What does it mean to be Idle No More?
Idle No More is a peaceful social movement started last October in Saskatchewan by four women – Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdam and Nina Wilson. They were concerned that Bill C-45 (the federal government’s enormous 400-page plus omnibus budget bill) would erode Indigenous and Treaty Rights.
Although the omnibus budget bill is very lengthy, technical and detailed, there are three areas that triggered the Idle No More movement into action: changes to the Indian Act, specifically allowing First Nations to lease designated reserve lands; the Navigation Protection Act, which removes provisions on federally protected waterways; and streamlining timelines and processes for environmental assessments. After a period of House Debate, the Bill came into effect when it received Royal Assent on December 14, 2012.
I first noticed the term “Idle No More” in early December as a hashtag (#idlenomore) on Twitter. The Twitter conversation at the time was very energetic, lively and not only challenged the provisions within Bill C-45 but also questioned the lack of any meaningful community consultation with First Nations, Metis and Inuit on how the Bill’s provisions would impact on communities. The early underpinnings of the conversation were also largely driven by young grassroots First Nation members, who felt unrepresented by the Harper government and utilized social media to engage a wide diversity of communities – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – worldwide.
Over the past several weeks, I have been watching how the Idle No More movement has united voices and communities and grown in momentum. I believe the movement has now moved beyond challenging the provisions within the Bill, although this is not to say these important issues have been dropped, as the movement has helped raise awareness on the need for the stabilization of communities in emergency and high crisis like Attawapiskat First Nation. Idle No More is also asking the federal government for a long-term commitment to relationships based on treaties and Indigenous rights.
While the Idle No More movement was originated by four women, soon followed by another woman – Tanya Kappo – who first coined “#idlenomore” that allowed the movement to go viral in the social media world, Idle No More has become a self-sustaining social movement kept alive by the power of young Indigenous men and women, community members and some leadership. However, Idle No More is also bringing together the entire community – Indigenous and non-Indigenous and young and old. As the world now knows, Idle No More isn’t “just an Indian thing,” rather it is an international movement raising awareness about protecting our land, resources, water and environment.
I believe Idle No More is a collective reawakening of Indigenous nations as well as the awakening of the non-Indigenous community to walk hand-in-hand with us. What is fascinating is Idle No More does not seem to belong to one individual, group or community, as it is a social movement that is driven by groups of people coming together from a diversity of backgrounds. Everyone has a voice in this movement, including those with opposing views. Unfortunately, there has been more and more public commentary, especially in the social media world, based on hate, ignorance and racism, even though the underpinnings of Idle No More are based upon tolerance, love and action.
All universities and colleges play an important role in helping to increase awareness in what it means to be “#idlenomore” and to assist in breaking down the misconceptions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit, including challenging systemic racism and discrimination where they continue to exist. Equally important is the need to provide more education on treaties and Indigenous/Aboriginal rights throughout the learning community, starting with the very young and extending to university and college students, staff, faculties and administration. Inclusive curriculum development is key to promoting a better understanding of Canadian Indigenous history. In fact, many Indigenous and Aboriginal Student Associations have organized series of “teach-ins” and peaceful flash mob friendship round dances to facilitate a greater unity dialogue and awareness of the Idle No More movement.
The University of Manitoba believes that education has a transformative power for students, their families and communities. In October 2011, the University of Manitoba offered a Statement of Apology and Reconciliation to former Residential School students and their families for the harms of the past and made a commitment to begin a new conversation and relationship with Indigenous communities. The Idle No More movement is an opportunity for all members of Canadian society to get engaged, active and be informed on what it means to be Idle No More.
Deborah Gail Young is a member from Opaskwayak Cree Nation and was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is currently the Executive Lead, Indigenous Achievement, University of Manitoba.