The resistance to Idle No More has been fierce this week. The backlash consisted of an accountant's report combined with articles by prominent voices like Jeffrey Simpson and Christie Blatchford criticizing First Nations as the source of the current problems. This sparked a deluge of online comments that demonstrate, in frightening ways, how much Canadians still have to learn about the relationship between First Nations and our government.
What's so scary about this backlash and division is that it's exactly what powerful interests want. This is how promises get broken with no accountability: those in power are able to confuse the issue of who actually broke promises, and hide the fact that they bear ultimate responsibility for the bad situation. By selling you a story about problems with accountability within First Nations communities, those who are truly in power in this country are misleading you about whose accountability really matters. It's the accountability of our elected leaders in parliament and powerful corporate interests that matters now, as we're making crucial decisions about how to use land. Understanding and focusing on their actions is what will impact our well-being. Will we use our land to benefit all of us in a lasting way -- or will we simply drive more resources to the select few who are in power?
Broken promises about the way we'll use our resources are at the root of Idle No More. Canadians should be particularly sensitive to further broken promises. Though you've likely been paying into employment insurance and pension plans, the promise that these things would be reliable and available is being broken. Over one-fifth of workers in need in this country who pay into employment insurance haven't been able to claim benefits from the current government. And if you were born after 1958, you'll no longer have access to full retirement benefits when you're 65 -- now you'll wait, in most cases 'til you're 67, despite the fact that government has the money to pay for your pension. Waiting two extra years for benefits will be very difficult for some, like low-wage people doing manual labour...now imagine waiting 200 years for the benefits your people were promised.
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Idle No More: In Photos
Treaties were another kind of promise: a contract to be honoured. Just as you weren't promised a pension and employment insurance only if you have a particular kind of mayor -- one who uses the right accounting system, and pays herself a certain salary -- aboriginal people were promised proper means to support themselves from the settler government, regardless. In cases where treaties were signed, First Nations gave up control over their land (under extreme conditions of starvation) in exchange for certain rights. These promises were almost immediately broken; instead, First Nations lands subsidized the system that allowed for things like pensions and employment benefits, and First Nations never received a fair share.
Why are promises to share resources being broken with increasingly reckless disregard for all of our wellbeing? A few people have more money than they know what to do with, while the vast majority worry about how they'll find and keep work, how they'll send their children to school or care for their aging parents, how they'll be able to retire. Why is this happening? Powerful CEOs and bankers want two things: cheap and easy access to land (especially on First Nations territory); and workers with few other options. Divisions between people are allowing this to happen. Instead of standing together and demanding that promises be kept, that contracts be honoured, and that our economy be fair and provide the security that our natural resource wealth is more than capable of providing, we're being cleverly divided -- and stupidly falling for it.
Fortunately, we've started reclaiming the story of Idle No More, and our country. First Nations all across Canada, and visible leaders like Wab Kinew and Pamela Palmater are showing that Christie Blatchford is dead wrong when she questions whether enough of Aboriginal culture has survived for First Nations to constitute "nations" at all. Indigenous people have preserved the truth about broken promises for centuries, and used new technologies like social media to create a special moment. Even critics of First Nations protest like Thomas Flanagan have acknowledged that Indigenous people are using Facebook and twitter remarkably effectively to create a unique national uprising. When national cultures have been so remarkably resilient and dynamic, we should be impressed by their resolve, not skeptical of their existence.
We must offer support by sharing their perspectives, and remembering that some truths are simple: we have to share this land together in a fair way that reflects a real understanding of its history. Threatening the health of that land in a rush to make wealthy corporations wealthier -- as the Conservatives' new omnibus legislation does -- is the wrong approach. The real way forward is to learn how to use land so that it benefits our grandchildren, and their grandchildren in turn. Doing this in a "modern economy" is not easy -- we need help, and First Nations leadership, to figure it out.
This is the true story, the one that we should share. You help create a new system where promises are kept and truth is told every time you share this story -- you use social media to take back power. But that isn't enough. This Friday, a global day of action provides an opportunity for us all to stand together. Actions on the ground help demonstrate the truth of the story that we're telling online and in-person, and give us a special chance to learn more about these complex issues. If you're still uncertain and hesitant about the real story of Idle No More, that's all the more reason for you to come out -- your curiosity could be the first step to a better life for everyone.