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The Idle No More movement for indigenous civil rights and protection of the environment continues to gather momentum. The Friday Jan. 11 Global Action Day was a phenomenal success with over 265 separate events around the world in solidarity with Idle No More. That same day Canadian Prime Minister Harper met with some Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leaders and the Governor General held a separate ceremonial event for other chiefs including the hunger-striking Chief Spence. Little was accomplished by these meetings, Chief Spence is now in her sixth week of fasting in a teepee in the shadow of the Canadian Parliament, and AFN Chief Shawn Atleo has been facing growing criticism from other chiefs and the grassroots, and has temporarily reassigned his responsibilities while he's on sick leave.

Today has seen a National Action Day across Canada. Over the past month, there have been hundreds of rallies and round dances, with only a handful of temporary blockades of highways and rail lines. By contrast, many events today focused on brief traffic slowdowns, railroad blockades and protests at bridges to the US, although there were also dozens of round dances and other demonstrations as well.

The Ambassador bridge between Windsor and Detroit is the busiest border crossing on the continent with 10,000 trucks crossing daily. Today's rally there was not a blockade, but rather an "economic slowdown." Twitter reported that many trucks honked in support as they passed the protest site. Many of Canada's largest unions have spoken up for Idle No More, and the head of the Windsor Canadian Auto Workers encouraged local members to participate in the demonstration.

There have also been rail blockades in BC, Manitoba and Ontario, and CN is seeking court injunctions to stop them. However, most events have focused on slowdowns and education. As described by the Lubicon First Nation near the Alberta tar sands: “We’re not out blocking the roads and shutting things down, we’re not at that point.” said Lubicon Coun. Bryan Laboucan, in a statement. “All we’re doing here today is taking a few minutes to talk to people visiting our territory whether for work or just passing through and educate them on our situation.”

So far all events have proceeded peacefully with the exception of a truck driving through a round dance. Fortunately no one was injured, but the police are investigating. On Monday the INM founders, organizers and Elder advisors issued the following press release emphasizing their call for peaceful non-violent action:

Idle No More has a responsibility to resist current government policies in a Peaceful and Respectful way. It can be done. It can be done without aggression or violence.  This is an energetic, exciting and transformative time.

This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.

To keep us on this good path, we ask that you, as organizers create space for Elders or Knowledge/Ceremonial Keepers to assist in guiding decisions as we move forward. It is up to each of us to see that this movement respects all people, the environment, and our communities and neighbours.

In peace and solidarity.

While Idle No More has been the target of conservative attacks, so have various Canadian police departments because they have generally engaged in negotiation and avoided arrests. In an unusual move, the head of the Ontario Provincial Police released a video before today's planned protests praising the officers' handling of previous Idle No More events, and encouraging ongoing restraint. "Ontario’s top cop said it’s important to understand the overall strategy and that First Nations hold a lot of the power. 'First Nations have the ability to paralyze this country by shutting down travel and trade routes,' said Chris Lewis in the video posted Tuesday morning.'"

The same concern was expressed by the Conservative Finance Minister, who worried that "blockades from the Idle No More movement may have a serious impact on the national economy." Maybe he should have expressed that concern to the Cabinet before Harper completely mishandled the meeting on Friday, and stonewalled all attempts to discuss the omnibus budget bills that led to the movement. After all, the current Conservative government was elected with less than 40% of the popular vote.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin weighed in and "said today on the Idle No More movement's national day of protest that he backs efforts to make Canadians more aware of the unique issues facing First Nations," and commented on "the terrible tragedies in terms [of] the underfunding of education and health care."

Let's hope all sides continue to exercise restraint, that Idle No More continues on its peaceful path, and that today's events were a wake-up call to Harper that he needs to
respect indigenous treaty and constitutional rights, and overturn the legislation that allows rampant resource development without environmental protection.

