Idle No More starts new era

TheStarPhoenix.com – news
December 28, 2012.   By Doug Cuthand, Special To The Starpheonix

Dec. 21 came and went and we didn’t witness the end of the world.

Some people blamed the Mayans but their calendar only predicted the end of an era. Already change is washing over Indian Country and beyond.

The Idle No More movement is the first harbinger of that change. The movement spread across the country like a wildfire and is now growing in the U.S., Central and South America and among aboriginal peoples in New Zealand, Australia and other countries.

It’s fun watching the media tie themselves into knots trying to describe this new movement. There is no single leader or manifesto: nor is there a head office or information officer. This is uncharted territory for the media and federal and provincial politicians.

It’s been described as a youth movement but includes people of all ages. Half our population is younger than 22, so it’s only natural that youth would be broadly represented. This is a strong indication that aboriginal youth are engaged in political issues and won’t take a back seat in the future.

The media have also compared Idle No More to the Occupy movement but they aren’t even close.

Idle No More empowers our people. It is an important building block in our development and it has very spiritual roots. Elders are involved and support the actions taken by the young people.

As outsiders find aboriginal methods confusing and misinterpret them. While the movement is focused on the faults and failures of the Harper government, it is also against the old attitudes, racism and colonialism that have plagued our people for generations. It is a movement to embrace the treaties and make them work for all Canadians. Our people signed treaties in good faith and today we witness a one sided relationship that keeps our people poor.

Meanwhile, Chief Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike. We share her frustration. Our communities receive less revenue from Ottawa while populations and social problems – including poverty, suicides, and substance – keep on growing. A single isolated community doesn’t have the resources to handle it.

Last year when Spence brought attention to the living conditions on her reserve, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was dismissive, stating they had given the community $90 million (an inflated number that included all services for five years). He sent in a third-party manager indicating it was the band at fault.

This year a steady stream of government cutbacks and legislative changes are being sold as a way of redistributing money to the communities. It’s the old divide and conquer technique but it didn’t work because no improvement has been seen at the community level.

It’s been obvious for some time that the Harper government has done very little in a positive way for First Nations. The residential school apology was a feel-good moment that cost the government nothing, as was the Crown and First Nations gathering last January. Both went nowhere.

Harper said it was time to reset the relationship but it was an empty PR gesture at best or, at worst, an outright lie. What First Nations received in the new “reset” was funding cutbacks to advocacy groups, legislative change without consultation and basically business as usual.

Idle No More is a reaction to years of setback, inaction and one-sided legislative change by the Harper government.

So far Harper hasn’t responded. He certainly has no intention of meeting with Chief Spence. Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan has expressed concern and offered to set up a committee to deal with the issues but this is only an evidence of how out of touch he is with his constituents. Canada has a long history of passing things off to officials. It’s one of the reasons we are in this mess.

We need the political will to produce meaningful change. Duncan is considered weak and ineffective and has little credibility in Indian country. Similarly, Senator Patrick Brazeau who was refused a meeting with Chief Spence also has no credibility.

Saskatchewan MP Ron Clarke showed he is on the wrong side of history when he said the Idle No More movement doesn’t speak for him. That’s because Harper speaks for him instead.

Spence has become the focus of our concern and we pray that Harper will act on her request to find a political solution.

My father, who just celebrated his 94th birthday, told me how he grew up sleeping on the floor with his brother in a one-room house on the reserve. Ninety years later Indian kids are still sleeping on the floor.

This is what Idle No More represents – an end of one era and the beginning of another.

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