Idle No More – Don’t Count Them Out
Idle No More is an international , grass roots organization, formed by 4 Canadian women on November 10, 2012, in Saskatoon, for the purpose of speaking out on behalf of Indigenous Sovereignty. The group calls for peaceful acts of resurgence and reclamation of sacred sites. It has attracted supporters from the UK, US, and all across Canada.
Indigenous Sovereignty, in this context, refers to the treaty rights of Indigenous people to land and water rights in their home country. These rights may include hunting, fishing, construction of housing and businesses, and other rights to use the waterways and land.
The founding members of Idle No More were driven to action when Canadian Bill C- 45 was coming up for vote in the House of Commons. On its face, C-45 is nothing more than “A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.” It is an omnibus bill, containing bits & pieces of a variety of issues, including raising the percentage public servants will have to contribute to their pension plans, and transferring the power to set employment insurance rates to the finance minister and human resources minister.
Upon further investigation, however, C-45 also alters the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canada Labour Code. Although Conservative Algonquin Senator Patrick Brazeau, who voted in favor of the bill, claims that many chiefs supported it, and that fear mongering led to a misunderstanding of the bill, many Chiefs state that C-45 undermines sovereignty and treaty rights, and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attempting to eliminate all aboriginal rights.
There are several particularly concerning provisions of C-45.
The first exempts construction of a proposed bridge over the Detroit River from federal environmental laws, stating that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Species at Risk Act “do not apply to the construction of the bridge, parkway or any related work.”
The second amends the Fisheries Act so that fines collected for polluting or damaging fish habitats will be directed to the environmental damages fund and used to help efforts to conserve fish and fish habitat.
The third is the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) of 1882, which was renamed the Navigation Protection Act. Under the new NPA, the approval process before construction in or around any water would only be required for development around one of a vastly circumscribed list of waterways set by the Minister of Transportation. Many of the newly deregulated waterways passed through traditional First Nations land.
All of this is of concern because the Indian Act of 1876 guaranteed certain rights to indigenous people, followed by the Constitution Act, 1982. Sec 25 which made those rights beyond legal challenge.
The Indian Act forbids any reserve lands to be taken from individual band (tribe) members or the band itself, under any circumstances, unless specifically authorized by a provincial or federal law.
Idle No More views C-45 as an act of aggression against indigenous people. In a petition to the Queen of Britain, Idle No More states its concerns that C-45 and other omnibus bills would “would open the way for a handful of multinational-corporations in the oil, nuclear and gas industries to tear up First Nations rights and land for their profit.” The group describes 8 “treaty destruction bills” in this petition, including C-45. The subjects of these bills range from drinking water to elections. Two additional bills have since been added to the group’s list.
The group believes that these bills should not just be of concern to indigenous people, but also to all citizens of Canada, due to threats to the health of waterways and lands. They have been joined by environmental groups in their fight, suggesting that they are correct. They also have supporters in the non-aboriginal population.
On December 10, 2012 Idle No More and the First Nations people held a National Day of Action in 13 locations across Canada. On December 14, 2012 The First Nations leaders were denied access to the House of Commons while the Senate voted on C-45. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 50-27.
Canada’s mainstream media and some politicians have criticized the group for incorrectly interpreting legislation, failing to use proper parliamentary procedure, and for having a lack of focus due to protesting a large range of issues.
Criticism or not, Prime Minister Harper has agreed to a meeting with a delegation of First Nation leaders on to follow up on the issues discussed during the Crown-First Nations Gathering on January 24, 2012.
Idle No More is not going away. It is a group to watch.