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Exclusive Political Bouillon Interview with Idle No More Organizer

Idle No More was conceived by four Saskatchewan women into a national day of protest on September 10th 2012, and now transcends Canada’s borders to the US and worldwide. “It started with aboriginals but we have allies, non-aboriginal allies, and it’s not just about aboriginals, it’s also about democracy and the environment.” says Widia Larivière, an Algonquin activist, one of the organizers of INM’s Quebec division.

A grassroots group, INM is mostly organized by Aboriginal women, and not by chiefs. Since the Robert Pickton murders, Aboriginal women have indeed been working s to improve Native conditions, without being confined by the traditional order. Since then, they have started an initiative that imposed no marching orders, anointed chiefs or bandleaders, only an online manifesto.

Dating as far back as pre-Confederation, INM is an inevitable revolution in the making. It was provoked into action by Stephen Harper’s Bill C-45 that removed environmental protection and reviews for lakes and rivers, and changed how reserve land can be sold.  “We believe we don’t have the same rights as the rest [of Canada]. It’s enough. We want to have a long-term, not just a short relationship with the government.”

Aboriginals do not discount their chiefs entirely. In fact, Chief Theresa Spence of the notorious Attawapiskat reserve garnered wide support among INM followers despite the Deloitte & Touche audit report on over $100 million in unaccounted spending from her reserve of 1,500. When Political Bouillon asked Larivière whether Chief Spence negotiations with Ottawa would impact INM (since the movement itself is independent of First Nation leaders’ actions) and how would the movement proceed if dialogue failed, Larivière responded, “She doesn’t represent the movement. But her actions are important. Her actions carry importance as part of the movement…. It scares me that this will only be a onetime meeting. We want other meetings.”

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As more unravels, one might stop to ask what direction will INM pursue, and what lies at the end of the struggle. The Quebec student movement was largely decided by replacing Charest’s provincial Liberal government with Marois’ Parti Québecois. An electoral solution could be the deciding factor in repealing C-45 and perhaps, disbanding the movement, “We talked with other parties before, a new election with a new party will not solve everything. We’re not counting on it.” Larivière also cautiously pointed out, “students had a victory but they did not get everything they liked. For them it’s not finished, they want university accessibility for everyone.”

When suggested that INM make the leap from protest movement to political party, the same way as the Social Credit or Green Party movement, Larivière denied the idea immediately. “No. No association with parties. There was no mention of this. We’re focusing on just changing our relationship with the government.”

Whatever path INM charters there will still be critical skeptics, like former vice president of the United Native Nations, Ernie Crey. Cray rightly voices concerns over the movement’s broad, unclear, non-tangible resolutions and ineffective street canvassing. Detractors such as Globe and Mail, CEO and publisher, Phillip Crowley also claim that,

the fulfillment of aboriginal treaty rights should eventually lead to economically viable Indian communities… Members of first nations communities should welcome the federal government’s Bill C-45, which would facilitate new revenues from leaseholds on what are, ultimately, their own lands.

This however is a misleading bid since only Aboriginal chiefs hold leases to reserve land and many leaders have tended to go against their communities’ interests.

However INM proceeds, the movement’s mantra consistently remains to be, “to grow and grow,” and to steer away from violent, controversial tactics and overall loss of public support. “We are careful not to lose credibility in the media. A lot of people compare us to the Oka Crisis.” In response to criticism that the CN rail blockade already curtailed support from Canadian travelers last holiday season, Larivière countered, “We shouldn’t be talking about them… A lot of people are saying it is too extreme but they end up using this kind of action to attract attention because sometimes the media doesn’t pay attention until something like that happens so that’s what happened also with Plan Nord.”

While Aboriginals blockade rails, the Prime Minister derailed negotiations before the launch. Harper’s strategy seems to be one of divide-and-conquer, to isolate aboriginals from their community status quo. Instead of a Caucasian Indian Affairs minister, Harper chose Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq, an Inuit, to denounce Chief Spence and instead of Chief Spence, Harper met Chief Shawn Atleo to announce round two of the Crown Gathering.

There was also, of course, the leaked Attawapiskat audit, which Chief Spence responded to outside Parliament on January 11th during her boycott of negotiations. “Most of the funding that we have, it goes back to you, to taxpayers,” said Spence, “It goes out of our reserve… For example, if there’s housing, we have to hire contractors, we have to order the materials from out of town and the shipment, we pay tax on that. We hire lawyers… consultants — that’s where the money goes.”

If successful around the table, Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston can expect history between Crown and aboriginals to run its course once again with tribal turmoil leaving aboriginals with far less than when they started. Alternatively, self-governance and direct democracy within the existing Crown imposed Band Council system would offer greater transparency and frequent participation. Aboriginals would have direct stakes and say in their lives, challenging the convention of too many Indians, not enough chiefs. However, Harper would likely resist any radical proposals and such arrangements deviate from the very principles of Native culture and traditional community INM advocates.

A synthesis of past and present is needed.

Will INM be victorious tomorrow or ageless struggle? “It’s hard to say. I know the movement has gotten really big now, it’s going to keep growing and growing and people are not going to stop progressing in making action.” The latter.

– Trent Lee

(Photos and audio by Trent Lee)

(Featured photo: LicenseAttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Thien V, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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About trentlee

Student of Political Science and Creative Writing at Concordia University. Trent is on a self-imposed exile from Toronto and the University of Toronto and now resides in Montreal. He was formerly involved in Cinema Politica and is now the Concordia New Democratic Party Coordinator of Internal and External Affairs. He enjoys writing, travelling, fashion, the opera, cuisine and the occasional Stephen Harper protest. Trent brings to the Political Bouillon a unique outside perspective on the insides of East Asian politics and human rights.

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2 comments

  1. With such a diffuse set of goals, how do you think the INM movement should go about creating change in way the Canadian government relates to Canada’s Native peoples? It seems like they’re on a slippery slope due to their association the media with Therese Spence (who seems to be losing clout on her own end), and their lack of a definitive plan. How can INM keep from being the next Occupy movement, which was largely swept aside and forgotten? In this article the INM is compared to the Quebec student movement, something that has both finished and unfinished business – this being said I argue that their successes are based largely on the fact that the majority of those involved had a set goal as well as lesser goals, as well as primary leaders communicating said goals to the media. I understand INM’s desire to remain a grassroots project without formal leadership, but I do feel like they have a lot to lose if they don’t find a way to set things straight with the media. No matter how many goals you set, one of them needs to be dealt with first.

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