I’ve been following and learning from a number of radical grassroots indigenous activists for quite a while now. I don’t remember when I encountered the first, who has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me since our first contact on Facebook. But before long, I was getting to know a bunch of people who are proud of their indigineity, the lands their ancestors taught them to protect as though it were their next of kin, and all the life depending on that land — including people like me, by which I mean not related by blood to the First Peoples, and always learning new things about indigenous cultures. So when news of the pipelines and FIPPA deals the Harper government wanted to bury under the streams, rivers, lakes, and homes of many of the blood kin of my indigenous friends first broke, I found out about it through them. Not from the news. Then a whole lot of Occupy Vancouver activists (most of whom are white and apparently haven’t the foggiest clue beyond a very superficial understanding, of exactly what they are actually saying when they declare “unceded Coast Salish territory” at the beginning of their speeches) started their predictable and ambitious surge of hippy speak, wheat-pasting, vegan food, flyers, and public musical jam sessions, to try and raise awareness of the pipelines. Finally, it started to appear in the news, in between reports of Trayvon Martin being murdered while George Zimmerman was allowed to keep all his Nazi regalia company in the privacy of his own home for weeks, Shaima Alawadi’s murder being pegged at first as a hate crime until it was determined she was killed by her husband, and Bei Bei Shuai being sentenced to prison after her late-term pregnancy was interrupted by a suicide attempt (the baby was delivered and died a week later). But the Occupy activists just kept on truckin’ through all this extraordinarily depressing news that mysteriously never seems to be about white people getting put in prison, or even worse, in a coffin.
While my friends in the Occupy Vancouver movement were organizing rallies and flyers and a dizzying number of things involving printed paper, all in the name of saving the environment from a pipeline full of tar sands bursting, or an oil tanker being cut open by the hundreds of miles of jagged rocks along BC’s coast, I was standing up against pro-lifers outside an abortion clinic. In my underwear. The day finally came for a Stop Harper march and rally in the downtown east side, just days after a major collaborative effort between Occupy Vancouver and the grassroots environmental activists in one of the Coast Salish communities across the inlet. So I went. And that’s when a tall, tan Mohawk man approached me and told me he could tell why I was standing at the very edge of the street while all my friends hung out behind us listening to a concert that serves no one but themselves. In the following days, he taught me about why he gives people fistbumps instead of handshakes or high fives (except some people, who he’d rather hug). He taught me to hug on the left so that our hearts overlap when we embrace. He gave me his medicine bag to wear for nearly a week before I felt compelled to return it to him. He taught me how to smudge. He taught me to leave tobacco where ever I pick up something the Earth leaves just for me, and to bring tobacco with me if I go to meet an Elder. He told me details about his life growing up, and about his half-sister, who disappeared on the Pickton farm after Vancouver police called off all surveillance, claiming that there was no serial killer. He told me about Oka and the G20 Summit in Toronto (where, incidentally, he was filmed being thrown to the pavement without offering even a flinch of resistance, put in handcuffs, and arrested by three police officers, for the transgression of waving his hand at one of them — totally not overkill at all). We talked about the effects of trauma, about the microaggressions of racism most people don’t see taking place in Vancouver because they are only looking for racism that hits them like a brick wall. And so on.
It wasn’t all roses and he’s not a person I would call a friend, but the point is that this man, who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall the day he approached me, shared a profound amount of his culture with me, simply because I was willing to listen. He even invited me to take part in a sweat lodge for the first time (though it just didn’t work out that day for either of us). We also went together to a 24-hour burial site protest together (where I had already been multiple times and continued to come back until shortly after I had become homeless). It was being run by a local Coast Salish band (the Musqueam) whose ancestors’ graves were desecrated by a condo developer’s dig permit and heavy machinery. The condo developer just somehow magically gained permission (care of the province’s Premier) to dig on the site, which is not only at least 4,000 years old and is a known former Musqueam village site — people who once inhabited 126 villages in the area, and who were reduced from 40,000 to just a few hundred after contact — but the site has actually been a nationally protected historic site since 1933. After occupying the site for over 200 days, the remains of those four people were finally re-buried in a small, private gathering of their living descendants, but the band is left waiting for a payment that was already long ago due to them for a previous land deal, which they will be using to purchase the site. While repeatedly returning to the site to show my support, hold up a sign, and learn about the culture of these people who wanted little more than such a basic degree of respect as to be consulted before their ancestors’ intact graves were desecrated by heavy machinery, I was always welcomed, invited to take part in drumming and singing, and invited to eat and drink with them. I consider this community to be more than friends, as they have become as important to me as a chosen family. I am experiencing a repeat of the same at all the Idle No More events I’ve been attending. One Elder I met is even going to teach me to make my own pair of moccasins next month. My own blood relations never treated me this well after I turned 10.
