The first time I heard the phrase “Idle No More” on CBC radio, I thought it was yet another Vancouver campaign about car emissions.
I’m a white Canadian woman from the prairies, now living in the south coast of British Columbia. I have zero Aboriginal blood, zero personal connections to the struggle and realities of Aboriginal rights. The most time I’ve spent on the rez is driving through quickly. Growing up in Regina, I had a few “native” friends (as we called First Nations in those days), but as I grew up and moved further and further west, Aboriginals disappeared from my circles of work and schooling. Now, I find myself in the position of unintentional isolation from our First Nations community.
I heard about Idle No More two months ago, and as the days have gone by, and more and more of our First Nations are participating in this protest movement, I’ve been compelled to frankly recognize both my privilege and my ignorance. I needed to learn about this movement, not only as a Canadian, but particularly as a follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus meant all that stuff he said in the Bible, and so the whole “caring for my neighbour” thing needs to show up in my real life. I wanted to know how to best love and support First Nations in this current climate.
so what is idle no more?
Idle No More is a grassroots uprising among Canadian Aboriginals. It was started by four women in Saskatchewan, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld, more than two months ago with no funding and no “official” covering or sponsorship (I am pretty sure that qualifies for an “eshet chayil! woman of valour!”). The movement has grown to fairly large protests and wide-spread mobilization of the Aboriginal community.
While the movement uses a lot of really big verbs and nouns and images about respect, rights, and revolution, Idle No More started because of Bill C-45. (We can talk about the democratic practice of an omnibus bill later, perhaps, because gracious, what a miscarriage of democracy…) So Bill C-45 is an omnibus bill, attached to our budget currently going through Parliament, with hundreds of provisions included, which (and these are the key ones related to Idle No More) seriously undermine our environmental sustainability as a nation and the sovereign rights of the First Nations still existing within our borders. It has already passed first readings. At its core, most of these changes are connected to the almighty economy and development related to pipelines. Already more than 16,000 lakes and rivers within Canada have had their protected status removed in order to facilitate oil exploration and resource mining on First Nations land. These omnibus bill provisions are likely just the next step towards this relentless economic development at the price of our environmental sustainability and the covenantal relationship we’ve had with First Nations stretching back centuries to the Crown’s agreements of the late 18th century. (A reminder: we’re not talking modern business contracts in this relationship: we’re talking ancient covenantal relationship, which carries a solemnity and respect and consistency come what may.)
Aaron Paquette said: This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware of the world in which you live.
First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word.
Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything.
Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing.
And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us).
Bill C-45 came to Ottawa on the heels of the crisis in Attiwapiskat. When the remote northern community of Attiwapiskat declared a state of emergency, their horrible conditions exposed the real conditions of many reserves throughout Canada as more akin to third-world standards. Attiwapiskat was an “in-your-face” example to those of us without connections to the reserves about the how life really is for our First Nations.
Inadequate housing. Little to no schooling. Addictions. Abuse. Loss or abandonment of children to the government systems. No jobs. Poverty. Little access to healthy food. High rates of suicide. Poor water. No heat in the winter. The list went on and on.
So Attiwapiskat declared emergency, and yet, due to the complexity of the Indian Act, treaties, government red tape, and the general consensus that there is “plenty of money being thrown at” the First Nations so there must be rampant corruption and mismanagement, very little was actually accomplished. Like many Canadians, I was horrified by the sight of small Canadian children and families living in shacks in the north with no jobs, no money, no toilets, no heat, no hope. How is this even happening here, one of the richest nations in the world? Both of these instances are serving as a sort of “tipping point” in a long line of injustices and abuses within the community.
Idle No More was launched in an attempt to wake the sleeping giant, to shake First Nations and all of Canada out of apathy. As a result, the protest has become bigger than this one omnibus bill. It’s now turned into rhetoric and conversations about sovereignty, colonization, justice, treaty-honouring, respect, and sustainability. It’s not just about rivers and lakes, it’s what this decision represents for our treaty partners, and the bigger issues surrounding how the bill is being run through.
The mission statement of Idle No more calls “on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.
From Indigenous Nationhood: When asked what do we want, that question can be answered in two parts:
(1) In the short term, Canada must withdraw the suite of legislation impacting First Nations, amend those omnibus bills which threaten our lands and waters, and restore the funding that was cut to our First Nation advocacy organizations and communities;
(2) In the long term, Canada must set up a Nation to Nation process whereby First Nations and Canada can address many of the long outstanding issues related to the implementation of treaties and sharing the lands and resources.
There are several key players and extreme positions within the movement and the government: Prime Minister Harper, Chief Teresa Spence as an icon of the Idle No More young revolutionaries, drum circles, elders, statesmen, chiefs, passionate youth, and also the brilliant Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations.
From âpihtawikosisân: The Canadian government continues to mouth platitudes about its supposed dedication to this relationship, while it slashes funding, ignores our emergencies, pulls out of comprehensive land claim discussions, ‘consults’ with us and then ignores everything we told them, all while pursuing a hard-line agenda which accepts only termination as a result. We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally.
so what is the Christian response?
I don’t actually like the idea of “The” Christian Response. There is a lot of diversity within Christianity, many ways to respond. Some of us are called to this work in a front-lines sort of way but all of us are called to care, all of us are called to love.
