Citizen Action Monitor

Canada’s Indigenous “Idle No More” movement confronts Harper’s bullies with a multifaceted counterpower strategy

“For Indigenous people in Canada, INM is a new approach and that in itself is promising.”

No 644 Posted by fw, January 3, 2013

“In 2013, there will be more educating, dancing and marching. In order to motivate an implacable adversary there also will be more economic inconvenience, more blockades, national strikes, the delay and prevention of resource extraction activities, and every other tactic INM can employ.”Daniel Wilson

To read Daniel Wilson’s original article, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, skim the version below with its added subheadings and text highlighting. And check out the 25-minute AlJazeera English video, at the end of this post, about the INM movement, which has put Canada on the global map.

Putting it in drive: What’s next for Idle No More by Daniel Wilson,, December 31, 2012

Idle No More (INM) adopts a promising new grassroots, counterpower strategy

Across the country, in shopping malls and in the streets, thousands are rallying and round-dancing and serving notice that they will be Idle No More (INM). Messages of support from around the world have given rise to comparisons with other grassroots protests such as the Occupy movement, Quebec’s printemps erable and the Arab Spring. But whether in following those examples INM leads to increased awareness, a change in policy, or a change in government is an open question. Certainly, for Indigenous people in Canada, INM is a new approach and that in itself is promising.

Unlike the Assembly of First Nations’ annual National Day of Action (full disclosure, my former job included organizing the 2008 version), Idle No More doesn’t begin and end with one day’s events. In many places, rail and road blockades now are supplementing rallies, teach-ins and flashmob dances that are increasing in number and escalating in scope. The day after Chief Spence began her hunger strike, several others like Elder Raymond Robinson began theirs in support, and Fast4Change has signed up dozens more who want to demonstrate their commitment to the cause.

Fundamentally, Idle No More means that every day is a day of action.

Support for INM growing among non-Indigenous Canadians, especially among those fed up with Harper’s antics

It is grassroots activism, with leadership from a variety of sources, most of whom do not rely on federal government funding for their continued existence and are, therefore, less constrained. There is growing support from non-Indigenous Canadians, largely due to the animosity Stephen Harper has created among progressives of all persuasions, especially environmentalists concerned about Bill C-45. And it has immediate and concrete consequences as people may die from starvation.

So now what?

Considerable uncertainty about how Chief Spence’s hunger strike will play out

Like the Occupy movement, Indigenous demands for action are diffuse. The list includes respect for the treaties, respect for Aboriginal rights enshrined in the constitution, education of the Canadian public in their role as treaty partners, and action on poverty and the morass that the federal bureaucracy has created in governance. There is no simple solution. And the shift in focus to Chief Spence’s hunger strike, compelling as it is, has meant that her request for a meeting with the Prime Minister and Governor General has become the shorthand answer to a complex set of problems.

There could be a one-day meeting that accomplishes nothing, just as the last one did, in the hands of an intransigent and dishonest government. Or Chief Spence could succumb to the honest human desire to live and the movement would be written off as having played out its course. Or Stephen Harper may ignore her request, with talking points about the precedent it would set, and people will die, leading to a potentially dire response.

One day just isn’t enough to solve our problems, whether one day of protest, one day of contrition, or one day’s effort at finding solutions. National days of action didn’t work. A one-time apology from the Prime Minister had no meaning. And Canada can’t allow this to come down to whether or not one particular meeting happens.

Wilson bluntly asserts that “Indigenous death and despair serve Harper government’s purpose”

To put it bluntly, Indigenous death and despair serve the government’s purpose. Like exterminating the buffalo helped starve First Nations onto reserves, through underfunding and interference with local governance, the current government is starving people off reserves. The consequent destruction of Indigenous communities will make it easier for the government’s friends in the oil, gas and mining industries to go about their business unhindered.

Harper driven by two motives – political expediency and economic interests of supporters

Stephen Harper responds to only two motives, political expediency and the economic interests of those who put him in office. With his majority, his concern for micro-managing his political profile has decreased as the urgency with which he is pursuing the corporatist agenda has accelerated. If INM is going to prompt a reaction, it must speak to that motivation.

INM’s carrot and stick toolkit

Protesters wield a stick — the January 5th closing of border crossings is one interesting example to come — and they have a very large carrot in that resource extractive industries must rely on the co-operation of Aboriginal rights-holders who could negotiate greater predictability and facilitated process.

For any real progress to negotiations, Canada must relinquish the policy of assimilation of Indigenous peoples

Indigenous people also have a clear set of parameters for successful negotiation and have had for many years. Canadians must face the challenge of our colonial history, restore the nation-to-nation relationship that underlay the treaties and the foundation of Canada, give full respect and meaning to the rights enshrined in our constitution and relinquish the policy of assimilation once and for all. Solutions will flow from that approach and no other.

INM’s 2013 counterpower menu

In 2013, there will be more educating, dancing and marching. In order to motivate an implacable adversary there also will be more economic inconvenience, more blockades, national strikes, the delay and prevention of resource extraction activities, and every other tactic INM can employ. It will be up to Canadians to respond, either with more of what has failed or with eyes open to the interests of all.

Harper’s bullying obstinacy risks Canada’s economic future

Canadians cannot afford to remain indifferent. A government that ignores the rule of law threatens the foundation of democracy. A government that denies the legal rights of any of its people threatens all citizens. A government that will not negotiate in good faith or respect its own contractual commitments puts the economic future of the country at risk. Canada’s government has done all these things every day since Confederation. It has gotten away with it so far.

Through INM, Indigenous people are posing a question to Canada. The answer will require all of us to come together, respecting all our relations.

Daniel Wilson is a former Senior Director with the Assembly of First Nations and a founding Co-chair of the New Democratic Party Aboriginal Commission.  He now works as an Indigenous rights consultant.


  • Inside Story Americas – Canada’s indigenous movement gains momentum, AlJazeera English, Published January 2, 2013 – A 25-minute video tracing the history, goals and current global impact of the Idle No More movement. Interestingly, the Harper government declined an invitation to appear on the video broadcast.
Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: