Don't expect Summer of 2013 to be a season of native unrest
- Don't expect Summer of 2013 to be a season of native unrest
July 2, 2013
By John Ibbitson
Though some First Nations leaders rage against the perfidy of the federal Conservatives, others are working with Ottawa on legislation aimed at improving the quality of education on reserves
Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.
How long, and how hot, will this summer be? That depends on whether natives and environmentalists can galvanize public support for a season of unrest. But thus far, the Summer of 2013 is shaping up to be short and cool.
While some of the conditions are in place for the kind of incendiary confrontations that have unsettled governments from Rio to Stockholm, Canada appears to be too fragmented, and its citizens too content, for the critical mass of civic action - peaceful but not necessarily legal - that Sovereignty Summer hopes to incite.
That's the name for a campaign of protest led by the Idle No More aboriginal rights movement.
The goal is to unite First Nation, social and environmental activists in asserting native control over public lands and in favouring environmental protection over resource extraction.
"Idle No More calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water," the website declares.
The goal is to empower local activists to reach each other - and to reach out to others - through idlenomore.ca and social media (#sovsummer).
Already there have been disruptions. Protesters opposed to plans that would ship oil from the oil sands east through existing pipelines occupied an Enbridge pumping station near Hamilton for several days in June.
There have been acts of vandalism and arrests in New Brunswick in a dispute between natives and a company carrying out shale gas exploration.
Could these protests escalate to mirror those in other countries? After all, this is a year of public unrest - disgust with corruption and waste in Brazil; fears of Islamist drift in Turkey and Egypt; opposition to gay marriage in France; immigrants who feel marginalized in Sweden.
In Canada, the Harper government is at a low ebb of popularity. There is growing resistance to its agenda of natural resource extraction and exports, and to the short shrift that critics claim the Conservatives give to environmental and aboriginal concerns.
So might Canadians join in the global discontent by taking to the streets - or blocking highways and railways - to protest dirty oil and and in solidarity with native claims? Probably not.
There are more than 600 First Nation communities spread across Canada, each with its own opportunities and challenges. Many native leaders see resource development as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to break the cycle of poverty on reserves.
Former Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, for example, is leaving politics to work with First Nations in securing their interests in the Ring of Fire mining developments in Northern Ontario.
Though some First Nations leaders rage against the perfidy of the federal Conservatives, others are working with Ottawa on legislation aimed at improving the quality of education on reserves. With initial consultations complete, a blueprint for that legislation will be sent to all first nations leaders and provincial governments in the coming days. The bill itself will be a major part of the government's fall legislative plan.
And while many Canadians worry about the environmental impacts of the resource-development agenda, very few are prepared to question that agenda at its core, much less take to the streets to oppose it.
There is nothing more dangerous than attempting to read the national mood from the isolation of the national capital. But if there is a groundswell of discontent threatening to sweep across the land, it is keeping itself well hidden.
There will be native protests, there will be occupations; they are part of the life of the nation. But at this point, the Summer of 2013 seems likely to be just another season, whatever the rest of the world might be up to.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]