Histories Behind Inspiring #IdleNoMore Movement
What better gift to give this season than to stand up, collectively, in courageous and loving defense of the earth and one’s people?
Canadian youth leader and activist Brigette DePape is among the many who welcome the development of a new movement. “I’m incredibly inspired by the young Indigenous women who began Idle No More to not only build in opposition to Bill C-45, which would reduce protections over waterways, but also to build a revolution for Indigenous sovereignty and to defend the earth.” And at a time of commercialized gift-giving, DePape asks,
what is a gift unless it is shared?
For so long, I felt isolated from much of my family because I felt I couldn’t talk to them about these issues and it created distance between us.
But, for the first time ever, I shared the joy of democratic demonstration with my family — my Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, and brother-in-law. There was nothing more special than huddling near the sacred fire with my brother in-law to listen to a former soldier speak in support of Idle No More. There was nothing better than making signs with my grandpa that read: “Harper, have you packed your bags yet?” and “Support Aboriginal Rights”. What an incredible joy!
BPFers, have you been following (or even involved in!) the recent Idle No More movement? Common Dreams offers a useful summary, noting the galvanizing force of Atiwapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence‘s hunger strike, now entering its 14th day, and also including videos of “flashmobs performing traditional round dances in support of the movement.” Beautiful.
As Idle No More coalesces on a national and even international scale, I was delighted and grateful to come across this article, shared by a friend involved in indigenous solidarity work in the Bay Area, that offers a bit of historical perspective on the precedents for Idle No More. Glen Coulthard summarizes histories of armed and unarmed First Nations struggles against the Canadian state since the 1970’s, using them to analyze the current situation. The main question: what it will take to elicit a favorable response from the Canadian government?
With respect to the emergent #IdleNoMore movement, although many of the conditions that [contributed to the hard-fought establishment of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP)] are still in place, a couple of important ones are not. The first condition that appears to be absent is the perceived threat of political violence that was present in the years leading to the resistance at Kanesatake. #IdleNoMore is an explicitly non-violent movement, which accounts for its relatively wide spectrum of both Native and non-Native support at the moment. However, if the life of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence continues to be recklessly put in jeopardy by a Prime Minister who negligently refuses to capitulate to her reasonable demands, it is my prediction that the spectre of political violence will re-emerge in Indigenous peoples’ collective conversations about what to do next. The responsibility for this rests solely on the state. The second condition that differentiates #IdleNoMore from the decade of Indigenous activism that lead to RCAP is the absence (so far) of widespread economic disruption unleashed by Indigenous direct action. If history has shown us anything, it is this: if you want those in power to respond swiftly to Indigenous peoples’ political efforts, start by placing Native bodies (with a few logs and tires thrown in for good measure) between settlers and their money, which in colonial contexts is generated by the ongoing theft and exploitation of our land and resource base. If this is true, then the long term efficacy of the #IdleNoMore movement would appear to hinge on its protest actions being distributed more evenly between the malls and front lawns of legislatures on the one hand, and the logging roads, thoroughfares, and railways that are central to the accumulation of colonial capital on the other. For better and for worse, it was our peoples’ challenge to these two pillars of colonial sovereignty that led to the recommendations of RCAP: the Canadian state’s claim to hold a legitimate monopoly on use of violence and the conditions required for the ongoing accumulation of capital. In stating this, however, I don’t mean to offer an unqualified endorsement of these two challenges, but rather a diagnosis of our present situation based on an ongoing critical conversation about how these differences and similarities ought to inform our current struggle.
Now, Buddhists and spiritual activists committed to nonviolence might be wondering what the Buddhist Peace Fellowship is doing, highlighting a perspective that seems friendly, or at least neutral, toward armed struggle! Though I won’t go into too much detail right now, I will say that my point here isn’t to advocate a violent or nonviolent approach in the Idle No More movement, but to encourage all of us to follow Coulthard’s example in attempting to think strategically about what it will take for our movements to win. After all, if a gorgeous mass movement makes a thrilling holiday gift, a strategic, historically informed movement might be the best present of all.
Happy holidays, BPFers!