Idle No More movement sweeps 2013, coast to coast

Idle No More movement sweeps 2013, coast to coast
Behchoko Idle No More protesters take over Highway 3 last January.Photo: Josh Long.

There was a sentiment of justified restlessness stirring throughout the year as indigenous rights took a stand with the sweeping grassroots movement Idle No More.

From hunger strikes to blockades to round dances to demonstrations on Parliament Hill thousands-strong, Idle No More had a strong message for the Canadian government: enough is enough.

The movement was formed in late October 2012 by four women in Saskatchewan as a call to action against new bills from the Harper government after a lack of consultation with Aboriginal groups.

Specifically, the movement cried out against the introduction of Bill C-45, known as the second omnibus budget bill, which changed legislation in 64 acts or regulations, including the Indian Act, Navigation Protection Act and Environmental Assessment Act.

The bill passed through the Senate and received royal assent on Dec. 14, 2012 without dialogue with the impacted indigenous groups – marking a breaking point after centuries of built-up colonial resistance formed on complaints of broken promises and ignored agreements regarding treaties.

Adding to the fire were other troubling bills on the table at the time, such as Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (passed into law in June), and Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which provides basic rights and protections to individuals on reserves during a relationship, in the event of a relationship breakdown and upon the death of a spouse or common-law partner regarding the family home.

Aligning protests across the globe were sparked throughout 2013, including a parade in San Francisco, a flashmob in Inari, Finland and an Italian sweat lodge ceremony, to express solidarity with Aboriginal sovereignty, collective rights and environmental protections as talk about fracking and continental pipelines showed no signs of slowing down.

“Our people and our Mother Earth can no longer afford to be economic hostages in the race to industrialize our homelands. It’s time for our people to rise up and take back our role as caretakers and stewards of the land,” Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, stated in a quote on the Idle No More homepage.

The movement wasn’t just for the Aboriginal community, organizers stressed. The environment is everyone’s concern, especially when the government removes important waters such as the Slave River from protective acts under everyone’s noses as part of a 400-page piece of legislation.

“The movement is not just about bills and legislation…It’s about more than just what the government is doing; it’s what they’ve always done and how this continued colonization has to stop,” Melaw Nakehk’o, a Dehcho Dene and one of the organizers behind the first Yellowknife Idle No More rally, told The Journal early in 2013.

After weeks of delay, Harper finally agreed to meet with a handful of First Nation leaders in Ottawa by mid January. However, the meeting was boycotted by several chiefs, including northern Ontario’s Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who had been on a hunger strike for over a month trying to force nation-to-nation talks between Canada, the Crown and all First Nation leaders.

In the North, an Idle No More blockade stopped traffic on the Deh Cho Bridge and on the Yellowknife highway outside Behchoko. Numerous rallies took place in Yukon and the NWT, including Hay River and Fort Smith where residents gathered outside for a drumming circle, smudging ceremony, speeches and prayers.

There were still signs of Idle No More by the fall of 2013, with a mass day of action on Oct. 7. A peaceful demonstration with singing, drumming and dancing also came alive to welcome the Prime Minister along the Mackenzie Highway as he arrived in Hay River for his Northern tour at the end of August.

Idle No More’s new website has a database of over 120,000 supporters a growing list of hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.

The movement remains ongoing – a quieter fire at times, but not extinguished.

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