Idle No More, Tar Sands, Pipelines and Global Warming
Below are some excerpts from Kossack Bill McKibben's must-read article on the implications of Idle No More for stopping tar sands development and pipelines, and for slowing global warming. He concludes that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.

The stakes couldn't be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice if he wanted to keep developing Canada's tar sands, because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.

Canada's environmental community protested in all the normal ways -- but they had no more luck than, say, America's anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tarsands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied.

But there's a stumbling block they hadn't counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the Aboriginal Nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the Crown, and others haven't, but none have ceded their lands, and all of them feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper's power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada's total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world's second largest pool of carbon. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." Which means, in turn, that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.

Canadian First Nations have won over 160 successive legal victories contesting land claims and resource development, and they are the major obstacle to Harper's goal of rapid resource and tar sands exploitation regardless of environmental costs. Their treaty rights are enshrined in the Canadian constitution and in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues James Anaya is monitoring Canada's compliance with DRIP, and has been waiting for over a year to receive an official invitation from the Canadian government to visit the country in his UN capacity.

Last week, two Alberta First Nations affected by the tar sands launched a legal challenge to the omnibus budget bill C-45. This bill changed numerous Canadian laws, including reserve land pollcy and century-old protections for over two million lakes and rivers. Opposition to the undiscussed changes in these bills led to the foundation of Idle No More by four women in Saskatchewan. In violation of the Canadian constitution and DRIP, First Peoples were not given the opportunity for "consultation and consent."  

As I was finishing this diary, I saw a twitter post about a press release from the Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. He stated that there would be no blockade today of Highway 63, the main route to the tar sands, as had been rumoured. But he had strong words and it is worth reading the entire statement:

The blockade of Highway 63 is something that has always been a possibility even before Idle No More.  For the last 50 years people in Northern Alberta have been living at ground zero in one of the world’s most destructive industrial projects, the Alberta Tar Sands.  The tar sands infrastructure includes pipelines to the east, west, south and north needed to ship tar sands out and bring in solvents used in processing.  It includes proposed nuclear reactors and natural gas mining to generate power for needed for extraction.  It involves utilizing massive amounts of fresh water to process and leaves incredibly large toxic waste lakes that are contaminating plants, animals and neighbouring waterways.  It creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases fueling climate chaos and contributing to alarming climate change...

The Oil, Gas and pipeline industry asked the government for legislative changes to better protect their investments and assets in the name of “economic growth” and within ten months the government made sweeping changes to legislation in their favour...

If no changes are made in the coming months I guarantee we will see Nationwide peaceful picket lines set up, resulting in blockades of major highways, against all resource extraction and development that is being done in violation of the Canadian Constitution, with unjust environmental standards and in contravention of our inherent rights to live, breathe and sustain ourselves on our lands.

Global Action Day
On Jan. 11,the Idle No More Global Action Day held 265 events around the world: Australia, Chile, Columbia Egypt, Finland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand. Nigeria, Poland, Sri Lanka, UK and about 80 throughout the US. (Thanks from Canada!) Here's the J11 video of previous Idle No More events to give a sense of the diversity and energy of the movement:

Bill McKibben tweeted this video of his 11-year-old friend Ta'Kaiya Blaney. Meteor Blades and Navajo have written about her in the past; she's a remarkable orator, singer, song writer and environmental activist. You can hear more of her music here and see another of her Idle No More speeches at my diary here.

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of Ta'Kaiya's speech:

In my culture, it's a fact, it's an understanding of our way of life that everything is connected, the fish and the eagle, the herring and the whale. Each and every species plays its part in the circle of life. And we were put on this earth for a reason, so we could be the caretakers, and the healers, and the speakers, and the warriors for Mother Earth. And we were given a voice for reason, to speak out for those who have no voice, like the whales and the salmon. Our responsibilities as humans, as indigenous peoples, are for this earth, and of this earth.
So it's fitting that at the end of the video, you can see an eagle soaring above this Vancouver rally on the Pacific coast. That same day of Global Action, on the shores of the Atlantic, an eagle "circled above Parade Square and hovered over the crowd of hundreds as they cheered and drummed in appreciation... It's rare to see an eagle in downtown Halifax... The eagle is a sign we're on the right path.'" From coast to coast.

