Canada’s colonial reality is now in the spotlight, as Idle No More protests voice the struggles of indigenous people against sustained political and economic oppression.
Thousands are joining historic actions to call for fundamental changes in Canada’s relations to aboriginal people.
Central to Idle No More are longstanding indigenous demands for justice around land rights, economic resources and self-determination that rest at the heart of both Canada’s history and future.
Winter hunger strike
Idle No More protests first took place across Canada to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2012.
Early the next morning Chief Theresa Spence, from Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, began a hunger strike in a tepee on Victoria Island, just minutes away from Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa.
Chief Spence was hospitalised hours after the strike ended, spending a day and a half under medical supervision for dehydration and deterioration resulting from 44 days without food.
Politics surrounding aboriginal struggles in Canada are different after the historic action by Chief Spence, a catalyst for the ongoing Idle No More grassroots movement.
Canada’s major opposition parties in Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have co-signed a joint declaration in response, outlining “the need for fundamental change in the relationship of First Nations and the Crown”, a text nearly unimaginable prior to Idle No More.
Key to the declaration is the symbolic mention of the Crown, also highlighted by Chief Spence during the hunger strike in calls to include the Governor General, the representative of the British Crown in Canada, in any talks on aboriginal-Canada relations. A demand pointing clearly to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a colonial document of persisting importance, commonly referenced in indigenous land struggles and legal negotiations, that forbids the colonial settlement of territories or utilisation of resources without the clear consent of aboriginal peoples.
Today, the historic importance of Chief Spence’s hunger strike is clear, as political energy around Idle No More builds. Another national day of action involved more than 30 cities in Canada yesterday, including a rally outside Parliament in Ottawa.
Still the Conservative government refuses to engage directly with Idle No More, instead holding discordant talks with officials from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), a political body strongly tied to the Canadian state, not historically involved in aboriginal protest movements.