Carolyn Mackie is a student at the Institute for Christian Studies and a Research Assistant for the Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics.
January 28th marks the “Idle No More” Global Day of Action. Gatherings are planned in cities around the world, and I have decided - much to my surprise - to attend the rally in Toronto. Political rallies are not the sort of thing I usually get involved with, but, after doing a little research on the Idle No More movement, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is something I want to support, even if it’s only by adding my presence at a rally.
Begun as a grassroots movement by a handful of First Nations women in Saskatoon, Idle No More has emerged into a worldwide phenomenon, with peaceful protests popping up across Canada and the United States and in cities as diverse as Cairo, Berlin, and Auckland. Yet in spite of these impressive shows of support, it has not escaped controversy, particularly in light of Chief Theresa Spence’s recent hunger strike. A quick internet search reveals the broad spectrum of opinions usually raised by political issues, with a percentage of informed and insightful comments at what is perhaps the standard rate.
As a non-aboriginal Canadian, it can be intimidating to try to engage with the Idle No More movement in an appropriate manner. I realize that I will never be able to fully understand what it is like to experience life as a First Nations Canadian. Too often the attitudes of non-aboriginals have been based on the false assumption that we can judge what First Nations people should do and become. The truth is that First Nations people have their own unique histories, perspectives, and priorities, and this needs to be recognized in any dialogue.
But the story doesn’t have to end there. One of the exciting things about Idle No More is that, while it has been initiated by First Nations people, we have all been asked to participate. Its concerns are far-reaching, ranging from environmental issues to the ways in which Canada chooses to interact with her peoples. Rather than creating a barrier between First Nations and non-aboriginals, Idle No More is a movement begun by First Nations people for all the people. In a happy reversal, the colonizers have been invited to join with the colonized.
Unfortunately, it’s an invitation that many Canadians will not bother to accept. The reasons are many: ignorance of what the movement is hoping to accomplish and what is at stake, suspicion of its efficacy, racism, and – perhaps the most difficult force to overcome – the inertia of apathy.
Everybody knows that the problems facing First Nations people in the 21st century are enormous and need to be addressed somehow. Everybody knows that the environmental decisions we make today may have huge ramifications in the future. But the idea that “things will never change anyway” has more power over us than we may care to admit. Equally lethal is the idea that I only need to be concerned with that which directly affects me.
The First Nations have extended the invitation. We can’t rewrite the past 500 years of history, but maybe it’s time to work towards a relationship based on equality. And if anyone is uncomfortable with that idea, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves why.