Dig beyond the hype to understand the Idle No More movement

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in indian issues | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

This is going to be a hard post to write. I’m writing it after watching this video by Ezra Levant (a Canadian political pundit who really sounds like the guys on Fox news). I watched it because my friend OB asked me to, he’s Canadian and doesn’t understand why I support the Idle No More movement. Because of our decades-long friendship (gah is that really possible!!?), we really want to understand each other.

Being honest, I watched it for about ten minutes and the words this guy used just pissed me off. Because we are friends, OB called me on not watching the entire thing. So I watched all thirty minutes of the video, spent a couple of days thinking, researching, and mulling over why this man’s words made me so angry. This post is my attempt to explain that.

Before I start, let me clarify a couple of things. I’m not Canadian, although I love Canada and her people. I don’t understand Canadian law, and I definitely am not any sort of expert on Canadian First Nations issues. I can see lots of similarities between what’s being done to the Northern First Nations and the Southeastern Indian Nations (where my people are from), but I’m not an expert. If this post serves to start discussion, that’s cool. Mostly this is to continue the discussion with my friend.

The language Levant uses is designed to make him the ultimate authority on the legality of the Idle No More movement’s actions. He starts by calling participants in the movement “lawbreakers”. He derides the authorities that don’t break up t he blockades (“enforcing the laws”) for being politically correct cowards. He questions why they don’t lock up “lawbreakers” – do they get special treatment because they do these things in the name of Indian rights? So Levant makes sure we understand that he is only defending the rule of law, and the only thing that matters is defining who act like good law abiding citizens and who are acting like wicked lawbreakers.

He then links INM to the Occupy movement. He claims the movement is is bought and paid for by pros with big PR budgets. This is simply not true. Idle No More was started by four women, who were alarmed at the changes a bill that was passed at the end of last year will bring to Indian Nations and all of North America’s ecology (see the History of Idle No More tab on their site). They focused on educating people about what maneuvers the Canadian government is taking to open up oil production, because that education could wake the nation up to the realities this production will bring to our environment.

But Levant sets himself up as the expert on who is good and law abiding, and who are bad lawbreakers. So he says this movement is run by unions, and that sounds logical, so its so easy to just believe him.

Idle No More is a grassroots movement that is gaining steam. It’s a really familiar tactic for people who oppose these sorts of movements to discredit the goals of the movement by tying them to other movements, or by focusing on one individual’s actions to discredit the entire movement. And Levant makes use of this tactic to discredit Theresa Spencer, the chief of the Attawapiskat band of Cree Indians.

Now this is where my understanding of the issues is weak, because I’m not Canadian and I’m not Canadian native. Let’s start with the issue of the hunger strike. I have to admit, I’m confused about the words that were chosen to describe that what to me looks like a fast. And you cannot fast indefinitely. So I’m confused about the wording, and I don’t know who to ask for an explanation.

But I do know that fasting is more than not eating food. I also know that calling someone who is fasting names is not right. Here is another way Levant sets himself up to be the sole source of information: he’s a fellow fattie, a snacker. He believes from experience that there is no way what Spencer is doing is anything meaningful. And he’s really nasty about it, as he attempts to discredit another journalist who writes to support Chief Spencer:

If you can look a 200 pound woman who says she’s been on a hunger strike for three weeks in the eye without giggling, you will believe just about anything

He’s wrong, and we should all question his reasoning. Now if the words that she has chosen to describe what she’s doing are misleading and confusing, it would be really great to hear from someone from that community that would know how to clear up the misunderstanding.

The bigger issue he attacks is that of the First Nations in Canada as not being sovereign nations, and he holds up Treaty 9 to support his assertion. Once again, I don’t know much about Native law in Canada. But based on Levant’s record so far from this video, I don’t think he can be trusted as the sole source of information on anything.

Why in the world would Native leaders cede their lands and their sovereignty? That makes no sense. What is the untold story? And that untold story is important! We can’t just look at the line items in a law; sometimes the laws are wrong and unjust. Hell, slavery used to be legal according to the law too! Segregation used to be legal. We changed those laws because they were immoral. Were the Native signatures needed for Treaty 9 obtained in a moral way? What actually happened?

I did a little bit of google research, but that’s still not like getting an answer from the source. But still it’s a place to start, to test if the information Levant is slinging around is trustworthy. This article appeared on the Rabble website from a Native Canadian woman, explaining the disconnect between Natives and non-Natives. This point really struck me:

This has allowed a cognitive dissonance to infect the public consciousness over the past century or more, in which Aboriginal peoples are often characterized by some as (forgive the paraphrase) “spoiled brats who want to be special.” The non-Aboriginal “solution” to First Nations plights has always been to assimilate people to the point that they become like “any other Canadian,” and our governmental policies have always been keyed toward this objective. But dissolution of the First Nations as nations was never agreed to, and it’s because of this that the erasure of Native culture over two centuries has taken the form of separation of children from families, denigration of traditions, and sometimes even extermination of entire populations (most familiarly through the use of things like smallpox-infected blankets, but evidence is surfacing about other atrocities [6] as well). Canada never had authority to actually dissolve the First Nations, so it set out to do what it could to disempower, erase, and break them.

Her post was super enlightening for me. Did you realize that until 1960, if you were Native and wanted to vote you had to renounce Indian status? To me that’s crazy. She also explains how the current government in Canada is acting unilaterally to strip away things always provided in the treaty, in the name of stripping the land to give to energy investors.

Then there is this post that appeared in Indian Country Today titled The Colonial Doctrine of Discovery and Idle No More. This article provides the background on what the Canadian Indian laws are based on – the same doctrine of discovery on which US Indian law is based. This has to be considered. This racist way of thinking forms the laws that Levant insists must be followed unless you want to be a troublemaking lawbreaker. That makes no sense to me.

As far as the funding issues, I think there has to be more to that story. There are stories going back a few years about this funding. I see comments that the First Nations cannot spend the money as they wish, which anyone who has worked for a governmental agency should understand.

This issue is huge, it’s several hundred years in the making. So what I’ve written here doesn’t scratch the surface, I know. I think I can say this with no hesitation: Ezra Levant is an information imposter of the most dangerous kind. Take his rankings with a grain of salt, and dig deeper. Look beyond what you have learned. The stakes are extremely high…we’re talking about selling our souls to drill for oil. The environment won’t be able to bear it.

Thanks OB for making me dig in, and for making this conversation possible. Tell those Native people that you work with to stop being assholes, so we can figure out how to leave something for our grandchildren.

2 Responses to Dig beyond the hype to understand the Idle No More movement

  1. ” Did you realize that until 1960, if you were Native and wanted to vote you had to renounce Indian status?”

    In 1958, Mildred Jeter married Richard Loving in Washington DC. They chose to marry there rather than in Virginia, where they lived, because since 1924, under the state’s Racial Integrity Act, it was illegal a white person and a “colored” person to marry.

    The Lovings clearly were lawbreakers and thus deserved the subsequent police raid on their home. In fact, their marriage certificate was used as evidence that they were guilty of a felony, which is the type of crime miscegenation was characterized as. (They were sentenced to a year in prison, with the sentence suspended on condition that they leave the state.)

    They remained lawbreakers until 1967, when the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Loving v Virginia (388 US 1).

    Although such laws were unenforceable, they remained on the books as late as 2000, when Alabama became the last state to remove its prohibition against interracial marriage.

    All of which is to say it’s easy to blather about lawbreaking when you yourself are not affected by the law in question.

  2. gminks says:

    It’s crazy that we have only started down the road to equality. No wonder it’s so easy to fall back into that colonized way of thinking

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