Protests spark righteous anger

Nation wide protests arrive on campus to draw attention to numerous First Nations’ issues

Image by: Terence Wong

Last Friday, members of the First Nations, activists, environmentalists and many others held peaceful demonstrations across Canada. The Idle No More movement has swept up the nation, causing an awakening over important issues that can’t be ignored.

This is no ordinary movement; Idle No More comes highly organized, with peaceful demonstrations, roadblocks and intense social networking. Those in support aren’t “radical,” nor “extremist,” rather, they’re a peaceful group seeking the discontinuation of colonization and exploitation of land and peoples.

In Canada, over 1.3 million people have Aboriginal heritage, of which over 700,000 people are of First Nations decent. There are currently more than 600 First Nations communities, of which 117 are under a drinking water advisory. Those living on reserves often face numerous chronic problems: poor housing, lack of access to drinkable water, poverty, substance abuse, suicide and lack of education and employment.

Rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are significantly higher for Aboriginals than non-Aboriginals.

Furthermore, Indigenous women comprise up to 60 per cent of the 3,000 women that have gone missing in Canada since 1980. Violence against Indigenous women is 3.5 times higher than non-Indigenous women.

Canadians who blame First Nations for these abysmal living conditions are perpetuating an ignorant and racist view that has been entrenched by our federal government and now by our extractive industries. Idle No More strives to change this outlook.

Created by four Saskatchewan women in October, the movement began as a response to Bill C-45 — the latest piece of omnibus legislation pushed through Parliament. While it’s part of the “Jobs and Growth Act of 2012,” it changes legislation from the Environmental Assessment Act and the Indian Act, among others. With a fear that this legislation would undermine Indigenous rights and sovereignty, the Idle No More movement was born.

Within the legislation, one of the most problematic aspects is the reduction of the requirements for environmental appraisal and protection in an effort to fast-track resource extraction. This risks creating lax environmental standards which will increase the risk of ecosystem and community damage.

Amendments to the Indian Act as part of Bill C-45 allows First Nations communities to lease designated reserve lands if majority rules in a meeting, regardless of how many community members attend said meeting. In the past, the entire First Nations community was required to vote, leading many advocates for Idle No More to argue that these alterations allow treaty land and territory to be too easily obtained, while disregarding community rights to consultation.

Concerns for Indigenous sovereignty, better environmental protection and continued colonization of land and peoples by the Canadian government are deeply seeded in Canada and Idle No More has woken that up.

Recently, Chief Theresa Spence has made her way to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to attend meetings with the prime minister, the Assembly of First Nations and other government representatives. Chief Spence, an elected official of the First Nations community Attawapiskat, has been on a hunger strike since December 11, 2012.

Both the prime minister and the Governor General David Johnston were requested to attend a meeting with her, and other AFN representatives to increase dialogue. Chief Spence’s brave political stance helped Idle No More move forward, but the fire behind her campaign incites a wider awareness over these issues.

Skeptics of Idle No More are ignoring a history of racism, inequality and corporate greed that has tarnished Canada’s international reputation. The UN has urged our prime minister to participate in meaningful discussions with representatives of the First Nations. However, when the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, requested official visits to Canada — he didn’t receive replies. Lack of action by the Canadian government shows that our politicians aren’t interested in co-operation.

Canada is no longer recognized as an example of human rights abroad, having attempted to assimilate Aboriginal peoples for centuries and the opening of our landscape to the plunder of extractive industries.

From 1857 to 1996, Canada sent 150,000 Aboriginal children to be “civilized” and “assimilated” in government-sponsored residential schools.

These institutions denied children their right to practice or participate in all aspects of their culture. The Canadian government has since apologized for this attempted extinguishment of Canada’s first peoples, but legacies of harm echo through multiple generations.

Furthermore, Canada’s extractive industries rate as some of the vilest in the world. According to studies, our mining companies have the highest amount of human rights violations globally, and have a reputation for causing irreversible environmental damage.

People need to educate themselves about these issues; Idle No More gets that ball rolling.

Alexandra Pedersen is a PhD candidate in the department of geography.


First Nations, Idle No More, protests

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