So if we believe that Jesus meant what he said, then the question that truly needs to guide our varied responses is this one: what would Love want to do here? So here’s what I think that means within the context of Idle No More:
Stay and listen and learn
We must listen. Before anything else, we must listen. We must listen to the truth of the histories, the experiences, the personal stories, the larger historical context. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to listen to them, so start there. Show up at a rally, make a friend, email a blogger, listen and read something other than filtered media, with an open heart to learn and honour. Then make sure that your words, your posture, your attitude, and actions communicate the dignity of truth that you love, you support, you are seeking justice and friendship as a student and fellow traveller. Also, remember to find the joy, find the fun, find the love that exists in each other and celebrate it. Remember, we’re talking about people here, not a cause. PEOPLE. Complex, diverse, wise, interesting people with unique stories and experiences beyond the obvious and one-note stereotypes. We can’t separate God’s justice from God’s presence.
Recognize our role and repent
Much of the problems that plague First Nations communities have their roots in their treatment and abuse at the hands of colonization. Residential schools, forced assimilation, racism, systemic murder, crippling economic inequalities, lack of adequate schooling, we have a disgusting history as a nation when it comes to our First Nations. We need to repent of the evil, yes, but we also need to repent of our continued disconnection of turning our neighbours into “The Other” through stereotypes and divisions. We must recognize our own failings and habits, our own poverty, our bad habits of treating our friends and neighbours as “a cause” instead of as a partner. Refugee advocate, J.R. Goudeau pointedly reminds us:
Christians are often implicit in asymmetrical relationships that privilege First World over Third World, white over black, men over women, urban over rural, Western over Eastern, cosmopolitan over “primitive.”
So many of the imperial relationships that broke down in the twentieth century have been examined in-depth in academic and political settings, and yet we barely touch this subject in many churches.
We travel. We bring back sideshows and videos. We talk about “the poor,” “orphans,” “the least of these.”
We are guilty of not examining the acts of translation that turn an ordinary Bolivian into an object of sympathy for our mega-churches. We are guilty of using the degrees of removal that separate an upper-class white Midwestern Christian from a Haitian mother as guilt trips or morality moments. We are guilty of objectifying African villages by making their stories about our reactions, our acts of generosity, without really stopping to see what is happening their on the ground.
We are guilty of using “the poor” as objects or foils sent to teach us about ourselves rather than people in their own right.
Instead of pretending injustice doesn’t exist or opining that “they should just get over it already” or paying lip service to “things are so much better now,” there is something spiritual and powerful to repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness as individuals, religious communities, and a nation. We can no longer point to the occasional corruption or grandiose actions or ongoing mismanagement of a few as an excuse for our perpetual inaction or devaluation of an entire community’s very immediate and pressing needs.
There is also something spiritual in accepting that apology and forgiving, according to Kenny Blacksmith. We cannot underestimate the power of forgiveness and restitution, and the power of making things right, of turning from our old ways and moving forward into justice with renewed purpose and focus. Work and live on the side of reconciliation and justice.
Encourage and live the values of negotiation, conversation, friendship, and reconciliation
We come alongside one another as brothers and sisters, as treaty partners and covenant partners, committed to the relationship’s sustainability, with deep respect and honour. Christians should be the first ones to reject violence, to disavow the language of shame and paternalism, acts of oppression and dismissal. That has no place in the heart of one who practices the ways of Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Even in the places of disagreement for best way forward, there is a way to disagree beautifully in love and respect. Moving forward in hope is more important than brinkmanship, saving face, getting the final word. These are complex, tangled issues which will likely have complex and varied solutions and responses. Conversation, negotiation, good faith is key.
Commit to community development
As Christian social activist D.L. Mayfield wrote, “we should all be engaged in the brokenness of our communities. And we should all be working through how we use our gifts and creativity to shine light in dark situations, in ways that dignify and uplift and empower others.”
We are the people of justice seeking and peace making. I’m not talking about “helping the poor” in the lame and destructive colonial ways connected to assimilation and conversions, palatable stereotypes and hand-outs. No, I’m talking about participating in the redemptive movement of God, his heart to reconcile and redeem within First Nations together. I believe God cares about housing and economics, about overcoming addictions and families, about children and clean water, about schooling and sustainability. This may look like working within the community as a partner, it may look like supporting active work, it may look like participating in a big life-changing way, foster care advocacy, it may look like writing to our government, employment, opportunity, friendship, or perhaps protesting or participating, it may look like advocating for these changes and opportunities at the highest levels of government. We need policy makers and pragmatists, we also need prophets and poets. We can come alongside our brothers and sisters, lending our voices and power to theirs, and stand together for a unified people advocating for justice and peace and wholeness. We support, we believe, we are with them for the long haul.
Pray for peace and justice, the restoration of hope and leadership. We must pray for the root of injustice to be removed, for wisdom in our leadership, for forgiveness and justice. We must pray with our spirits, with our words, with our hands and with our feet.
and read more…
9 Questions About Idle No More at CBC News
The natives are restless. Wondering why? by âpihtawikosisân
The revolution will not be televised (but it will be tweeted) by Aaron Paquette
Idle No More: A Christian Issue by ChristianWeek
What is the Idle No More movement…really? by Indigenous Nationhood
Stephen Harper, First Nations, and an opportunity lost by Chris Hill for CBC
Idle No More: Canada’s Indigenous “Occupy” by Bilbo Poynter for the Christian Science Monitor
Gathering Nations with Kenny and Louise Blacksmith
(If you have other resources or articles, feel free to share them in the comments.)