Commentary | It’s about people, not politics

Idle no more and the importance of action

Idle No More is a collective shift in thinking and being that has manifested as broad social and political action to challenge state agendas, authorities, and institutions. At its core, Idle No More is rooted in unity and represents a transformation or restoration to ways of being in the world as an Indigenous person. This is a historical turning point for an emerging wave of Indigenous activism that aims to tackle environmental and human rights issues. It has spread like wildfire around the world and although there are gaps in direction, it appears to have reached a breaking point for Indigenous people, and there will be no further idling.

The list goes on of collaborative events between Indigenous nations and respective allies (grassroots supporters, environmentalists, human rights activists) who are working cooperatively to maintain the momentum of the Idle No More movement. The relatively recent coverage of the movement by the mainstream media does little justice to representing views alternative to those of the Harper government and even to those of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The flurry of stories has thus far succeeded in confusing the general public with tried and true tactics of political distraction by overwhelming both supporters and opposition with erroneous information. As Malcolm X stated: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing” – this is exemplified by the ongoing media attacks and finger pointing amongst appointed leadership.

Although the problems were initiated in the past, they remain unacknowledged as a national tragedy today, a complete failure of human accountability and decency. Things have morphed over the past few centuries, but the legacy of colonization remains on a variety of levels – so how do Indigenous people decolonize? Well, that is the burning multi-billion dollar question at stake – finding solutions for this goal has continuously been challenged since the identification of the ‘Indian problem.’ Through a means more calculated than you or I can imagine, the institutional powers that control our glorious home and native land will never genuinely support these solutions. Instead, the current structure will continue to create animosity and tension to distract us from our greater, collective goals as Indigenous nations and Canadian allies.

We must get at the fundamental issues, not the symptoms. The root of the problem is structural and is the direct result of a longstanding process of de-culturation, a disconnect from sources of traditional teachings. This is the colonized mind and soul, and its deleterious effects are profound – many generations have the burden of inheriting this deep-rooted pain, and they must be given the respect and support to confront these issues to heal on their own time.

A wise man once told me, “You don’t get rehab from the drug dealer; you cannot expect the person who broke it to fix it.” That is precisely what Indigenous people are up against: a battle to restore the balance in all nations, a fight to extract the harmful control of the federal government upon each nation, which is an extremely complex and sensitive process that ultimately interferes with the goal of sustaining sovereign nations.

The static political and legal definitions of Indigenous identities (i.e. Aboriginal, a state-sanctioned definition) are methods used to control every aspect of Indigenous lives, an entity rectified by the treacherous Indian Act. For a succinct account of the Indian Act, search YouTube for “Pam Palmater – Idle No More,” for her poignant analysis. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin stated that the “Indian Act is racist and should be abolished.” Regardless of these abhorrent definitions pertaining to identity, Indigenous peoples have and always will fight to live in accordance with their respective customs, laws, and traditions – this cannot be dictated by the Canadian and provincial governments, nor by a handful of elected ‘Chiefs.’

Indigenous peoples are sovereign nations with the inherent right to self-determination. However, we are intrinsically divided and unique, and therefore unification may not be possible. Over time and through sustained movement, we can restore our nations by adapting culturally sound strategies. The key is movement – we just need movement to start the process of healing the rifts to collectively push for the cultivation of respectful relationships for all interactions between individuals, families, clans, traditional territories, plants, and animals. This is a spiritual revolution, a resurgence of Indigenous peoples – although that appears very cryptic to most of us, the nature of this movement works on a continuum of growing consciousness or re-awakening.

The most inspiring aspect of this movement is the involvement of Indigenous youth. Each child aware and actively involved in this movement brings promise for restoring healthy, sustainable Indigenous communities. The well-known American Indian Movement activist Russell Means said: “…I’d much rather get across the concept of freedom. It’s what’s important to Indian children. The only way you can be free is to know that you are worthwhile as a distinct human being. Otherwise you become what the colonizers have designed…Get in line, punch all the right keys, and die.” These kids have a beautiful capacity for understanding and sharing the concept of freedom, or rather contributing to the foundations of resistance for being Indigenous in this tenuous time, including being grounded in family and community, nurturing connection to land, and learning language, traditional knowledge, and spirituality.

From what I see, there is a lot of work to be done, but a few small successes can and will spur action to revitalize our spiritual and cultural foundations as strong nations. My greatest fear is that everything will remain the same or worsen, and the Idle No More movement will lose its momentum. The significant dates #J11 [January 11], #J16, and #J28 will quickly come and go; therefore, lasting change comes from one’s personal commitment to transformation.

I have made my education my priority and therefore I am not in a position to return to my community. It has and always will be a painful tradeoff of career advancement over cultural connection. To counteract and involve myself with the Idle No More movement, I follow a variety of Indigenous and allied voices, rather than mainstream media, and this has become a daily necessity. Drawing upon many perspectives (while avoiding ignorant and racist remarks), enables me to raise awareness and have conversation with others more or less knowledgeable on the issues than myself. To move forward, we must engage and utilize all of the talents of the people within our communities to begin a process of regeneration. This involves but is not limited to: instilling mentoring and learning relationships that foster real and meaningful human development and community solidarity; using our Indigenous languages to frame our thoughts; and moving away from political agendas and toward traditional philosophies. Everyone has a purpose – we need movement.

Gilakas’la.

Jessica Barudin  is  a  Kwakwaka’wakw Graduate student, Representative of the Indigenous Student Alliance of McGill and the McGill First Peoples’ House. Send responses to jessica.barudin@mail.mcgill.ca.


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