It’s easy to support political movements in Canada like Idle No More, no matter how vague or questionable they are. Canadians have the right to petition for legislative change, but we should take a sober second look at the increasingly vocal Idle No More movement.
The movement attempts to tackle Bill C-45, which changes the classification of many protected bodies of water in Canada. However, supporters and leaders of the movement have not solidified their opposition to the bill. Instead, threats of international implications and imminent revolution are thrown around in the name of “indigenous rights.”
The bill itself would allow for greater economic opportunity for First Nations and is in no way a conspiracy in which Harper is attempting to sell First Nations’s land to foreign investors. The bill amends the difficult process that currently exists for approving land developments that would benefit aboriginal communities. This aspect of the bill is widely ignored by both the leaders and supporters of the movement.
Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat Nation, who has become the unofficial face of the movement since it began in November, has been under scrutiny for poor financial management. With an annual income far greater than the average aboriginal person, her poor handling of Attawapiskat finances is reminiscent of virtually every modern dictator.
Spence was found, in third party audits, to have lacked documentation for $31.2 million that her nation operated on in 2012. This is especially damning considering that these missing documents amount to 80 per cent of federal funds received at Attawapiskat.
Spence has brushed these accusations aside while petitioning the government by means of a recently ended 44-day hunger strike and continued support for the Idle No More protests. According to supporters of Spence, the accusations have been dismissed as an attempt by the federal government to slander and discredit her cause. However, the fact remains that the people of the Attawapiskat First Nation live in a state of constant emergency and extreme poverty.
When considering the circumstances of Attawapiskat, financial mismanagement is evident. The fact that Spence has not directly addressed the results of the third-party audit might invoke the suspicion that her entire protest is an attempt to veil her failure to adequately manage her polity.
Questions are also raised whenever one set of constitutionally guaranteed rights infringes on another. The Idle No More movement’s blockades of roads and infrastructure lines across Canada raises questions about the right to protest when it infringes on the right of mobility.
Police forces throughout the nation have been passive as the rhetoric from the movement grows more militant in its opposition to Bill C-45. The protests invoke an image of chaos on our roads. This attack on the right of Canadians to have mobility in their country is met with a police reaction that contrasts with their reaction during the 2010 G20 protests in Toronto and the 2011 Occupy movement in Canada where law enforcers cracked down on protesters.
It should be acknowledged that the motivations of the Europeans who first contacted Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples were imperialistic. A systematic cultural genocide has left behind traumatic legacies, including an unacceptably poor quality of education, a crisis of addiction, duress and conditions of poverty reminiscent of the poorest of third world nations.
However, complex issues that have been brewing for centuries cannot be combated by creating even more issues. The issues at hand with First Nations people are not solely those of environmental affairs or indigenous autonomy. The most important issues are the immediate conditions of poverty within Canadian reserves and apparent financial mismanagement of First Nations political leaders.
The Idle No More movement has clearly heightened divisions within the First Nations community by severely hampering attempts to increase the quality of lives of all Canadians. With its increasingly militant rhetoric and clear flaws, this movement’s greatest failure will ultimately be the alienation of indigenous rights from both aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Canada.