Idle no more: another move in the wrong direction

Peter Jackson
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It never ceases to amaze me how aboriginal affairs in this country remain hopelessly buffered against serious, rational debate.

Instead, whenever native troubles boil over, a tired, old passion play gets dusted off and played out for the cameras, recreating that now ancient tale of European invasion.

A great swath of the non-aboriginal public takes up the cue, holding up placards and condemning every authority outside of the natives themselves for the sad state of affairs. And the media eat it up.

Before someone equates me with quasi-racist blowhards like Ezra Levant, let me first say that I’m as troubled as anyone else about the strife facing native populations in this country.

And I do agree the federal government must accept a large share of the blame.

But it’s still astonishing how some advocates seem to think the solution lies in maintaining some fashion of stone-age subsistence on large parcels of sovereign land.

The time for grievance is over. The time for “healing” is long overdue.

The fact is, we cannot continue the cycle of  resurrecting pioneer injustices to justify the perpetual funneling of cash into a broken system. Some native populations are trying to change the channel, focusing their efforts on education and meaningful employment. That is the true road to healing.

Living an isolated, meaningless existence propped up by massive cash infusions can only lead to corruption and decay. It hasn’t worked. It will never work.

Since last month, a native movement called “Idle No More” has swept in thousands of righteous citizens, encompassing almost every hue of the social action spectrum.

Politicians of all stripes have stumbled over themselves to get a photo op with hunger-striking band chief Theresa Spence.

Spence has become the focal point for the movement. Her northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat made headlines in 2011 when it declared a state of emergency due to lack of adequate shelter.

Since Dec. 11, she’s been conducting a hunger strike in a teepee on an island in the Ottawa River. Her ultimate goals are vague, but her main demand of a personal meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canada’s Governor General has so far gone nowhere.

The Idle No More movement initially kicked off late last year in reaction to the federal government’s omnibus budget bill. Native groups felt some measures in the bill undermined existing treaties and threatened to further sideline native rights.

The main beef has been lack of consultation. Harper has met with native leaders in the past year, but there’s a sense the government is trying to chip away at the status quo and usher in a system that downplays federal obligations.

This may be so, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach is not needed.

What’s disturbing about Spence and her growing number of supporters is their apparent determination to hang onto the past.

“First Nations leadership need to take charge and control of the situation on behalf of the grassroots movement,” Spence said in a statement Sunday. “We need to re-ignite that nation-to-nation relationship based on our inherent and constitutionally protected rights as a sovereign nation. We are demanding our rightful place back, here in our homelands, that we all call Canada.”

Self-government is essential. True “sovereignty,” however, is unworkable. And none of us can turn the clock back to pre-settlement times.

If he hasn’t already, Harper should realize that a face-to-face meeting may be the wisest move at this point. There is no reason to further aggravate what is already a highly charged atmosphere.

But complete reversion to the treaties of pioneer days, artificially propped up by what is little more than federal welfare dollars, is not an option.

We need change. Not stagnation.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email

Organizations: First Nations

Geographic location: Canada, Northern Ontario, Attawapiskat Ottawa River

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Recent comments

  • nationtonation
    April 27, 2013 - 00:04

    A good response for your letter. Obviously harper had his own ideas....

  • Rob
    January 05, 2013 - 01:14

    Treating native people different from everyone else has not worked. Treating them even more differently by giving even more special privileges will clearly continue to fail, and build up even more resentment with non-natives. The only solution is for all Canadians to be treated equally. Natives will find their lot in life improves, resentments will go away, native cultures will once more be honored and respected because they will again be associated with proud people that have earned all they have, and everyone will move on from a history filled with mistakes by both sides. Then we will find we are all on just one side. I write this has a man who is 1/8 Iroquois (mostly French Canadian since the 1700s). I note this because, of course, my Iroquois great-grandmother was only in Quebec because the Iroquois confederacy took over lands originally occupied by the Algonquins. No land claims or whining back then: the weaker nation lost to the stronger, and both groups moved on. Never hear an Algonquin complaining bitterly about colonial Iroquois. There is a really non-subtle lesson to be learned here...