Follow the soaring eagle path below for more information on the failed meeting, Canada's right-wing media echo chamber, details of First Nations' finances and the wonderful new hashtag #Ottawapiskat, documenting the mismanagement of Grand Chief Harper and his band council.

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Idle No More continues to grow. Tomorrow hundreds of solidarity events will take place around the globe, including many in the US. As well, a meeting is scheduled tomorrow between First Nations and Canadian Prime Minister Harper. Chief Spence is well into her fifth week of a hunger strike in the shadow of the Parliament, and has vowed not to stop until the meeting paves the way for concrete results.

Bill McKibben just blogged about Idle No More here:

But I sense that it's every bit as important as the Occupy movement that transfixed the world a year ago; it feels like it wells up from the same kind of long-postponed and deeply-felt passion that powered the Arab spring. And I know firsthand that many of its organizers are among the most committed and skilled activists I've ever come across. In fact, if Occupy's weakness was that it lacked roots (it had to take over public places, after all, which proved hard to hold on to), this new movement's great strength is that its roots go back farther than history. More than any other people on this continent, they know what exploitation and colonization are all about, and so it's natural that at a moment of great need they're leading the resistance to the most profound corporatization we've ever seen. I mean, we've just come off the hottest year ever in America, the year when we broke the Arctic ice cap; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was when I was born.
For background information about this movement for indigenous rights and environmental protection, see my previous diary explaining Idle No More, its importance for slowing global warming and the Canadian political context.

Global Day of Action:
#IdleNoMore Global Day of Action, Solidarity & Resurgence: January 11, 2013. We are calling on all nations and peoples, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to stand together and take action in your community in support of Idle No More—the rising, Indigenous Peoples' Movement.

To find an event in your area including many planned throughout the US, check the J11 Action website. The site has links to Facebook and Twitter where you can find updated information on local events. If you can't attend, you can contribute by using social media to spread the word.

Here is a map where you can view the events for tomorrow, and add your own event. As you can see, there are already well over a hundred Idle No More events and the number is growing.

Idle No More founders and representatives of First Nations will also be holding a one day national dialogue tomorrow.

Government - First Nations Meeting Tomorrow:
Last week, Harper announced that he will finally meet with First Nations leaders and Chief Spence. Harper has said he'll only attend the opening for half an hour and then return for an hour's conclusion. All along, Chief Spence has requested the participation of the Governor General, who also attended last year's summit between the Government and First Nations. However, it appears the GG will only appear at a ceremonial event after the actual meeting.

Chief Spence and other leaders have said they won't attend without the Prime Minister and the Governor General's participation together. The situation is quite literally changing by the minute, so I'll post an update when there's more definitive information. But I wanted the community to know about the Global Day of Action asap.

Tar Sands and Idle No More:
This environmental report on tar sands pollution just came out Monday (as also reported in the NYT.) The study confirms exactly what the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has been saying about adverse health effects escalating over 40 years, while they were told "the contaminants were naturally occurring" and had no relation to tar sands development.

The peer-reviewed study, published Monday by a research team including Environment Canada scientists, showed pollution, though it remains low, is as much as 23 times higher than predevelopment levels 50 years ago, extending as far as 90 kilometres from industrial development and rising.

In particular, researchers found levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have risen roughly at the same pace as development in six nearby lakes. PAHs are a category of toxic chemical compounds that are suspected carcinogens and are linked to infertility, immune disorders and fish mutation.

Critically, development and pollution are increasing, said John Smol, a Queen’s University professor, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change and study co-author. “You only have to start doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations of, in 15 years, where they might be,” he said.

