Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why 'Idle No More' Matters to Educators

From Evernote:

Why 'Idle No More' Matters to Educators

IDLE NO MORE is a grassroots, social media- driven protest movement of First Nations people, other Aboriginal people and allies, protesting the lack of consultation, by the Federal government, regarding the recent Omnibus Budget bill (C-45), and other, pending legislation that will have an effect on First Nations rights in Canada.  The idea behind the movement has grown beyond just protesting the lack of consultation to encompass the need to address the Federal lack of respect and poor treatment of the First Peoples in Canada, and, to an extent, the connection to the land that is a part of the various cultures across Canada and the exploitation of the natural resources, both as a degradation of the environment, but also the lack of First Nation prosperity as a benefit.  The movement is seeking to get Canada to honour the treaties that it has with First Nations, which promise adequate education and access to healthcare and housing.  

The ongoing housing emergencies in Native communities over the last couple of years, symptoms of ongoing disregard, as well as the very public battles between the Federal government and the First Nation Caring Society over children in care and the constant education problems, have resulted in very public embarrassment for the government but not any action to correct their failure to act on the fiduciary responsibilities and requirements of the Indian Treaties.  Instead, they have made unilateral decisions and started legislative changes to change the rules that have the perception of, and likely the effect of eroding Native rights in Canada.  In addition, the decision to only focus on those Treaty negotiations in British Columbia that has, in their view, a definite chance for success, essentially cuts their responsibility to seek out treaties with all First Nations.  Considering much of BC is unceded territory, they are abandoning their responsibilities and, with the international agreements they are signing and environmental regulation changes, they are essentially attempting to terminate First Nations rights and sovereignty by ignoring it completely.  

Let's us also bear in mind the estimated six hundred to a thousand missing and murdered women that the government continues to ignore, the biased media coverage and online trolling that continues to reinforce the benevolent society myth and "blame the victim" mentality that permeates the colonial attitude of Canada.

The most significant, public protest is currently that of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, on a hunger strike to meet with Prime Minister Harper to discuss honouring their Treaty.  Harper has turned the issue over to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan, who has said HE will meet with her, of course.  He has also dismissed IDLE NO MORE as a social media thing.  The government, and the media for that matter, are not taking this protest very seriously.  I have been watching the news channels and there has been far more coverage, and commentary from Canadian politicians, of the Egyptian protests than coverage of IDLE NO MORE and First Nations issues.

Judging by the discourse on the #idlenomore hashtag on Twitter, there is currently an appetite for expanding the protests.  Being heard requires getting others to listen and, so far, few are paying attention.  I am curious about the gray areas of civil disobedience and wonder what lines are drawn and where.  There is a lot of frustration on the part of First Nations people.  A lot of frustration in people who try hard to thrive but seem condemned to struggle just to survive in one of the richest countries in the world.  

As a man of Stó:lō/ Saulteaux ancestry, I want to march in the rallies and shout out to protect my rights and the rights of the children I don't yet have.  I live the struggle every day.  At the same time though I am terrified of stepping forward to do so.  My entire career is contingent on a certificate from the provincial government that says I can teach.  Having been unemployed this past year, through medical leave and then layoff, I am scared of not toeing the line of "shut up and teach the curriculum."

Ah yes, the curriculum.

That thing our society has decided is the sum of skills and knowledge we need to impart to the children to prepare them to be citizens of Canada. 

Where do we, as Canadians, formally learn the attitudes that inform the view and treatment of First Nations?  Canada's story is played as a linear narrative of perseverance, survival and conquest (not necessarily militarily) of the wilderness and the development of the ideals of a benevolent society that moved westward, or eastward in BC, pacifying the wild, empty landscape and helping the unfortunate savages that were found here and there within.  I have a school textbook my Grandmother used that refers to the original inhabitants of BC as savages.

Our curriculum creates the image of the Canadian as a visionary, benevolent man.  It creates the image of the Native person as reactionary, always reacting to what the non-Native does, never master of his or her own destiny, and always locked in a frozen past. As if our contemporary existence is always invalid and somehow unreal.  

It is how we can take to the streets and protest, demand action and still be invisible.

It is how we can be blamed for our situations. We reacted poorly, we didn't assimilate as was offered.  In some ways, we are just reacting, to the poor treatment, the paternalism, to protect what is ours.

We, as educators, are not innocent of the situation that leads to this movement.  We are complicit in teaching the curriculum without asking our students to critically question it.  We make it okay for this situation to grow and fester and divide and harm.  Our complicity makes First Nations invisible.  Our claims of innocence in understanding the lived experience of Native people is what allows the trolls to extol racist and colonial drivel online and in print.  It is what allows us to care about the human rights in other countries and dismiss it here for the original inhabitants of this continent. Educators dismiss our Native students as unteachable, ignoring the reality of their lived experience and their epistemologies, because it is not the same as that teachers experienced.

I use the term "we" because I am complicit in this. I live in fear of sticking my neck out too far.  I have challenged where I could, I have resisted where I could and taught resistance, but I have not been willing to take the step beyond the quiet acts.

We, as educators, need to change. IDLE NO MORE matters because it should be a wake up call that what we are teaching our children about their country and themselves is wrong.  It should be a wake up call that our society, in claiming to be fair and benevolent, doesn't practice what it preaches.  IDLE NO MORE matters be cause ALL OF OUR CHILDREN deserve to be treated fairly and have their lived experience dignified.  IDLE NO MORE matters because the status quo doesn't work for everyone (neither does the slightly ridiculous BCEDplan, but that's another story).  And it needs to be us to change, not expect these young people to continue to give up parts of themselves.


  1. Every teacher should read this commentary. Every teacher has a choice to make, whether to advocate for Truth and Justice, or to be complicit with the engines of control. No Mr. Genaille, you are not complicit; you are part of the change that will inevitably come.

  2. Excellent explanation and expression of what needs to change. I will post widely. I never forget the words of my grade five Cree student: "Why do teachers teach us?" (He knew he already knew everything important he needed to know--who he was.)