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.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.'"
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.
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.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.
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.
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...Global Action Day
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.
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.