You are two of the four women declaring themselves the “founders” of Idle No More, and a lot of people are buying into this idea. As such, you are gaining more and more media attention as time and the Idle No More movement progresses. But instead of exploiting this attention to discuss the ideas that many First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities are spreading awareness about, you are busy using your time in the limelight to vocalize dissent about some of the tactics you personally disagree with. This is a waste of time and a decision that comes with much further-reaching consequences than apparently either of you has spent the effort to think about, and this is the focus of my open letter to you both today.
Update: For those readers who are interested, I wrote this follow-up in response to how this open letter appears to have sparked both a knee-jerk reaction towards me personally (bad) and a huge heap of ongoing critical discourse (great!) among people who don’t unanimously agree.
First of all, Idle No More is not just about Bill C-45 and Chief Theresa Spence. Our Prime Minister, in direct contradiction to his own sentiments about omnibus bills from just a few years ago, is acting in violation of the democratic rights promised to all Canadians, by passing an omnibus bill containing 30 pieces of legislation, some of which also violate the treaties between the Crown and the First Nations. A woman is starving to death (and the community she leads freezing in trailers and tents that would be condemned in any urban locations) while our Prime Minister insists on ignoring her demands. These are both direct examples of structures of racism in the colonial government, as our Prime Minister is the voice of leadership in our country. I have little doubt this has escaped either of you.
But what about the Nunavut food crisis? What about the missing and murdered Aboriginal women from all across the country? What about the recent report on the Missing Women Commission & Inquiry, that stated loud and clear for the entire world to hear, that the Vancouver Police (whose salaries are paid with tax dollars) failed all 49 women whose remains were found on the Pickton farm? What about the 70 women (most of whom were Aboriginal) Thomas George Svekla is suspected of having murdered over the same timeline as Pickton was on his own serial murder spree in the adjacent province? What about the disproportionate representation of indigenous people in Canada’s prison system (some sources citing 20% of the total prison population), compared to the proportion of indigenous people in the total population of this country (around 3%)?
What about the Indian Act, which most people seem to either not know or not care, was written with the explicit intent of “killing the Indian in the Indian”? What about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which visited survivors of the residential school system over a five-year period, to finally allow them the space to air their trauma? What about the recommendations the indigenous communities themselves offered to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, so that the rest of Canada has some direction on how to work towards reconciliation with indigenous communities? What about all the people who took their own lives after telling the TRC their stories? What about all the indigenous teens living on reserves who have made attempts on their own lives, because they are living in conditions of unbearable poverty?
What about all the health risks the Canadian government has either knowingly or deliberately exposed indigenous peoples to, since the formation of this country? Smallpox? Tuberculosis? Forced sterilizations? Depriving supplies of hand sanitizer from reserves during the flu pandemic, knowing that a majority of those same reserves didn’t have clean water with which to practice hand-washing, because someone suggested that the “Indians” might drink it? Just to name a few items that have cost thousands and thousands of people their lives.
What about Raymond Silverfox and Frank Paul? To name just two Aboriginal men who died unnecessarily while in custody of either the police or RCMP, who refused to provide access to medical treatment (i.e., in the case of Frank Paul, they just threw him outside in the cold behind the detachment; and in the case of Raymond Silverfox, they dragged his body by one ankle through his own sick, like he was nothing more than a dirty rag). What about “starlight tours”, which we all know have been going on for a long time, and still keep going (if you don’t know what this is, perhaps you have more to learn from the community you profess to be leading)? What about the apathy of police when dealing with violence within indigenous communities, especially towards indigenous women in urban areas? What about that Highway Of Tears billboard, warning indigenous women not to hitch-hike along the highway where so many of them have mysterious disappeared?
I could keep going, but my hope is that you’re getting the drift by now. Then there are the 11 treaties, virtually all of which resulted in the government of Canada absconding with whatever it wanted while leaving the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit holding the bag, waiting for their end of the promises made. They are still waiting while the colonial government keeps changing the “due political process”, so that it never has to answer to this. Then there is the Canadian government’s suspiciously narrower definition of genocide when compared to that of the United Nations, defined formally in 1948. I guess the Canadian government would have to hold itself accountable somehow (and actually stop perpetuating those acts) if it adhered to the UN on this one, so its solution is to just make up its own definition that magically makes the Canadian government look innocent — I guess that’s why Justice Sinclair said that the UN defines genocide in terms of what has happened within Canada’s borders, but that doesn’t mean genocide has taken place here.
Secondly, you and your two colleagues did not “found” Idle No More. You founded a hashtag on Twitter and community teach-ins about omnibus bills containing legislation that impacts First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities without their prior knowledge or consent. The grassroots fight that the whole world is seeing pour into the streets under the banner “Idle No More!” has been going on for several centuries. Early on in the formation of this country, part of indigenous resistance was called the Red River Rebellion and subsequently the North-West Rebellion. In the 70s, part of it was called the American Indian Movement. There were also (in no particular order) the Oka Crisis, the James Bay protests, the G20 Summit protests, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and very recently here in Vancouver, a 24-hour occupation for more than 200 consecutive days of a former Musqueam village which had been declared a national historic site in 1933 and was known to contain intact graves — because the Premier of BC gave a condo developer a permit to dig in, and their heavy machinery desecrated Musqueam graves.
