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Why Canada’s Indigenous Uprising Is About All of Us

By Sarah van Gelder - Yes! Magazine

When a new law paved the way for tar sands pipelines and other fossil fuel development on native lands, four women swore to be “idle no more.” The idea took off.  The four founders of Idle No More didn’t start out famous. Until flash-mob round dances, prayer circles, and blockades spread across Canada, few people knew Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson.

But today, Idle No More is emerging as a powerful movement for the rights of native peoples to protect the lands and waters.

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Idle No More: Where do we go from here?

“Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences.  The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.

But there cannot be peace or harmony unless there is justice.  It was to help restore justice to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada, and to propose practical solutions to stubborn problems, that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was established.” - page ix, A Word From Commissioners

The quote above comes from a publication that is 150 pages in length, and in my opinion should be read by every single Canadian.  This publication is called “People to People, Nation to Nation: Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples“.  If you never manage to wade through the five volumes of findings and recommendations published by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP), please at least make your way through the Highlights.  (If you want something even less dense, there is a 51 page document [PDF] that does a bang up job of summarising the report and its main recommendations.  Included at the end is a nice breakdown of financial estimates for implementation of these recommendations.)

Backing up a little…the RCAP was established in 1991 and engaged in 178 days of public hearings, visiting 96 communities, commissioning research and consulting with experts. In 1996, the RCAP released a five volume report of findings and recommendations.

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What if Natives Stop Subsidizing Canada?

MONTREAL—There is a prevailing myth that Canada's more than 600 First Nations and native communities live off of money—subsidies—from the Canadian government. This myth, though it is loudly proclaimed and widely believed, is remarkable for its boldness; widely accessible, verifiable facts show that the opposite is true.

Indigenous people have been subsidizing Canada for a very long time.

Conservatives have leaked documents in an attempt to discredit chief Theresa Spence, currently on hunger strike in Ottawa. Reporters like Jeffrey Simpson and Christie Blatchford have ridiculed the demands of native leaders and the protest movement Idle No More. Their ridicule rests on this foundational untruth: that it is hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians that pays for housing, schools and health services in First Nations. The myth carries a host of racist assumptions on its back. It enables prominent voices like Simpson and Blatchford to liken protesters' demands to "living in a dream palace" or "horse manure," respectively.

It's true that Canada's federal government controls large portions of the cash flow First Nations depend on. Much of the money used by First Nations to provide services does come from the federal budget. But the accuracy of the myth ends there.

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Harper Launches Major First Nations Termination Plan: As Negotiating Tables Legitimize Canada’s Colonialism

A vision of the future? If there is no organized protest and resistance to the Harper government’s termination plan, than yes.

On September 4th the Harper government clearly signaled its intention to:

1) Focus all its efforts to assimilate First Nations into the existing federal and provincial orders of government of Canada;

2) Terminate the constitutionally protected and internationally recognized Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty rights of First Nations.

Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.

To do this the Harper government announced three new policy measures:

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The Rise of the Native Rights-Based Strategic Framework

clayton.jpgOur Last Best Hope to Save our Water, Air and Earth

Years ago I was working for a well-known Indigenous environmental and economic justice organization known as the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). During my time with this organization I had the privilege of working with hundreds of Indigenous communities across the planet who had seen a sharp increase in the targeting of Native lands for mega-extractive and other toxic industries. The largest of these conflicts, of course, was the overrepresentation by big oil who work— often in cahoots with state, provincial First Nations, Tribal and federal governments both in the USA and Canada—to gain access to the valuable resources located in our territories. IEN hired me to work in a very abstract setting, under impossible conditions, with little or no resources to support Grassroots peoples fighting oil companies, who had become, in the era of free market economics, the most powerful and well-resourced entities of our time. My mission was to fight and protect the sacredness of Mother Earth from toxic contamination and corporate exploration, to support our Peoples to build sustainable local economies rooted in the sacred fire of our traditions.

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Idle No More Sees Bigger Issues than C-45

A common misperception and misunderstanding that continues to grow since November says the only terrible legislation taking direct aim at First Nations (and opening up doors for massive environmental exploitation in Canada) is Bill C-45.

“No Bill C-45!” on signs.

“No Bill C-45!” on information pamphlets.

“No Bill C-45!” on signs.

“No Bill C-45!” spoken in interviews by many very sure they understand the full scope of the power push being made by Ottawa.

However, this is not the case.

Idle No More sees bigger picture

This is not to say C-45 doesn’t deserve our scrutiny, critique, and direct focus for its repeal, but it is absolutely necessary for all to understand it is merely part of the picture and the more the wider picture is not understood, Ottawa’s seizure of illegitimate power becomes closer to a reality with First Nations inherent and treaty rights dismantled and the lands we share with Canadian open to exploitation

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The heart break of Algonquin genocide

Initially posted on

Photo : Dr. Lynn Gehl with her 1764 Treaty at Niagara Wampum Bundle. Photo credit: N Gehl © L Gehl

In the process of building Canada, the British imposed different languages (French and English), religions (Catholic and Protestant), and legal systems (French Civil Law and British Common Law) on the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation and consequently divided us into two entities.

 While what is Canada today consists of several provinces and two territories, in its early stages Canada consisted of Upper and Lower Canada, which are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. During the early stages of European exploration the main mode of transportation into the land mass we know as Turtle Island was what is now known as the Ottawa River.

The Algonquin bands located on both sides of the river were some of the first Nations recorded by Champlain so you can be sure that the French and British knew full well who we were. During European struggles for new land the Algonquin Anishinaabeg were allies with the French. For this, we were severely punished when the British eventually took over.

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