  • Pierre Neary
    January 03, 2013 - 18:13

    Pretty embarrassing stuff from Mr. Jackson.

  • ddt
    January 03, 2013 - 14:58

    Prime Minister Harper has more to do than meet with every person who has a cause or an issue. He has asked The Department of Indian Affairs to address the issue. That Department has done so and Ms.Spence has refused that offer. The first step in the whole Indian issue should be an Audit of ALL The Reserves in Canada to find out where the Billions of dollars of taxpayers money is really being spent on said Reserves. There has been cases of corruption and fraud, especially on Saskatchewan Reserves.

  • Malcolm Brown
    January 02, 2013 - 19:34

    Heavens forbid...a novel concept put into understandable words. Don't expect a pat on the back though Mr. Jackson. Most people as shown by many of the comments cannot accept the truth, unless it smacks them between the eyes.

  • Not a Fan
    January 02, 2013 - 14:02

    "This may be so, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach is not needed. " What does this even mean?!

  • Tim W
    January 02, 2013 - 13:02

    Granny you are correct about the Charter - Aboriginal Law, French Civil Code, and English Common Law all apply equally in Canada. Now, how many French or English Canadians do you see on hunger strikes demanding an audience with the Prime Minister? This is how Theresa Spence is trying to put herself above others, and the Prime Minister cannot - and I hope he does not - meet her demands. If he were to do so, every special interest group in every corner of the country would suddenly have hunger striking members waving placards in front of news cameras. What's even more embarrassing for the Native peoples is that Spence is a Native leader - supposedly someone who should be setting an example, not making demands the country simply cannot meet. If Ms.Spence feels she has a point, she should hire a lawyer - or follow the equivalent Aboriginal due process - and attack the Government through the Charter and legal challenges.

  • Leo Stamp
    January 02, 2013 - 12:02

    It's time for Jackson to crawl back under the rock from which he came. By his incoherent ramblings we see that he knows absolutely Zilch about our First Nation Peoples and how they have been raped since whitie set foot on North America. He must also be a ass kissing harperite, our very own want to be dictator.

  • Jay Person
    January 02, 2013 - 12:00

    Brutal, Peter. Just brutal.

  • Lestrusting
    January 02, 2013 - 11:49

    Finally a well wrote article with a less bias view and more TRUE to the times we all live in. We cannot roll back the clocks and turn the natives into a stone age tribe. A must deal must be done within our gov to acknowledge that times must be progressive and that the old treaty's DONT work as it keeps the natives tied to the land in very very isolated areas. This system of constant paying them to stay in extreme northern areas just cost all Canadians and does not create any good for the natives other than living off a broken and corrupt system.

  • John Savard
    January 02, 2013 - 11:13

    In principle, surely our obligation to revert to pre-settlement days is absolute. Property belongs to its owners, and may not be stolen. It belongs solely to its legitimate owners and their heirs and assigns, no matter how much time may have passed since the theft. Of course, that may be impractical. But the people of the First Nations can ask for better than assimilation.

  • Brad Cabana
    January 02, 2013 - 10:14

    Typical Jackson jibberish. When contract (treaties) no longer serve their purpose it's time for people to throw them aside he says. Tired of sending his taxes to Aboriginals he say. Just like Muskrat Falls, Jackson shows his complete ignorance on Aboriginal and constitutional issues and blithers on like some half-cocked shock radio jock. Is this what it takes to be a columnist at the Telegram? I thought this type of attitude was reserved for the Archie Bunker types sitting around coffee row.

    • Frank
      January 02, 2013 - 11:26

      We have to be subjected to your jibberish and incoherent ramblings!

    • Too Funny
      January 02, 2013 - 11:54

      Sounds like someone is still bitter.