So again, when I first heard of the very recently emerged Idle No More movement, and Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike for her people in Attawapiskat, it was through my radical grassroots indigenous activist friends. Then the news. Only, when I say news, I don’t mean any mainstream white liberal media outlet. I mean the news network created and maintained by the First Peoples, which primarily reports on news stories that have a direct impact on First Nations communities, if they aren’t also directly about them. Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network. It’s where I heard about the food crisis and Innu protests last year. You know. The ones you probably haven’t heard about unless you’re watching the same news channel. The nature of the food crisis? $12 for a previously frozen stalk of broccoli, $38 for a 2L of cranberry juice, and if I recall correctly, a whopping $112 for a 24-pack of bottled water. Combine that with the effects of global warming on the far North, as well as pollution and contamination from fishing boats and tankers taking their devastating toll on what’s left of the wildlife since the Settler hunting and fishing craze that led to shuffling Innu people around until they actually had a second shot at sustaining themselves again. Now you’re talking about an entire population of people who, through a persistent lack of consultation on the part of the colonial government and its advancing interests on their resources, are at risk of starving to death or not being able to provide for their children. It’s almost like we’ve heard this before somewhere, but I can’t quite place a finger on it—no… waitasecond. Attawapiskat. And again in late November this year, with Kashechewan. Oh yeah, and literally innumerable times previous, such as during The James Bay Project, when 83,000 km² of shoreline was flooded in the late 70s and entire communities were forcibly displaced. Guess who was living there? The Cree and Inuit!
And did you know that Attawapiskat is on a diamond mine? The company (which made a business deal for the right to take diamonds, but made their end of the deal inaccessible to the Cree) that’s taking all their resources, without paying the Cree anything for it, actually directly contributed to the state of emergency Attawapiskat declared two years ago. You know. The one Prime Minister Stephen Harper blamed Theresa Spence for when he was finally finished ignoring her and her entire community for a few months.
I am without words to express my deep-seated resentment of the colonial government, and its rabidly racist history. And I bet you’re wondering how all this (and, say, the fact that indigenous people make up 3% of the population of this country, but constitute 20% of incarcerated persons at any given time in our prison population, among many, many more shameful legacies of racism against the First Peoples) came to be. Well, here’s the most brief version ever, of what the 11 treaties between the Crown and First Nations said when the ink was still wet (note – not an actual quote at all):
First Nations: You can live here, because when you arrived, you did not show violence towards us. But you need to do so in a good way — with respect for us and our cultures.
Crown: Totes. How about if we promise to consult you before we develop any of the land, and if we do develop the land at all, we give you 40% of the profits gained from it? Plus we’ll give you healthcare, education, and hunting and fishing rights either way.
First Nations: We dig it. Check out this two-row wampum belt we made, signifying two canoes paddling side by side down a river. Two nations living in harmony with one another. It is also a symbol of balance of male and female energy, and of a harmonious relationship between husband and wife.
Crown: Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. I’ve got a railway to build!
By the time the ink was dry (i.e., 9 years later), the Crown made off with the 40% of the profits promised to the First Nations, and used all of it to build the Canadian Pacific Railway on Chinese slave labour (this is actually a major part of why we pay taxes). That 40% share still has never been paid to indigenous peoples, although countless development deals have perpetuated over the past 140 years, often without consultation or consent of the treaty nations whose ancestral territories are torn up for tar sands, oil, diamonds, precious metals, forestry, over-hunting, over-fishing, fish farms to replace all the over-fished fish with, dam projects, natural gas, and the list goes on.
As for “education”, innumerable indigenous children were abducted from their natal homes, removed from their greater communities, and forced into extremely abusive boarding schools run by the Catholic and Anglican churches, where they were forbidden to speak their traditional language or observe any aspect of their culture of origin. They were called residential schools, and most of the children who entered the residential schools were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused, as well as severely reprimanded if they were brought back alive after an attempted escape or if they were caught practicing their cultural traditions. Many children who did make attempts to escape, died alone and exposed in the wilderness, as the residential schools were often in remote locations. Many, many children who were detained in these “schools” were buried in unmarked graves without their traditional burial rites being observed. The last residential school in Canada only closed its doors in 1996. Many children were not even addressed by name, but were given a number and referred to by it alone. Most were assigned an anglicised name once they arrived, and very poor records were maintained, thus making it impossible to account for exactly how many children were put through this experience. The residential school system was created with the explicit intent to “kill the Indian in the child”, and this was coupled by the drafting of the Indian Act, which was created to “kill the Indian in the Indian” by literally criminalizing many aspects of indigenous culture, and treating status “Indians” as though they were all abandoned children whose guardian is the federal government of Canada. The Indian Act is still in effect today.
Access to healthcare has been and remains a persistent problem on reserves, as a distinguished lack of doctors and other healthcare providers are willing to live and work in these frequently remote locations. Although, the Canadian government was particularly proficient in forcibly sterilizing indigenous peoples, too. I guess it just depends on their priorities at any given time, whether or not First Nations communities get to see a doctor. Children living with disabilities on reserves are suffering the most from this distinguished inability to serve the basic healthcare needs of indigenous peoples.
