Friday, 21 December 2012


It's tricky: mobilizing masses of people while presenting a consistent message and without causing disruption that could hurt your cause.

The growing Idle No More movement, a product of building frustration among First Nations peoples, is attempting to navigate those conundrums as it executes something resembling a controlled explosion on the national scene. The match that ignited this movement was Bill C 45, the Federal Government's omnibus budget bill that alters parts of the Indian Act and reduces protections for many Canadian waterways. This, along with other recent government legislation, didn't sit well with some native Canadians:

"These colonial forms of legislation that the government expects to unilaterally impose on us has brought us together, to stand together" - Jessica Gordon

They decided that enough was enough and it was time to mobilize.

But how? Just the term "omnibus budget bill" is enough to make people fall asleep. By writing that in this blog post I instantly lost 35 readers. How do you draw people's attention to something like that?

After the initial National Day of Action failed to garner much press; Rallies, flash mobs, hunger strikes and blockades continued to spring up across the nation and the media is taking notice.

With the spot light comes the challenges:

1) a cohesive message: As the Occupy movement grew, different factions in different cities had different objectives, and the message got watered down until most people saw the occupiers as nothing more than a bunch of illegal campers with too much time on their hands.

Idle No More has to maintain a consistent message. Is it a protest against bill C 45, is it about Attawapiskat, or is it a more general thing about indigenous sovereignty and an equal partnership with the Government of Canada, or is it something else? We can see on the news that there are protests, but we don't get a lot of insight into what it's about. They have to keep hammering home their intended message so that it filters through the 120 second news segments on TV and into the skulls of nimrods like me who wait to get fed what they need to know by the mainstream media.

The danger is that different aboriginal leaders will say different things, thus confusing the public and muddling the message. Worse, some may decide to capatalize on the "Idle No More" name recognition to promote their own causes. This will lead Idle down the Occupy path to oblivion, leaving the honest protesters as nothing more than angry Indians marching against who-knows-what in the eyes of many. This is to be avoided.

Already, though, it's happening: today in Winnipeg the Sagkeeng First Nation organized a rally at the Manitoba Hydro building to draw attention to the continued displacement of people in their community by last year's flooding. This is counter-productive. It may be a worthy topic, but it comes at the expense of the Idle movement.

2) keeping the public on your side: It may be tempting to cause disruption because a blockade or other such thing is very effective at getting people's attention, but this too should be avoided. Not all attention is good attention. Sympathy and support for your cause will quickly vanish if you piss people off.

There was a separate event at the Winnipeg airport today that partially blocked traffic. As somebody who recently missed a flight, I can tell you that people who are rushing to catch a plane are not going to be very receptive to anything that gets in their way. Apparently this was not an *official* Idle event, but only in support of it. Most people will not make that distinction. If you want to show support for Idle No More, why don't you show up at an actual Idle No More event instead?

3) supress the lunatics: All public statements by a corporation are tightly controlled by a dedicated PR department. The First Nations do not have such a luxury. There is a Grand Chief, and there are provincial representatives that have a voice, and there are also hundreds of band Chiefs across the country, as well as many other activists and voices. Naturally some are more intelligent than others.

While we have heard some very thoughtful statements from people like Pamela Palmater and Winnipg's own youthful activist phenom Michael Redhead Champage, we also have this guy in the car:

“ We ARE the representative! We ARE the example for the world!”

For this to be successful, people need to hear the reasonable and rational voices, and not that guy in the car or, God forbid, a grand standing buffoon like Terry Nelson.

Alas, I fear these challenges may be too great. The Canadian First Nations are too diverse and loosely knit. It is unlikely that the message can be controlled in the way that it needs to be, and the movement may be undermined by the selfish or misguided acts of those who try to grab the spot light with their own independent protests in the name of Idle No More.

Recommended reading:


redronnie said...

geez..hold up a few people at the airport. I hate to point out the obvious, however it begs to be stated, we've been inconvenienced for hundreds of years. We read the comments section of the mainstream media outlets and recognize we are being tolerated by the general public who view us as a burden on the public purse, without noting we have treaties that are still in existance. Maybe we need to ignore such minor conveniences but maybe no more.

cherenkov said...

The peaceful protests at the Forks and Leg got TV time too. You don't need to delay people at an airport to make a point, and it doesn't seem like an ideal place for it. Idle No More will be more successful if it can draw support from the general public.

Gustav Nelson said...

Good post Chernkov.

I think native people have actual cause for protest, but I've come to the conclusion the Idle No More is just anti-Harperism.

Anonymous said...

cherenkov, you are racist.

cherenkov said...

How so?

Anonymous said...

Inconveniencing people is against the law, these protestors should be put in jail!

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