Idle No More founders distance themselves from chiefs
- Idle No More founders distance themselves from chiefs
By Christopher Curtis, Postmedia News
December 31, 2012 4:35 PM
Members of the Haisla First Nation march in Kitimat, B.C. as part of a rally in support of the Idle No More movement on Sunday Dec 30, 2012. As well as voicing support for the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence, Haisla members spoke of their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland
Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland, Postmedia News
OTTAWA - In a matter of weeks, a series of teach-ins on a small Saskatchewan reserve took on a life of their own - becoming a nationwide aboriginal protest movement.
But now it appears the rapidly growing Idle No More movement is experiencing its first real growing pains. On Monday, the founders of Idle No More issued a statement distancing themselves from Native chiefs who claim to be acting on behalf of the campaign.
"The Chiefs have called for action and anyone who chooses can join with them, however this is not part of the Idle No More movement as the vision of this grassroots movement does not coincide with the visions of the Leadership," said the statement, released on Idle No More's official website.
"While we appreciate the individual support we have received from chiefs and councilors, we have been given a clear mandate. to work outside of the systems of government and that is what we will continue to do."
The statement also says the Idle No More founders received word that aboriginal "leadership" had been "calling for action" in the name of the campaign, and that they claimed to have met with the representatives of the group who support this call. "We would like to state that this is FALSE," the statement reads.
Tanya Kappo was among the first Idle No More organizers when the movement began in November. She says the campaign was, in part, a reaction to the Conservative government's omnibus budget bill - which strips environmental regulations from thousands of lakes and rivers throughout Canada. The bill amends the Indian Act in a way that critics believe could threaten aboriginal land rights.
"From day one we wanted this to be something that was led by every day people, a horizontal movement," said Kappo, an aboriginal mother and law student. "If this was ever going really take off, it had to come from the ground up, not the other way around."
Idle No More has been inextricably linked to a hunger strike led by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. The northern Ontario chief hasn't eaten in three weeks and says she'll starve herself to death if Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn't agree to negotiate better living conditions for the nation's aboriginal people. The fast has garnered support among all of Canada's opposition parties. It has inspired blockades on highways throughout the country and ongoing disruptions to railroads in southern Ontario-including delays to over 2,000 passengers bound for Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa Sunday.
But the founders of Idle No More made it clear that while they recognize Spence's support and sacrifice, the movement is about all of Canada's aboriginal people not just its chiefs. Spence's hunger strike began after rallies, teach-ins and a national day of action organized on Dec. 10.
"Chief Spence decided she would fast on that day as part of her action to support the Idle No More movement. It is very important this history is known," the statement said. "We are very greatful for Theresa Spence's honourable and courageous support, we also need to remember the face of Idle No More is also the grassroots people."
Melissa Mollen Dupuis, who co-founded Idle No More's Quebec branch, said she's seen aboriginal leaders try to co-opt the movement because of its growing popularity within First Nations communities.
"Of course there are chiefs and people who show up at an event, get their picture taken and then they go back behind a desk," said Mollen Dupuis, a 34-year-old Innu artist. "But we know this is about all of us and not about them..Also it's worth noting that plenty of chiefs travel from far and wide just to give us support. We have our own internal governing problems on reserves but this is larger than any of that."
Mollen Dupuis said the debate over co-opting is a natural part of the movement's evolution. But some say it's a problem that stems from deeply rooted frustrations within the aboriginal community.
"(Idle no More) seems to be a rejection of aboriginal leadership, a rejection of local chiefs and chiefs on the national stage," said Daniel Salée, a professor at Concordia Univsersity's School of Community and Public Affairs. "People seem to feel as though their leaders aren't working in their best interest or that they simply aren't getting the job done.
"In some cases, communities have been negotiating land claims with the government for decades without any progress. People are fed up with the conventional way of doing things."
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