  • bartos
    January 02, 2013 - 09:16

    This is a ridiculous article that completely misrepresents what Idle No More stands for. You won't be taken seriously if you only present straw man arguments. It's time for Canada to wake up and face up to its colonial history. It's time for the process of decolonization to really take place. That includes settlers and their descendants in this land to learn about their treaty rights and the terms on which we've been allowed to settle. Treaties aren't only for indigenous peoples, they involve all of us.

  • P O'Kane
    January 02, 2013 - 08:25

    Harper is a dictator, imo. The world has yet to fully comprehend...this 'Man' is suffocating the Canadian spirit and is raping our land for the benefit of China; save democracy in Canada!

    • Frank
      January 02, 2013 - 11:23

      Really? Not suffocating my spirit!

  • granny
    January 02, 2013 - 07:34

    Mr. Jackson should inform himself of our governments' legal obligations according to the Supreme Court before denigrating Aboriginal demands. Chief Spence and Idle No More activists seek nothing more than that Harper follow Canadian law in consulting with Aboriginal people and accommodating their rights when resource extraction and other development is contemplated. A say in development and a FAIR share in revenues ... simple. The editorial writer and all Canadians should be asking "Why is Harper evading Canadian constitutional law and intentionally creating conflict, instead of following through on the Crown's duty to consult and accommodate?" Why indeed! A FAIR share of revenues from the DeBeers diamond mine on Attawapiskat's traditional territory, for example, could alleviate the severe poverty that exists there. Instead, the mine overflows Attawapiskat's sewage system destroying badly needed houses and costing the Band millions in damages with no compensation. Like many media efforts these days, this editorial is full of misinformation and outdated stereotypes and shows little awareness of current Canadian law and reality.

    • L c
      January 07, 2013 - 17:19

      Granny: stop kidding yourself and get informed. Spence's reserve has received over $70,000 per family every year for many years now. That's just federal money, not including what a family earns by working or what the Feds, province and other interest groups give the reserve to make improvements to education, health, infrastructure, etc. families there in sub-standard housing have the option of using that money for housing upgrades or improvements but many choose to purchase big-screen TVs or snowmobiles instead of putting in insulation or new windows. Who do you blame then? Continuing to dump money into the aboriginal issue won't solve the problem. If that we're the case, it would be over already. Continuing to throw dollars at people indefinitely just because of past injustice is ludacrous. Refusing to question were those funds go for fear of appearing racist even more so. If this were a Jewish group in Germany, do you think the situation would be the same? Everyone, especially the band councils who are in charge of protecting their people, need to take an equal share of accountability. Harper or the government does not get a larger portion simply because they're white. Well written piece mr. Jackson, I wish there were more people with enough guts to tell the truth.

  • JeanDouglas
    January 02, 2013 - 07:28

    To me, Theresa Spence is saying that because of who her daddy was, her race, she is entitled to privileges in Canada that other Canadians are not entitled to. I wish our Prime Minister would stand up for all Canadians and say without equivocation that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all of us, equally. I will never claim that as a 6th generation Canadian I'm better than recent immigrants, and the media shouldn't be sympathetic to others who claim that they are.

    • granny
      January 02, 2013 - 09:05

      The Charter does apply to all of us, including Section 25 which we are all bound to uphold. Canada has three founding peoples - Aboriginal, French, English - and three legal traditions: Aboriginal Law, French Civil Code, English Common law. ALL are referenced by the Supreme Court in relevant contexts, and ALL are the law of Canada. That will not change.

    • DistanceRunner
      January 02, 2013 - 16:10

      Take some time and read the summary of C-45 for yourselves..... There is much more in it that damages every Canadian! It's an omnibus bill, rammed down our throats by a modern dictator without proper debate or consultation. That's the primary issue the First Nations are protesting, they just happen be doing actively, and very visibly thru Spence's act. It's got nothing to do with racial or historic pretences.