Idle No More hits Zocalo!

By Alix Ohlin
January 22, 2013

Canada’s Fractured Mosaisc: Up North, Indigenous People Are Steadily Challenging What Used To Be a Complacent Self-Image

Theresa Spence is a 49-year-old woman with short brown hair, square green glasses, and the soft, clipped cadence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, of which she is the chief. Over the past month, Spence has become a national figure in Canada, both admired and criticized for her stubbornness and conviction. Since December 12, she has been camped out on Victoria Island in Ottawa, not far from Parliament, subsisting only on water, fish broth, and tea.

Spence’s hunger strike is just one part of an unprecedented, widespread protest movement in Canada called Idle No More. It’s a major news story in my native country but hasn’t received much coverage on this side of the border. Originally started by indigenous women, Idle No More seeks to bring attention to the plight of Canada’s aboriginal population, known there as First Nations. The movement has swept across Canada in the form of demonstrations, marches, and flash mobs; inside Eaton Centre, downtown Toronto’s largest mall, an enormous crowd gathered to perform a round dance with singing and drumming. On January 16, blockades disrupted passenger train and highway traffic across the country. The movement has taken many Canadians by surprise, and it shows no sign of losing strength; another major day of protest is planned for next week, when Parliament returns from its winter break.

The catalyst for all these protests was a bill passed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which, among other changes, eases environmental regulations, opening up lucrative natural resources. The bill was contested by many First Nations people, who feel it violates their treaty rights. But the grievances go beyond the passage of this particular legislation, throwing a spotlight on the extremity of problems among the First Nations. “We have a Third World in Canada, and it’s with our aboriginal peoples,” the Haitian-born former Governor General Michalle Jean recently told the CBC. The roots of these problems are both broad and historical, and they raise dark and difficult questions about what kind of country Canada is and wants to be.

Read the full article at Zocalo Public Square