Idle No More: A movement we should all support

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Some may see the growing Idle No More movement as simply an aboriginal issue, but in truth it is also a stand against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies. The movement was born in Saskatchewan by four women complaining about bill C-45, the Conservative’s second omnibus budget bill that threatens existing First Nation treaties.

These four women started organizing events throughout Saskatchewan culminating in a national day of action across Canada. It was on that day of action that Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario announced in Ottawa that she would be starting a hunger strike. The strike has garnered national attention and has helped to push the protest movement to the forefront of news cycles. Spence has survived solely on tea and fish broth and the hunger strike is now entering a fifth consecutive week.

If you wanted to find the crux of the protests you could undoubtedly go back centuries, but I believe that the real heart of the problem may lie in the Conservative’s failure to pass the Kelowna Accord. The Kelowna Accord was a series of agreements between the Government of Canada (led then by Prime Minister Paul Martin), Provincial Premiers and five national aboriginal organizations.

The Accord was a five billion dollar plan to improve the education, employment and living conditions for First Nation people. Stephen Harper who was elected soon after the agreement was made, quietly disposed of it. Following his defeat, Paul Martin introduced a private members bill to ensure the agreement was implemented, but in 2007 the Conservative Party voted against it and didn’t try to replace it with anything.

2013_01_02_idlenomorehuffpoThe problematic truth of the aboriginal situation in Canada is that many first nation communities across the country look more like third world countries. Many don’t have basic grade schools, proper housing or even clean drinking water. Unemployment is also extremely high and substance abuse is rampant. I can’t understand why any Canadian would tolerate how we treat the original Canadians of this country.

I’m sure these issues are in the backs of the minds of the Idle No More Movement, but like I said before the main sticking point was bill C-45. This Conservative Government Budget Bill actually changed the legislation contained in 64 existing acts and regulations including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

The changes to the Indian Act (done without the approval of first nation communities) effectively streamline’s the designation of First Nation land for leasing. Previously, if corporate interests wanted to lease land on a reserve it would have required the majority vote of all those on the reserve. Now it requires just those who attend the meeting about the lease. This can open the door to bribery, corruption and leave thousands without a say on who occupies their land. Also, during negotiations the Aboriginal Affairs minister can ignore a resolution from the reserve’s council that opposes a decision at the meeting.

The Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act are the other two sore points for the Idle No More movement. Both could have a profound impact on Canada’s environment and should be of concern to all Canadians.

The Navigation Protection Act removes a requirement for major pipeline and power line project backers to prove their development plan won’t damage or destroy the waterway it crosses. This means that even the most incompetent energy companies can get their projects approved. These companies could still be sued if something goes wrong, but by then the damage will have been done. The act effectively removes protection for 99.9 percent of our lakes and rivers.

The Environmental Assessment Act was first implemented back in 1992. It required federal departments, including Environment Canada, to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects that involves federal funding, permits, or licensing. In 2012 the Conservative Government repealed and re-wrote the law to the point where the name itself has lost all meaning.

The new version no longer requires environmental assessments of projects proposed or regulated by the federal government unless the Environment Minister demands it. By design, the current post belongs to Conservative Peter Kent who is more business friendly than environmentally friendly.

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence - Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence on Dec. 6 Sean Kilpatrick/CP

I find it awe-inspiring to know that despite the awful living conditions on some First Nation reserves, many of the people who live there are still more concerned with our environment. The same environment we’ve been destroying since we took their land all those years ago.

Prime Minister Harper for his part finally decided to meet with Theresa Spence and other First Nation Leaders in the coming days. Hopefully for everyone’s sake, it won’t be a simple lip service from Harper. Keep in mind that Idle No More is a grass roots movement just like the carre rouge in Quebec or the Occupy Movement that preceded it. Idle No More doesn’t need to answer to anyone and like their name suggests, they won’t be going away until substantial change is seen.

I’m sorry to inform everyone that this will be my last Quiet Mike’s Mumblings article for Forget the Box. While I might continue to contribute periodically, I have decided to put most of my energy into my own site quietmike.org. I would like to take this occasion to thank Jason, Chris and the rest of the Forget the Box family for helping me get started and giving me an audience for over two and a half years.

It has been a pleasure writing for you and I implore everyone who routinely read my column to keep visiting the site. Forget the Box is without a doubt the best blog in the great city of Montreal. Thanks everyone… for everything.

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