“Idle No More” is a Canadian First Nations protest movement, which started in response to Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that overhauled the Navigable Waters Protection Act. First Nations feel that this bill threatens First Nations’ sovereignty over water. It has since expanded to include many other topics important to Canadian First Nations. Chief Theresa Spence, of the Attawapiskat First Nation, has gone so far as to hold a hunger-strike until the Prime Minister or the Governor General agree to meet with her. The Nav. contacted Jesse Recalma, organizer of an “Idle No More” sit-in at Woodgrove Centre in Nanaimo. Here is what Recalam had to say.
Q: Tell us about “Idle No More”
A: “Idle No More” is a movement that is focusing on building a stronger relationship between a government and its people. Although the movement was started by First Nations people, it is not exclusive to First Nations. The issues that are made apparent by the demonstrations also affect non-First Nations people as well in that everyone must be informed that the voices we seek to amplify are not just the voices of the indigenous peoples of Canada. It is also about realizing that if we want to preserve this land we have to learn to take care of it in a way that will allow us to continue to cultivate the resources provided to us.
Q: You recently held a sit-in at Woodgrove Centre, how did it go?
A: Personally I feel that it went pretty well for an event I planned less than two days in advance. There was quite a crowd present and I think we picked a nice busy day of the year to invade the mall.
Q: What kind of reactions did you receive?
A: The response from the crowd was overall uncertain. Quite a few people joined in from the crowd while others just tried as best they could to continue shopping. Security was present almost instantaneously. They didn’t seem so thrilled to see so many people gathered in the busiest area of the mall. I think they were afraid that things would get out of hand, but this is a peaceful movement and we are presenting our message in an overall respectful manner— no violence would have been brought by our hand. That is not the message we want to convey. I think all who were present definitely heard our songs.
Q: Are there any more sit-in or marches planned?
A: There are still more demonstrations being presented across the country and even some international support, even though this is initially just meant to be in support of Canadian citizens. There is a demonstration planned for Saturday, Jan. 12 at Maffeo Sutton Park in downtown Nanaimo. I urge all to take part.
Q: Will you be taking part in any other demonstrations?
A: I plan to take part in more, and I plan to take part in as many as I can between work and other aspects of daily life. I would like to keep involved until we as a nation succeed.
Q: What was the experience like?
A: It was a very uplifting and poweful experience. The unity among people is like nothing I have experienced anywhere else. You can hear the power of your voice among the masses and you share that power with so many people at the same time. The demonstration I went to in Comox included a march to the MP’s office, who had placed a padlock on the door just minutes before we got there. Once we got there, we blocked the street and made our voice heard to all who were present. In that experience, I felt the strength of a people whose spirits will never give up until we have a certain level of success.
Q: What do you hope to see achieved through “Idle No More?”
A: I hope that we indigenous people gain a stronger say in how our affairs are conducted in a federal manner. I hope that the current, and future, federal governments see that in order to survive on this land you must respect this land. I hope that Chief Spence does not have to succumb to her hunger-strike in order for these things to be achieved. I hope the people realize that they do have power in their governments and that the environmental issues in question, i.e. Bill C-45 and other pieces of the omnibus bills that are making significant changes to Canada’s environment, are not strictly First Nations issues.
Q: Do you think it will succeed?
A: In regards to the question of success—that is always something difficult to foresee. I could see the government doing whatever it can in its political agenda to shut the issue down or wait till it dies down, and then sweep it away as another piece of history. This is a matter of justice and the support we have is outrageous. Unfortunately a lot of the political support is being manipulated as a platform for parties opposing the Conservatives, but the people must realize that this is more than just a political issue and that our power does not entirely rely on party platforms and political promises; its power comes from the individual strength of all the people and the knowledge that we can influence political and social powers to have our voices heard. The movement is gaining international support and I think that it should not be an issue for a colonizing government to hear what the indigenous peoples have to say. It took Canada long enough to accept the UN’s declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples, the least they could do is abide by it.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I’d like to thank you for your interest in the “Idle No More” movement. I hope that that those reading this will have a greater understanding of this movement and I hope even more so that others will become involved as a result. I say Hy’chqa [thank you] to each and everyone of you reading this.