There have been countless actions, demonstrations, protests, and grassroots resistance movements, across Canada and the United States, acted upon and led entirely by indigenous communities coming together across the continent, as well as actions, demonstrations, protests, and grassroots resistance movements which indigenous communities took part in to help foster a thoughtful and successful call for social justice. Now part of the centuries-old ongoing indigenous resistance movement is called Idle No More. Part of it is also called Unist’ot’en Camp, which is responsible for an ongoing blockade against proposed pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory (part of unceded territory here in BC). For all I can tell, this blockade has been going on for over ten years already. The point is this: if you think you four-handedly “founded” Idle No More with your two colleagues, I’m bursting your bubble.
And finally, though I’m just a totally unprofessional blogger living on provincial disability “benefits”, and am a white Settler here on Coast Salish territory, I hope you take what I am about to say seriously: stop wasting your opportunities to speak to the concerns of this movement with white liberal media outlets by talking about your personal opinions of some of the tactics being used. Just stop it.
No one from white liberal media outlets is knocking on my door, or even sending me emails, asking me to explain to them why Idle No More is happening and why indigenous people are filling shopping malls, street intersections, bridges, ports, railways, highways, Stephen Harper’s front lawn, or Canadian Parliament with drummers, singers, bannock, and round dances. They are asking you because you promote yourselves as representatives, spokespeople, and “founders” of this grassroots movement. Because of your socioeconomic status, you are seen as presentable and relevant enough for the general public, to appear on the evening news or be quoted in online and print articles. But they are also asking you because they want a sound-bite or a short quote they can exploit to appeal to the general public — not to sway them to the cause of defending indigenous rights and sovereignty. And you’re giving it to them freely, every time you express your personal opinions about tactics you disagree with, as if your personal opinion exists in a vacuum separated from your appointed status as representatives, spokespeople, and “founders”. You’re feeding trolls, and I am personally asking you to stop, because you are putting the grassroots activists who are participating in those tactics you personally disagree with, in even greater danger than they would already be exposed to.
Let me say that again, so it sinks in: you are directly increasing the risks faced by some of the grassroots activists whose tactics you personally disagree with, by feeding white liberal media trolls with sound-bites and quotes about your defamatory personal opinions, instead of utilizing that time like people who understand and respect what a grassroots movement is (i.e., no centralized authority — that means you and your ego have no relevance to most of the people engaging in activism on the ground), and who understand the full scope of the fight being waged (i.e., demanding an end to several centuries of ongoing, systematically orchestrated genocide against indigenous peoples). Or did you somehow convince yourselves that your personal opinions about tactics are magically helping people who are willing to put their lives at risk to make their demands known? Have you noticed Chief Spence (the real one, not the fake Facebook one) isn’t expressing anything about tactics, except a tolerance for diversity thereof?
I mean… How long have you actually been involved in grassroots activism? Because it sure seems to me, as someone who has never met either of you, and will likely never meet either of you (both on account of socioeconomic disparity and of the tactics I am willing to take part in that you apparently aren’t), that you’re a little green to how this all works. For the sake of peat, you even fell for what a Chief Spence troll account on Facebook said — anyone with virtually any experience organizing grassroots actions would have seen right through this and at least checked their sources before publishing a call to condemn blockades (as if Chief Spence is fasting for and leading the grassroots in Wet’suwet’en? I think not!) Anyone who has been involved in any grassroots social justice movement at all will know that this happens in every social justice movement, and will already be expecting it when it happens. From the very beginning and at frequent but irregular intervals throughout its progression, people will repeatedly emerge with new tactics to undermine the movement.
And right now? That’s you, Jessica and Sylvia. Keep your egos out of this before you dismantle the very Thing you’re so convinced you started.
Update: Since posting this in the late evening on January 13th, Sylvia McAdam’s most recent interview with the CBC has been released, and she has declared a boycott on further interviews with the CBC as a result of how her statements and sentiments were deliberately and maliciously misrepresented to undermine the Idle No More movement (see paragraph starting with “No one from white liberal media outlets is knocking on my door…”).
I strongly recommend for everyone reading this (as there are a lot of you) that they take this experience to heart and encourage organizers in their communities to choose individual people as representatives to engage with media at rallies, flash mobs, and other demonstrations. Community members should also be instructed (often — i.e., more than just once in the beginning of the demonstration, as many people continue to arrive throughout at many of these) to direct news reporters to those appointed representatives for statements.
Update 2.0: Today, an absolutely mind-boggling series of blockades went up as part of a national day of action, from as early as sunrise, all across the country. Great work, grassroots! Keep it going! The “Idle No More Four” have now sent out a mass email, to potentially tens of thousands of their “followers”, in which they declared they don’t stand by radical indigenous grassroots. This was done sometime today (Jan 16th).