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There is a rather odd struggle going on around the future of the Idle No More (INM). It is mostly about who gets to define the movement.
The usual suspects in certain national media, the twitterverse and blogosphere have been saying since early December that INM will go away. They were unable to ignore it for about six weeks, so they attacked it. But now, we are to be assured once again of its imminent demise.
The National Post wants us to know that twitter mentions are way down, which, judging by their headline, we should believe is a terminal sign. Certainly, any suggestion that all this pesky Indian business will go away is a relief to those who would prefer to return to ignoring Canada’s greatest social injustice and/or blaming its victims. All that denial of responsibility is just….so….exhausting.
On the flip side, Pamela Palmeter, unofficial INM spokesperson says that actions that are not identified as Idle No More events but are consistent with its goals will be the next stage in the movement. Unfortunately, that position would permit INM to either take credit or deny responsibility for just about any related occurrence, which is a pretty meaningless claim.
To be fair, Dr. Palmeter also talked about the groundwork that is going on to educate and empower people in First Nation communities and to bring that leadership to other Canadians. That is serious and extremely worthwhile work, but it is not new, nor solely the product of INM.
As for official activity, the INM website lists an average of an event each day for the rest of February and somewhat less in March, although a lot of that is in the United States. Discussions on the INM Facebook page suggest that Canada should expect decent turnout on the 14th at events across the country related to missing and murdered women.
It was inevitable that a transition of some kind would take place after the focus on the hunger strikes ended.
In my first piece on INM, I suggested that the rest of Canada look on the movement as a call to action to right historic injustice, reclaim our democracy and respond by respecting all our relations. We can see the declaration -- supported by the opposition political parties and First Nation leadership -- that came with the end of the hunger strikes as a first step in that direction.
For its part, the NDP has kept up pressure on the government. A Private Members Bill tabled by Romeo Saganash calls for implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a motion by Aboriginal Affairs critic Jean Crowder to make Indigenous issues a budget priority passed with support from all sides.
Aside from the budget, an upcoming Supreme Court decision on Métis land rights and a Canadian Human Rights Commission hearing on discrimination against First Nations children will be significant milestones, as will be the outcome, if any, of processes put in place at the January 11th meeting between Chiefs and the Prime Minister. There was an expectation of progress by the end of March for those efforts.
At a recent panel discussion, Chief Theresa Spence, whose hunger strike captured international attention and drove a lot of the afore-mentioned twitter traffic, called on other Chiefs to keep the movement alive. She wants Indigenous leadership to work more closely with the grassroots and derive some courage from what INM has been able to achieve these past three months. However, INM spokespeople have so far refused association with the Assembly of First Nations, Chiefs (except Chief Spence), blockade leaders, and others, including a variety of non-Indigenous groups. It is their right to do so, but it makes Chief Spence’s suggestion difficult to implement.
As I have indicated in this space previously, a diversity of tactics provides resiliency to the broader movement for Indigenous rights and that makes it stronger. It seems clear that INM and Canadians face a choice. We can come together behind common goals for social justice and embrace a variety of leadership that will employ different tactics in that direction, or we can insist on going our own ways, fighting amongst ourselves, and continue to be ignored by those who oppose positive change.
In the interim, the Harper Conservatives will continue their agenda. The environment will be plundered without regard for Indigenous rights, Indigenous governments will be treated like administrative agents of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, conditions for Indigenous people will not improve, and children as young as 10 years old will commit suicide from despair.
The time is fast approaching for people to choose.
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