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Idle No More – The Year of the Protest

January 30, 2013
Idle No More! The Halifax Common

Idle No More! The Halifax Common

2013 is starting off as the Year-of-the-Protest.

Just this past weekend, India, Egypt, France, Russia, Washington – all saw mass protests.

Every day my Facebook page gets filled with protest notes from around the world. Buenos Aires. Algeria. Indonesia. It just goes on and on.

And what are the masses protesting? People everywhere, it seems, are marching against our ideas about rape, religious fanaticism, homophobia, economics, and guns.  

In China, protesting has become a daily occurrence. Every year the Chinese government appropriates the lands from another 4 million farmers and rural villagers in order to feed its economic miracle. Every day there are 250 protest marches happening in China. Many of them running into the millions of people.

The World Bank says that for 45 consecutive years now, the gap between the world’s rich and the world’s poor has been growing.

The planet is getting hotter, and drier. And so is the peoples’ patience.

People are increasingly being pushed into the extremes. 


“The best civil rights heroes are our dead heroes,” Bertrand Russell once observed. They are our least dangerous, for they are no longer here to directly challenge our political assumptions, or our positions of power.

Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. Mahatma Gandhi. Jesus Christ. They bring to mind the noble ideals of equality, liberation, and redemption. They are presented to our school-children as cultural heroes. Leaders we should admire.

But on Monday morning, for those people stuck in traffic on the MacDonald Bridge (here in Halifax), waiting for the Idle No More protesters to get out-of-the-way, few would be thinking of King, or Gandhi.

The CBC website’s public comments about the day’s march are only of anger, and the misery caused by the rush-hour disruptions. One person wondered how all the Aboriginals got the day off work. Ha! Funny! (Not really.)

The 2-day, 10km Halifax march, which started yesterday at the Shubenacadie Residential School Grounds, ended with me and 250 people standing in the stiff winter winds of the Halifax Common listening to circle dances, buffalo songs, and speeches of support.

Young aboriginal men, smartly dressed in Canada Goose jackets and baseball caps, drummed rhythms as old as the earth.

“This is not just a protest,” a man said from the microphone. “This is the beginnings of an Aboriginal Civil Rights movement.” A ten-year-old Mi’kmaq girl walked shyly to the mike and said that Stephen Harper needed to “get a brain”. Others talked of solidarity, education, poverty.

Everyone talked about the need to protect the environment.

I have yet to see the mainstream media discuss widely the notion that Idle No More is a civil rights movement.  

It is too early to tell whether Idle No More will gain media traction as a civil rights movement. Canadians are abhorrent to think of themselves as racists, even if the Indian Act, which gives the government total control to govern over every reserve and every Indian in Canada, remains one of our most racist acts of parliament.

Stephen Harper, I am sure, knows that it is notoriously difficult for poor people to remain in solidarity and committed to a cause for long. He knows too that amongst the 600 recognized Aboriginal communities in Canada, leadership is currently fractured and divided.

He has no immediate political compulsion to hurry negotiations along. He’s betting that this “civil rights movement” will simply evaporate with the spring thaw.

But the Civil Rights Movement, as we now understand and remember it, did not begin and end with Martin Luther Kings “I Have a Dream” speech. It was a pot that simmered for years before it got itself organized in the early 1950’s. It would absorb America’s attention for almost 20 years.

That was twenty years of boycotting, lynching, assassinating, and marching.

Idle No More is a long way from being a civil rights movement.

But it’s not as far away as some of us might hope.

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