Not since the Oka crisis has an issue polarized our country more so than the Idle No More movement and the plight of First Nations people.
You can’t open a newspaper, or turn on the radio or TV without hearing commentary, both negative and positive, about Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike, Bill C-45 and the Idle No More movement. It has lit a fire under the collective butts of both native and non-natives alike and has even garnered support from outside our borders.
However, even in a time of political correctness, it still seems perfectly reasonable by some people to vilify Canadian aboriginals and denigrate them with racial slurs. I’ve heard them being referred to as “welfare bums” always looking for a handout, and much, much worse.
Critics of Indian Affairs should keep in mind that any transfer payments made to band councils and reserves are the result of treaties that our government has negotiated and signed with First Nations people; treaties that they seem to have conveniently forgotten in recent months.
By shedding light onto a bill such as C-45, which would see widespread changes to environmental protection and First Nations land rights, we should be thanking them for opening our eyes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper running roughshod over our constitutional rights.
As Wab Kinew, a multi-talented, multi-faceted Anishinaabe (who has become, in my opinion, the most relevant speaker on Canadian aboriginal issues), has said, it’s “not just an Indian thing” anymore.
Proposed tactics by aboriginal protesters, like blockading railways, have been met with both heavy criticism and equally strong support.
But have we already forgotten that Montreal was held hostage by “striking” students for months on end, inconveniencing motorists, commuters and fellow students alike? It was a movement that managed to topple a provincial party and result in the proposed tuition hikes being taken off the table.
Wab Kinew succinctly points out that any Idle No More gatherings up to now have been non-violent, unlike the rioting students, who caused millions of dollars not only in damage but in economic losses, as well as costs to the city.
I received my Indian status last year under Bill C-3, the Gender Equity legislation, which reinstated status to native women who were stripped of it after marrying non-native men.
I can only observe from the sidelines the struggle that First Nations people are going through, but perhaps if I had grown up on the reserve in Moose Factory, in Ontario, where I was born, I’d be in a completely different situation.
The issues are too complex and impossible to resolve in just a couple of short meetings between First Nations leaders and government representatives. There are decades of exploitation, abuse, neglect and a long history of broken promises to just forgive and forget and move on.
If aboriginals are to forge ahead and build a better future, it’s only fitting that they assert themselves and make their voices heard.
The Idle No More movement may be just the catalyst needed to spark meaningful dialogue between native and non-native leaders to finally put the past where it belongs.
Marla Newhook is a journalistand mother of two. She workspart time at West Island CitizenAdvocacy as the publicity representative. She is a resident of Pincourt.