Why Idle No More matters to us all

First Nations represent Canadians' last best hope of stopping the mass destruction of our shared lands


Related: Legislating against self-rule.


As the country awaits Stephen Harper’s meeting on Friday, January 11, with the Assembly of First Nations, and Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence continues her hunger strike, there is no end to the blockades and round dances, expressions of an upsurge many believe will end by totally re-wiring First Nations/government relations. One Idle No More spokesperson explains what’s at stake.

Idle No More arises from our responsibility to live up to the sacrifices of our ancestors and to the duty we have as guardians of the earth and to the expectations our children and grandchildren have of us to protect them. We all carry that responsibility, from the moment the Creator blesses us with our first breath until our last.

Right now, many of our indigenous brothers and sisters are facing multiple, overlapping crises the very grassroots people on the front lines are there because they lack clean water, housing or sanitation, and politicians have done little to help.

This movement is distinct. Unlike Occupy, it’s made up of peoples with a shared history and has a special spiritual significance: it was prophesied that the seventh generation would rise and restore the strength of our Nations.

Idle No More is also unique in that it includes non-natives as our allies. Just as in the early days of contact, when settlers needed our help to survive the harsh winter months, Canadians once again are relying on us to stop Harper’s destructive environmental agenda.

First Nations represent Canadians’ last best hope of stopping Canada from mass destruction of our shared lands, waters, plants and animals in the name of resource development for export to foreign countries like China. Why? Because only First Nations have constitutionally protected aboriginal and treaty rights that mandate Canada to obtain our consent prior to acting. These rights are also protected at the international level by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

When Idle No More opposes federal policies, we do so to protect all of our interests – aboriginal and Canadian alike. After all, the most precious resources in the near future will be farmable lands and drinkable water. We are standing up not only to protect our lands and waters, but also to restore justice for First Nations and democracy for Canadians. We can work together to defeat the Harper threat.

What we want in the short term is for the government to withdraw the suite of legislation impacting First Nations, amend the omnibus bills that threaten our lands and waters, and restore the funding that was cut for our advocacy organizations and communities

But in the long run, there has to be a nation-to-nation process whereby First Nations and Canada can address the long-outstanding issues related to the implementation of treaties and sharing of lands and resources.

Ultimately, we want to be free to govern ourselves as we choose and to enjoy our identities, cultures, languages and traditions. Canada must respect our sovereignty and get out of the business of managing our lives.

Given that the federal government has worked hard to put us in the situation we are in, Harper will have to come to the table Friday with good faith and offer solutions to address the crisis facing many of our communities.

Idle No More is inspiring hope when many had lost it. It has inspired pride in who we are as indigenous peoples, leadership in those who thought they had nothing left to offer their Nations and a reconnection of youth to elders, citizens to leaders and men to stand beside women.

We are alive again, and the spirits of our ancestors are walking with us.

Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor, is academic director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

TOP FIVE IDLE NO MORE MESSAGES

Stay calm and round dance on.

Harper’s treason is the reason for the protest season.

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

We fought for your rights in 1812 fight for ours.

If Harper has time for Justin Bieber, he should have time for Chief Spence.

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