It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.
And I was doing that.
Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.
And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now:
Sitting in her home in Edmonton Tanya Kappo typed #Idlenomore on her Twitter account on November 30th to promote an event of the same name happening in Alberta a few days later.
It was retweeted by seven people. It was that tweet that started it all.And it shows no signs of letting up.
Idle No More became more than just a phrase or name; it’s an all encompassing feeling of First Nation frustration that has taken on a life of its own on social media websites. And it was the name of a country-wide day of action in various cities Monday that saw thousands take part in demonstrations to voice their displeasure with the federal government over legislation they say aims to rob them of their identity, land and self-worth.
Then, when several chiefs attempted to push their way into House of Commons on December 4th, social media websites followed their every move. Idle No More was how they communicated on Twitter. By searching the hashtag it lists each tweet in a column making it easy to track.
Kappo, a single mother of three children who is an articling student, said Idle No More has taken a life of its own. When people look to organize something in their community they use the name then the women help spread the word. “A group of people just got together and decided to do something,” she said. “That’s the idea; to keep it organic.”
There’s more events planned following Monday’s rallies, including Dec. 21 in Ottawa on Parliament Hill. Winnipeg is planning on having another rally also on Dec. 21, as is Lethbridge.
Jamie made an observation/prediction a couple of weeks ago that things were starting to come to a head in aboriginal communities, a statement that I myself made a number of months back when discussing the response to the proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline by the groups that lived in the affected areas. Unless we learn to respect and work with (rather than on behalf of) disempowered people, they will quickly start working to become dis-disempowered very quickly, and they probably won’t be doing it with your best interests in mind.
Which is why I’m glad to see the start of the #IdleNoMore movement – not that I think this is necessarily the opening volley of a much-needed revolution by Canada’s original people, but it may be the start of a national movement that becomes too large to ignore. And it shows no signs of slowing down:
Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence plans to begin a hunger strike in Ottawa this week and continue until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Queen agree to a treaty meeting with First Nations in Canada or she meets her “ancestors.”
Spence was supposed to begin her hunger strike in Ottawa Monday morning but weather delayed her flight into the city from Toronto. Spence arrived in the city at about 11 a.m. and she planned to hold a press conference later in the day. She was also scheduled to have a conference call with former AFN candidate Pam Palmater and members from the Idle No More campaign, which also kicked off Monday.
Spence plans to begin her hunger strike on Tuesday morning [note - as of time of writing, the hunger strike has begun and is ongoing]. Spence said in an open-letter she wouldn’t end her hunger strike until Harper and Queen Elizabeth II or one of her representatives agreed to the treaty meeting.
Y’all remember Attawapiskat, right? Well the problem may have dropped off the front page, but it actually hasn’t been fixed yet. It’s funny how that works – when you take everything away from people, it turns out that they have nothing to lose in the fight for their lives.
So if you’re at all interested in learning more about the intersection of political and economic and cultural issues faced by Canada’s aboriginal people, and want to hear those stories from the perspective of the people living through them, there is now a convenient Twitter hashtag for that.
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