James Bay Cree walkers who converged on Ottawa are a sign of the new dynamic. Photo by Alec L Boucher/ Demotix/ Corbis
If you want a sense of the country's parallel realities right now, check out the new Harper government gag-worthy TV ad celebrating natural resource extraction - and then flip to images of the young Cree walkers starting out in James Bay's snowbound loneliness.
There it is in microcosm: the poison and the antidote.
It was impossible to watch livestreaming of the Nishiyuu trekkers arriving in Ottawa Monday morning, March 25, without considering the power of the new winds that set them off on their element-battling 1,600 kilometre two-month-plus journey.
The comments of young David Kawapit from Whapmagoostui, Quebec, about their walk dispelling thoughts of suicide should put the whole Idle No More enterprise in its proper perspective.
I had the same sense Saturday at the Nation To Nation Now! The Conversations conference at OISE, listening to Algonquin elder Michel talk about his experience of residential school sexual abuse and how the bush in the years after saved his life.
"So many times I was suicidal, but my connection with the Creator and the land kept me alive," he said. But "all those Algonquin words for the territory will be lost in the debris of mining, and our children won't have the healing I went through."
Yes, the round dances have receded, but the upsurge is so not over. The entrenchment of Idle sensibilities continues to an astonishing degree in meetings across the country, often in places Torontonians have never heard of.
Call it the ongoing consolidation of a liberation theory.
Saturday's event drew almost 400 participants who munched on supplied sub sandwiches, both veggie and meat, and listened to nine hours of panels featuring an array of aboriginal activists and experts.
Arthur Manuel, Defenders of the Land founder and former chair of the Interior Alliance of BC First Nations, got down to fundamentals - the present as history, as old-time Marxists used to say. Canadian authorities, he said, like to question the basis on which aboriginals claim title to their land, but exactly what right to title are settler newcomers relying on?
The answer is that it's nothing less than the centuries-old imperialist "doctrine of discovery" that gave Christian explorers the right to claim foreign lands inhabited by non-Christians on behalf of their governments. It's an idea, he said with forceful logic, that should go the way of slave law. "We've been living under an outdated colonial relationship," Manuel said. "We need a new Canada, not an old Canada."
He went on. The country's biggest financial liability today, he explained, is the fact that resource development is taking place on land Canada mostly doesn't own - a situation that isn't yet affecting the country's positive credit rating. Indigenous peoples' failure to win land rights means they're subsidizing the economy by virtue of the appropriation by others of resources belonging to them.
It's an argument endorsed by Russel Diabo, policy adviser at the Algonquin Nation Secretariat, who traced the ways in which transfer payments to band councils tie the hands of aboriginal leaders, making them reliant on government largesse and structurally incapable of modelling non-colonial relationships.
"They are paid to manage the discontent of the people. We want independent leaders," he said, calling for forums where the grassroots can call their existing reps to account. "Getting our treaty rights means a transformation of power relations in this country," he said to enthusiastic applause.
In the evening, during Earth Hour, actually, which was sublimely ignored, Ellen Gabriel, Mohawk spokesperson during the Oka resistance, summed up the consensus. "We want to live in a society where we are cherished" and where there is "an end to the colonization we live under every friggin' second of our lives."
And finally, shout-outs for the coming spring and summer Idle offensive, and a reflection by Naomi Klein on the way indigenous land-protection standoffs provide "spaces of separateness with a legal basis, places to fight from" in the face of the global economic steamroller.
"The coalition we are articulating is so exciting and gives us so much hope," she said.
And not a soul in the room, it seemed, thought otherwise.