relation to Canada. In this way, the Idle No More
movement is better compared to the civil rights
movement and women’s movement.

As to whether they will effective, my answer is they
have already been effective. First and foremost, they
have mobilized Indigenous people, the most oppressed
group in our country, by showing them that they can
organize and make change; that many non-native people
will join them; and that their culture is beautiful and
worth celebrating.

This is always the most important feature of a social
movement. This was what the black liberation movement,
including both the civil rights movement and the Black
Power movement, did for African Americans. They did not
achieve full equality but who amongst us would claim
they didn’t achieve anything. Similarly with the
women’s movement of my generation. The most important
change we made was not the rights we won or the laws we
changed, however important they are, but the change in
women. When I was young, women didn’t think they could
be politicians, journalists, musicians, artists,
carpenters, lawyers, doctors, professors. We were
supposed to support men to do all those things. It was
when the women’s movement started organizing and
demanding equal rights, that our consciousness was
changed. The consciousness-raising groups of the late
'60s and early '70s, much ridiculed in the media at the
time, showed us that what we thought were personal
problems were really political and social problems and
that women were capable of solving those problems

Oppression only works when the oppressed internalize
the idea that they are inferior to the dominant group.
Breaking out of that paralyzing internalized oppression
is central to any movement. Idle No More is breaking
out of internal oppression, both through celebrating
Indigenous culture and through providing hope of

For the first time I can remember we are hearing and
seeing multiple Indigenous voices in the media. Last
night TVO’s the Agenda had a panel of four speakers,
three of whom were Indigenous. They had many agreements
and some differences but it was a great discussion and
I learned a lot. On the same night, the National had a
panel with two Indigenous people, promising the first
in a series in the "countdown to Friday." I have seen
individual Indigenous leaders in the media, usually the
Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, but I
never remember hearing from this many Indigenous
people.  That’s another accomplishment of Idle No More.

Idle No More is being led by women, which is amazing
and wonderful. Perhaps they are also providing a
direction of change for the women's movement. It may be
time for women to move much more into the lead of
bringing change to our communities, our countries and
our planet. I think the mostly female leadership has
provided a very different approach than men often do.
The unity they have achieved, the non-violent nature of
the actions and the focus on relationships all reflect
this difference.

What Idle No More wants is as significant, if not more
significant, a change to our culture and our country as
the black liberation or the women’s movement. And just
as white people and men have to recognize their
privilege and how they benefit from the oppression and
discrimination of black people and women to be true
allies, so we settlers have to recognize the great
privilege each of us has, as a result of the colonial
exploitation of First Nations historically and today.
The problem of the relationship between First Nations
and Canada is not just a government problem, not just a
problem of a right-wing philosophy, it is all of our
problem. This means trashing the stereotypes, learning
the history and the real economics of the relationship
between Canada and First Nations. This too Idle No More
is accomplishing by inspiring through blogs, Facebook,
Twitter, articles and teach-in as well as alternative
and mainstream media coverage. I have provided some
links at the end of this article.

Idle No More builds on a proud history of Indigenous
struggle for self-determination at a national and
international level. The UN Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples, the Royal Commission on
Aboriginal, Section 35 in the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms are all the result of those struggles upon
which Idle No More is building. The American Indian
Movement, the struggle led by George Manuel for Section
35 to be included in the constitution, the successful
battle to defeat Meech Lake, inspired by Elijah Harper
and Oka as well as numerous local and regional battles.
But so far, the achievements of these movements and
struggles and the laws and reports produced have not
fundamentally changed the conditions of First Nations
or their relationship with Canada. Idle No More is
saying 'enough'. The time has come to end the broken
promises and recognize the rights of the first people
of this land. I must say that Idle No More is much more
generous to us settlers than we in the women’s movement
were to men. As a result, the support from progressive
Canadians has been extraordinary and hopefully will

The other reason there is so much support from non-
native Canadians is because Idle No More is posing the
struggle as in our interests as well. As Pam Palmater
has said so eloquently, "Canadians need to realize that
we are their last best hope at saving the lands,
waters, plants, animals and resources for future
generations because our Aboriginal and treaty rights
are constitutionally protected."

It is Jeffrey Simpson and others who support the
current neo-liberal economic system that are living in
a dream palace (whatever that is). They believe that we
can continue exploiting the planet in the interest of
profit, putting economics before survival. If that
isn’t living in a dream world, I don’t know what is. We
have to make a sharp turn away from the politics of
Stephen Harper and his like not only by electing
someone else the next time but by changing our
relationships to each other and to the planet.  From
what I’ve seen, Indigenous people whether in Bolivia or
in Canada seem to have a better idea of how to do that
than anyone else. If that makes me a romantic, so be

Some Readings

-Idle No More website

-Idle No More Facebook Page

-Indigenous Nationhood, Pam Palmateer's blog

-Defenders of the Land  is a network of Indigenous
Communities united in defence of our lands, Indigenous
rights, and Mother Earth that supports Idle No More

-Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

-What if Natives stopped subsidizing Canada  The Media

-Idle No More in Context  Glen Coulthard

- rabble.ca's Indigenous rights page has all their Idle
No More coverage in one place -- a good source of
information on the current struggle.


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