Too loud to ignore

Idle No More, a grassroots movement that demands respect for First Nations rights and adherence to treaties, has dominated national headlines for a month.

Originating in Saskatchewan, the movement was formed by Nina Wilson, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jess Gordon. Since the initial day of action on Dec. 10, protests, rallies, and flash mobs have taken place across the globe.

Kyra Wilson, co-vice president of the University of Manitoba Aboriginal Students Association (UMASA), has been a lead organizer for the Winnipeg branch of the movement. She explained that Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), called for the day of action to protest the omnibus Bill C-45.

The bill, which alters environment laws, allowing for less protection of Canadian lakes and rivers, was passed in Senate with a vote of 50-27. First Nations individuals are arguing that the bill goes against agreements found in treaties and violates their rights, as it allows for easier federal control of reserve land.

Early in December, 2012, First Nations chiefs were denied entry into the House of Commons during discussion of Bill C-45.

“First Nations people need to be consulted when it comes to legislation [affecting] our land and people [ . . . ] We need to be a sovereign people with our treaties intact,” said Wilson, who also acts as the aboriginal representative for the University of Manitoba Student Union (UMSU).

The U of M has been involved in the movement, with UMASA and UMSU providing financial support, specifically for the Dec. 21 rally at the legislative grounds.

Several First Nations elders and chiefs, including Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, have partaken in hunger strikes in solidarity of Idle No More, demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Harper that would focus on Indigenous and government relations.

Prime Minister Harper announced on Jan. 4 that he would meet with First Nation leaders on Jan. 11.

The Idle No More movement has spread to reach Indigenous populations all over the world. Social media posts through Twitter and Facebook have shown global supporters in places such as Gambia, the Netherlands, Palestine, Hawaii, Germany, London, Ukraine, Australia, and New Zealand.

“We have opened people’s eyes to the idea that their voices can be heard. When everyone comes together to oppose a government political ideology, our voices become louder and harder to ignore [ . . . ] This is an awakening for First Nations people,” explained Wilson.

According to Wilson, those involved in Idle No More have faced some opposition to their movement.

“Although we have a lot of non-indigenous support, we have also received resistance [ . . . ] We can’t actually pinpoint who these people are that feel the need to resort to discrimination against First Nations people. [Indigenous people] should not be targeted for standing up for the rights of Canada. Ignorance can only be solved with education.”

Throughout the movement, the federal government has given little response to the protests. Harper stated at a press conference, “People have the right in our country to demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law, but I think the Canadian population expects everyone to obey the law in holding such protests.”