On Idle No More & Misconceptions: Responding to Some Troubling Articles
To begin, here are the articles in question:
Aboriginals have no claim to sovereignty http://www.vancouversun.com/touch/story.html?id=7876897
Idle No More Pure Laziness http://www.ottawasun.com/2013/01/26/idle-no-more-pure-laziness
I am bothered, of late by the direction that seems to have been taken in Canada with regard to the Idle No More movement and the potential it presents to the First Nations and other Indigenous peoples of Canada. Canada tends to have a view of itself and its relationship with Native people as one of benevolence, when in reality there is a relationship of power and privilege that is one-sided and somewhat oppressive of Indigenous peoples. When the Indigenous peoples resist that oppression, there tends to be a push-back from the mainstream society that is both unfair and hard to understand. Generally, First Nations are allowed to express themselves when that self-expression is acceptable to the dominant society. When it challenges or disrupts the narrative of the dominant society, it is usually challenged and suppressed.
The first article above, by Barry Cooper and published in the Vancouver Sun challenges the Idle No More demonstrations by questioning and demonizing the very legitimacy of First Nations sovereignty by imposing the western European worldview understanding of sovereignty and nationhood. He seems to be arguing that our inherent rights do not exist because our understanding of those rights are not in line with the understanding of the western world. Cooper invokes the idea of terra nulleus in his argument, implying that the cultures of "the New World" were not as advanced (read: civilized) and hence were not capable of nationhood in the modern sense, as it was invented by Europeans. Cooper has chosen not to engage in understanding the difference of worldview and nationhood as practiced by First Nations people, as he has already decided that they are not legitimate. It is unfortunate that he has picked this way to address the issues, ignoring the different understandings of the Treaties and the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The idea that only one point of view has validity in an increasingly globalized environment is somewhat anachronistic. In this way, I am able to say that Indigenous people have an advantage, forced into the two worlds metaphor, we have been indoctrinated into the western education system and worldview, while still being placed in the context of our Indigenous epidemiologies, whether they are fully formed or not because of the residential school attempts to assimilate.
The second article takes a slightly different route to pushing back. John Robson argues that the Idle No More movement is a lazy way to change things, choosing to block roads instead of working, engaging in fake hunger strikes instead of pulling ourselves up and getting the work done. He even references Chief Louie of Osoyoos Indian Band in his attack on lazy, shiftless Indians, ignoring the advantages that Louie has in his reserve land-base and its location. Many of the reserves in Canada were placed on the least desirable land, at least until it became known what is potentially available under those reserves. Robson plays with all the stereotypes that have been thrown at First Nations people and makes his argument one of belittling.
The views expressed above are reflected in the online universe as well, which is really unfortunate. I had been, for a while, collecting screen grabs of some of them but gave up after about 200 images, reading them was making me feel sick and gave me a nasty headache that took hours to manage.
This one's sort of polite.
There was some short-term attempts to understand and learn what Idle No More was about but it was abandoned somewhere along the way. What Canada did was say: I feel your pain. I get it. Sorry. I understand. I empathize. Woo hoo. This passive empathy was a way to engage in identification with the pain of Indigenous peoples, without having to engage in the discourse that would address the issues that led to the place of oppression in the first place. This passive empathy leads those with privilege to believe that they are identifying with the oppressed and, hence, feeling their pain. In that regard, there is a belief that there is no need to investigate further. There is no challenge to a worldview, nothing that leads to justice. This is a way to negate any responsibility for any negative effects of the residential school experience and other colonial acts, and by extension, the unequal social conditions and general powerlessness, is placed back on the First Nations. When Idle No More didn't go away after that January 11 meeting, the pseudo empathy turned to anger and to push-back as we are witnessing in the mainstream media above. There seems to be a lack of identification with Indigenous people or the challenges faced on a daily basis. There seems to be a lack of desire in trying to understand and engage in the solution making. There is only a return to the status quo of victim blaming, arguments that we are only making noise rather that seeking solutions, ignoring the fact that the demonstrations are the only way that we can be heard when we try to engage in a discourse to seek solutions. Canada doesn't listen otherwise.
I wish I had the answer as to how to move beyond this state of affairs. I have encountered educators, online, concerned that Aboriginal students are being pressured into participating in Idle No More. I reject the implication in this thought, it seems to suggest that, somehow, our youth are not capable of critical thinking and learning what is important to them. It suggests that somehow Idle No More is not a legitimate movement that has meaning to people. It suggests that it is not something of value to Indigenous people. I am aware that I am reading more than is probably there but what we see in the words is important, their meaning is always in the ear of the beholder, whatever you think you meant.