Idle No More & Settler-Colonial Canada

by Andrew Loewen on December 11, 20122 comments

Artwork by Dwayne Bird.

Idle No More is a grassroots indigenous movement initiated by four women in Saskatchewan in response to Federal legislation (Bill C-45) that violently contravenes the Treaty Rights of First Nations (and the more fundamental indigenous rights of many who don’t recognize the authority of said treaties or, as in most of BC, never signed land treaties). Responding to this grassroots pressure in their communities – especially from women and youth – 250 First Nations Chiefs marched on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last week, where many were forcefully barred entry to the House of Commons in a headline-making scuffle with Royal Colonial police.

With talk of the Federal government’s scandalous omnibus bill saturating social media and political discussion, you might think that a coast-to-coast day of action, rallying thousands from Whitehorse, Yukon to Goose Bay-Happy Valley, Labrador, would merit serious news coverage. Especially in Edmonton, which to my knowledge had the largest Idle No More rally in Canada. But the provincial capital’s greasy little paper of record The Edmonton Journal chose to blackout the event (unlike CTV News). 1500 people from Alberta’s dozens of First Nations, many flying flags or holding signs, assembled on Churchill Square outside City Hall yesterday, before marching on to the provincial Law Courts and Canada Place. But true to its truly provincial nature, The Edmonton Journal ignored a national press release from indigenous people and all but erased the event. What a disgrace for those at the paper who call themselves journalists.


Video I shot on Jasper Ave in front of Canada Place. Stunning voices.

As a settler-colonial state, Canada is predicated on the (ongoing) dispossession and oppression of indigenous peoples. Such a state not only steals the land for private pillage; it turns apparatuses like schools into mechanisms of genocide. It is always groping for means, legal or otherwise, to extinguish the land’s native inhabitants. Inject this colonial savagery with late order petro-politics, and it should be obvious that the Harper Conservatives are the necessary invention of a particular system of domination, not its ingenious creators. I wish I could get this through people’s heads. I try. But Canadian patriotism is a helluva drug.

As the belching black heart of the Canadian petro-state that spawned the Harper goons Calgary Boys now in Ottawa, Alberta is ground zero for much of what’s wrong with Canada: thuggish dispossession of indigenous peoples, ruthless and unchecked capitalist expropriation and exploitation of the land (and labour), and naked contempt for parliamentary capitalism’s minimal protocols and mechanisms of accountability, to name but a few (“to criticize government policies and even suggest alternatives is not in keeping with Alberta’s democracy,” to quote former Deputy Minister Ron Hicks).

And so it is that the very people most oppressed by provincial and federal governments are also the most deeply committed to protecting the land and the water, now, and for future generations. Conversely, The Edmonton Journal‘s contempt for the indigenous peoples of Alberta is not unlike the CBC’s contempt for the indigenous people of Palestine. The reason we don’t learn about the term “settler-colonialism” in school is itself a testament to settler-colonialism in practice.

Monday’s historic Idle No More rally here in Treaty 6 territory may seem small compared to the massive student protests in Montreal this year, but the power it enacted, the power of indigenous people rising, was of a different order entirely. Here’s some more video and some pictures which get better as you scroll down.

Listening to speakers at Sir Winston Churchill Square. Pictures of this sign are all over Facebook.

Several speakers emphasized the foundational role and power of women, to spirited cheers. The woman pictured (didn’t catch her name through the crappy PA) insisted that women had never given their consent to the men who signed treaties.

Flag of the northern Dene Tha’ First Nation flying high.

Edmonton’s Frank Gehry-knockoff art gallery in background.

Fun fact: Stephen Harper was born and raised in Toronto and his dad Joseph was an accountant for Imperial Oil. Creepy Stephen’s dad scored him a job with Imperial Oil after he dropped out of the University of Toronto.

After several speeches, including a couple by young warriors who denounced the relation capitalism takes to the earth, the march began. I ran across the square with my borrowed camera to catch the leading drummers of the march and then walked against it, recording, along the northern side of the procession. After 6 months of marching with students in Montreal, the absence of riot police was disorienting but welcome (also a testament to the oil-fueled political complacency of Edmontonians).

As any halfway intelligent person knows, legal systems are not neutral arbiters of justice, but institutions of property, structural violence, and horror, as is most pronounced in the prison system. But Monday’s march stopped outside the brutalist provincial courts on 97th street for a more pointed reason. The march halted here in solidarity with the Beaver Lake Cree’s internationally supported legal action against Tar Sands activity on Treaty 6 land.

The Beaver Lake Cree have set historical precedence because for the first time in Canada’s judicial system First Nations people are given the green light in litigation against the massive level of industrial development – this includes the tar sands activity within the Beaver Lake Cree Traditional territory. The lawsuit is based on the collective effects these activities are having on the Constitutionally protected Treaty Rights of the First Nations people.

After rejoining the march as it hooked around 97st to head south I raced ahead and jumped up on a pile of chain link fence, beneath the “Court of Queen’s Bench,” to film the following. The image quality sucks but stick with it for the audio. My eyes were not dry.

The young woman on the megaphone as the video cuts out is Eriel Tchekwie Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, whose traditional lands are being destroyed by Alberta’s Tar Sands. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation recently launched a high profile constitutional (Treaty 8) legal challenge against the government and Royal Dutch Shell. The non-aboriginal solidarity campaign with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is significant and growing.

Outside the Law Courts on 97 st.

The march moves south from the Law Courts (pictured left).

Treaty Six

Raised fist

Walking down 97 St to the front of Canada Place.

Outside Canada Place there were several loci. People surrounded the giant circular staired entrance as leaders spoke, while further out on Jasper Avenue more than one drum and singing circle formed.

Ironic Blackhawks tuque? (Americans don’t even know what “tuque” means.)

A very photogenic, almost surreal, elder amidst young people.

The need to assert this is a measure of the settler-colonial state.

The man on the right is possibly the most powerful singer I’ve ever encountered (see first video), and I’ve seen a lot of metal bands.

Best pic of the day? Best pic I’ve ever taken?

Put this in John Locke’s pipe and then scalp him with a hockey stick.

Last pic I took before my memory card maxed out.

There were several round dances outside Canada Place. I captured a segment of the largest with the last of my memory card. Note several women wearing signs reading “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.”

2 comments

Andrew Loewen on December 13, 2012 at 9:46 am. #

For those who haven’t seen Lac Ste. Anne Métis writer Chelsea Vowel’s piece, it’s a must read:

>We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally. We are dying.< http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/chelsea-vowel/idle-no-more-first-nations_b_2279415.html