Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist, and Warren Allmand, the former Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development under Pierre Trudeau, debunked myths surrounding the Idle No More movement, on Wednesday.
The event, which took place in the Leacock building, drew about fifty students, First Nations people, and other members of the Montreal community.
The organizers, Madeleine Pawlowski, a U1 Arts student, and Chanel Fournier, a U0 Arts student, felt a need to inform people – especially students living in residence – about the Idle No More movement.
“It’s hard for someone just reading the news and the media to know what’s going on,” Fournier said.
“This event is as much for Montreal citizens as for international students who are coming here and don’t really know what’s going on in Canadian politics,” Pawlowski told The Daily.
The organizers and the speakers agreed that it was time for Canada to make changes. “I’m so fed up with being silenced because I am an indigenous person, and on top of that, I’m a woman,” Gabriel said.
During the two-hour talk, Allmand and Gabriel spoke about social and political roots for dissatisfaction, environmental, and cultural concerns for Aboriginal communities across Canada.
Allmand drew on his past experience as both a Liberal Member of Parliament, and a former minister involved with Aboriginal affairs. He focused his frustration on what he saw as a long-term trend of significant misconceptions by the general Canadian public.
“Some Canadians say Indigenous people are just another minority. They’re not a minority, they were here before we arrived!” Allmand said. “All these resources in the land, all this land, belongs to another people. They offered to share it with us, but not to take it from them!”
Gabriel also addressed discrimination against Aboriginal communities in academia, the media, and the general public.
This discrimination not only stemmed from vitriolic attitudes, but from simple ignorance, Gabriel argued.
“It’s as if we are slowly being wiped away from history, and [being] put into the museums. That’s one of the things I’m really scared of happening, that our language and our culture will one day be in the museums,” she said.
Gabriel blasted Harper for his treatment of Indigenous communities in Canada, characterizing the prime minister as a “despot” who ruled cruelly and maliciously.
“Stephen Harper has put a price tag on the human rights of Indigenous peoples,” she said.
She also accused the Canadian government of failing to properly atone for past sins. “Thank you for the apology for the Indian residential school system, but it has to be more than mere words. You apologized for something that is classified as genocide…. You are apologizing for saying that we were inferior to you. But where is the proof that you are sorry?”
Allmand agreed with Gabriel and noted that Canada had been the last to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007, and that action on these rights had yet to materialize.
“How can we [as Canadians] ask Iran, Iraq, North Korea, to live up to human rights standards, if we don’t do it ourselves?” Allmand said.
The two agreed that the issues were not new, but that pressure was building. “Enough is enough,” Gabriel said. “We have had our ancestors die, going to their graves, questioning and appealing to government with the same words that we have been using for [an entire] generation.”
Despite a history of negligence regarding Aboriginal rights, Gabriel was confident that the movement would not falter. “The government looks at us and says, ‘they’re crazy Indians, and they’re going to phase out. Idle No More is just a fad.’ And I can tell you that, maybe we’ll take a break, maybe we’ll take a rest, because you know, we’re tired of being in the cold. [But] we’re going to speak up. We’re going to speak up because we cannot stand it any more.”