Also this week, two Alberta First Nations affected by the tar sands launched a legal challenge to the omnibus budget bill C-45. This bill changed numerous Canadian laws, including reserve land pollcy and century-old protections for over two million lakes and rivers. Opposition to bill C-45 led to the founding of Idle No More.  
The two First Nations are asking the Federal Court for a judicial review of parts of Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, focusing particularly on changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act....

“There’s no future if this legislation is enforced. It pretty much strips us of our treaty rights, then we’ll have empty treaties that the government will no longer have to worry about.... The federal and provincial government have always seemed to want to get us out of the way to continue their development without any interruption,” he said. “We feel this is one of the ways they’re trying to get us out of the way so they don’t have to deal with us.”

The legal challenge comes as the grassroots Idle No More movement protests the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill, with demonstrators claiming the legislation threatens their treaty rights as set out in the Constitution.

Métis and Non-status Indians win Legal Fight:
This week CBC reported that the federal government has lost the latest battle in a 13-year legal fight over its responsibilities to Métis and non-status Indians. The decision ends decades of jurisdictional limbo between federal and provincial government, for 600,000 citizens (2% of Canada's population). Idle No More has already united Métis and First Nations people in joint action.
On Tuesday, the Federal Court ruled that 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians in Canada are indeed "Indians" under the Constitution Act, and fall under federal jurisdiction... "There is no dispute that the Crown has a fiduciary relationship with aboriginal people both historically and pursuant to section 35 (of the Constitution)," Phelan writes.
UN Monitoring Situation in Canada:
Yesterday the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues James Anaya issued a statement encouraging dialogue in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Also yesterday, the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations issued a press release that Anaya has requested on three separate occasions a visa so that he can visit Canada and he has been refused on every occasion. (Update: Anaya has refuted that he was denied a visa. However, in early 2012 he requested an official visit in his UN capacity and has since reiterated that request, but has not yet received a formal response.)
The independent expert stressed that the dialogue between the Government and First Nations should proceed in accordance with standards expressed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration states that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct identities and cultures as a basis of their development and place in the world, to pursue their own destinies under conditions of equality, and to have secure rights over lands and resources, with due regard for their traditional patterns of use and occupancy.

In particular, Mr. Anaya highlighted one of the preambles in the Declaration which affirms that treaties, agreements and other arrangements are the basis for a strengthened partnership between indigenous peoples and States...

“I will continue to monitor developments as I hold out hope that the 11 January meeting will prompt meaningful and restorative action by the Government and First Nations leadership,” Mr. Anaya added.

Once there's more definitive information about tomorrow's meeting I'll post an update here.
Discuss

The Idle No More movement for indigenous civil rights and environmental protection has spread like a prairie wildfire across Canada and around the globe, with a major impact on the political landscape of Canada, the largest trading partner of the US.

On Friday, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally agreed under pressure to meet with First Nations' leaders on Jan. 11, exactly one month to the day after the nation-wide rallies started. For a movement only several weeks old, Idle No More has clearly tapped into a groundswell of concern across Canada and around the world.

The most visible face of indigenous activism is Chief Theresa Spence who today is on her 27th day of fasting in a teepee on a traditional Algonquin island, just across the river from the Canadian Parliament. Massive concern about her failing health from citizens of all backgrounds, from civil society, and from an unprecedented coalition across the political spectrum is what finally led Harper to agree to the Jan. 11 meeting. Chief Spence is continuing her hunger strike until the meeting takes place and all parties commit to substantive change, and Idle No More has likewise stated that they expect actions, not just words, and will continue to speak up. The outcome of this Friday's discussions between the government and First Peoples will be a pivotal event for native civil rights, global warming and future Canadian politics.

Idle No More is a grassroots movement started by four indigenous women in Saskatchewan to organize teach-ins about the Conservative government's pending legislation. In early December the Harper government passed a sweeping omnibus budget bill C-45 in which were hidden numerous - largely undiscussed - changes to existing Canadian laws. Most notable is erosion of First Nations' treaty rights without the full consultation and consent required by the Canadian Constitution and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill also eviscerated the Navigable Waters Protection Act, weakening environmental oversight for over a million lakes and rivers and paving the way for pipelines and rapid resource and tar sands development, often on traditional First Peoples' lands.