Then there are the hunting and fishing rights which are compromised by unrelenting land and resource development. The James Bay Project alone killed 10,000 caribou as they drowned when the flooding happened. The flooding also had the effect of increasing mercury levels in fish. And how about fishing where the water has been contaminated by fracking, tar sands, oil, sewage dumping, or other toxic pollution from mining or pulp processing, among a thousand other ways perpetual resource development has spread waste into rivers and lakes across the country? Mmmmmm, om nom nom nom!
Oh yeah, and then in 1948, when the United Nations defined genocide to include much of what has actually occurred for several generations within indigenous communities, the federal government of Canada in its infinite wisdom decided upon a narrower definition, so that it wouldn’t be able to prosecute itself for perpetrating an absolute atrocity while it carried on doing it (and even escalated its efforts the following decade).
Indigenous peoples haven’t been sitting idly by this whole time, while the Earth is opened up without respectful consultation or consent, and the lives of indigenous peoples steamrolled by industry and corporate interests. Yes, there is an upsetting proportion of indigenous people who currently struggle with addictions in highly urbanized areas across the country. But would they be that way if their parents and their grandparents hadn’t spent up to ten years in what amounts to a concentration camp while their languages and cultures were systematically demolished by the federal government? I’m not a scientist, but my guess is probably not. For those who have been involved in radical grassroots resistance movements for the sake of the environment, it hasn’t been a self-serving effort. It’s actually been a part of their culture for thousands of years. To treat the Earth and all the life that depends upon it as their siblings, and to tread lightly, knowing that many of their ancestors are under foot everywhere they walk. Idle No More isn’t a jack-in-the-box finally popping out of a pressure cooker because of Bill C-45. But briefly, about Bill C-45: a primary issue is that reserve lands can now be sold out from under the people living on them, without their prior knowledge or consent (it only takes three band members agreeing to it in a meeting, basically, whereas before it would take a minimum 51% of the band). Another primary issue is that it declassified millions of rivers, lakes, and streams across the country, as protected waterways. That means that corporations and land developers don’t have to demonstrate what measures they are taking to prevent contamination of these waters, before ploughing forward, with no legal recourse in the event of a toxic spill. But back to Idle No More, which is neither just about Bill C-45 nor just about Chief Theresa Spence currently coming up on 30 days without food while she waits in the shadows of Canadian Parliament for a meeting with the Prime Minister, First Nations Chiefs, and Governor General about these unfulfilled treaties.
If it isn’t clear by now, it should be: Idle No More is a massive uprising against indigenous genocide within Canadian borders; against rampant unchecked racism towards the First Peoples; against worship of money over respect for people, culture, or the environment; and against the continued destruction of the Earth — which with the passing of Bill C-45, effects all Canadians. The fight is about everyone’s future. It’s about your continued access to drinkable tap water, and your children’s and grandchildren’s tap water. Indigenous people have been engaging in this struggle for their right to exist since Christopher Columbus was found lost at sea, looking for people to force into slave labour, in 1492. Idle No More is just its most recent namesake. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join a flash mob, a railway blockade, a drum circle, a highway blockade, a round dance, a pow wow in your local community, a sweat lodge, a Facebook group for Idle No More in your city, or even make up a sign that says “Idle No More” with your city’s name on it (take a picture with your webcam and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #idlenomore or post it in an Idle No More Facebook group). Hell, even share this blog post or another one that tickles your heart chambers, if you don’t like me. Just do something to show your support. January 11th is the global day of action, but if you’re at work, you can still post a photo from a computer or cell phone on your lunch break.The more involved you can afford to get (and the more you’re willing to listen and defer to the judgment of people whose parents and grandparents have been preparing them for this moment their whole lives), the better.
Now is the time! Idle No More!
Read more about who I am and why I’m involved (or personally invested, if you prefer) in this movement here.
As hippy-dippy-trippy as this is going to sound, read about me experiencing visions prior to taking part in my first Idle No More rally here (my first of many) and here (where I talk about multiple visions* over consecutive days and the courses of action I took).
Read about how I felt after the second rally I attended here. I have now attended 7 and am preparing to participate in a march this coming Friday morning, which is followed by a rally and then a flash mob outside a major white liberal news media outlet, just before their evening news segment.
*About those visions — I don’t want to hear about it if you think I’m off my rocker or a complete fucking weirdo for saying it on a blog dominated by an atheist readership. I am and always have been a spiritual person (though not a religious one), and I’m not here to justify that to anyone.
Follow Jamie on Twitter! Or don’t! Your choice!
Crommunist’s note: I am exercising my editorial prerogative heavily here. Any new posters who don’t include an answer to the following question will have their comments summarily deleted. The question is as follows: “What would be meaningfully different about the substance of this post if Jamie had not mentioned visions in the post-script?”
UPDATE: I probably should have specified. Your answer to the question has to not be stupid – C