Like the Arab Spring and Occupy, this grassroots movement has no leaders and its growth has largely been driven by social media. Many thanks to Fresno whose diary first alerted me to Idle No More at a time when no other media were covering it. The picture he posted also finally persuaded me to sign up at DailyKos after a decade of silence.

Blog Idle No More
Poster Art by Dwayne Bird - twitter: @DwayneBird
On Dec. 11, International Human Rights' Day, Idle No More rallies were held from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and from remote northern reserves to the southern metropolis of Toronto. Since then, there are have been daily events across Canada, throughout the US and around the world. This map only shows some of the events held in the first two weeks of the movement since the Google limit is 200 markers. By now there have been many hundreds more and the movement is still growing daily.
Idle No More events around the globe

What began as teach-ins soon evolved into nationwide political rallies. On Dec. 17, a group of young people in Regina used Twitter and Facebook to organize a flash mob at a mall packed with holiday shoppers, and held a traditional round dance around the Christmas tree. Since then countless round dances have been held in malls, streets and parks all over the world and they're still happening. Here are some of the early events, including a solidarity dance by Australian Aborigines and a huge round dance attended by many hundreds at the Minnesota Mall of America, the second largest mall in the US:

The movement has also taken on other forms of peaceful and lawful protest such as
temporary blockades of highways and railroads. The longest railroad blockade was ended after over a week by a court injunction not only against the organizer, but also the Sarnia police chief who had refused to remove the protesters; one of the iconic videos of the movement is a Sarnia police officer drumming with reserve members in a tent next to the blockade. Yesterday several Canada-US border crossings and bridges were briefly closed for rallies and round-dances.

The movement has resonated so deeply and spread so quickly because it has a simple message: respect constitutionally and internationally protected indigenous human rights, and protect the environment. Here's a video from my favourite grassroots spokesperson for Idle No More: an 11-year-old girl, Ta'Kaiya Blaney from Sliammon First Nation in southwestern British Columbia. We can feel her channel the oratorical brilliance of her ancestors' traditions as she succinctly summarizes the goals of the Idle No More movement. If you can, please watch this video.

For those who can't access streaming video, here are some excerpts:

Everything we do to water we do to life, because water is life. It's not just us, we're all connected and we have to respect everything that lives on this earth, that shares the same earth that we do...

We have rights and we can stand and hold our ground and say and give our consent whether a development is going to go through or not, like the Keystone XL or the Enbridge pipelines, or pipe dreams as I like to call them. We are standing on unceded territory, and we have that right and that's what Idle No More is all about, it's about us standing up and speaking out. We've never really been asleep, and now more than ever we're awake and we're standing up.

It's so important with Idle No More that we're standing here today, because we're not waiting for our governments to change things, we're not waiting for the authorities to change things any more. Because we know now that if we keep waiting for the next day to come, we're denying the fact that if we keep waiting for change, it's never going to come. We stand united today to put an end to the pipe dreams and to the rights we're being denied. We stand united!

(Not transcribed but also worth viewing in this video are her blunt comments as an idealistic young delegate to Rio+20 about the Petrobras ads on the UN buses, the sale of diamonds at conference events and the spin given to the media that world leaders are working on sustainability by saving the polar bears. She reminds me of the child who finally blurts out that the emperor has no clothes.)

Both Canada and the US share what First Nations call Turtle Island. Below I explain the significance of Idle No More in the context of Canadian politics, a topic not often covered in US media. As well, because of treaty, constitutional and international rights, First Peoples have legal standing to contest the pipelines and tar sands development, and their assertion of native rights may be one of our last chances to halt exponential global warming. Please follow me after the fractal infinity sign.

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