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Idle No More: Indigenous Brothers and Sisters Taking the Initiative for a Better Tomorrow

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(Gyasi’s Note: I’ve been intrigued by the Idle No More events in Canada since I first heard about them—I’m always a fan of vulnerable people taking their lives into their own hands instead of merely complaining. I like that. Moreover, I liked that the Idle No More movement was birthed by women. I think women generally take leadership on these types of projects for different and purer reasons than men do—in my experience, men oftentimes take leadership positions because of ego and misguided penis envy, whereas women usually take the reigns simply because they want things to get better. Therefore, I wanted to give the women who birthed this powerful movement a forum to hopefully engage and explain what this amazing thing was all about just north of our borders. The following text is provided by Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson and Sheelah McLean.) 

Idle No More began with four women—Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean—who share a vision of uniting people to ensure the protection of Mother Earth, her lands, waters and people. We began by focusing on a piece of legislation called Bill C-45, which attacks the land base reserved for Indigenous people and removes protections for hundreds of our waterways. In November of 2012, we organized a mass teach-in at Station 20 West in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, called Idle No More. This teach-in included guest speakers, petitions again Bill C-45 of the Omnibus Bill, and discussion of our next steps. That day, we developed plans for more teach-ins, with the goal of building consciousness in a grassroots movement that will resist the impending legislation. A week later plans were in effect for teach-ins, rallies, and protests across Saskatchewan and on to Winnipeg, Manitoba and Edmonton, Alberta. The four of us supported organizers in other centers and used social media—primarily facebook ( and twitter (#idlenomore)—to build this movement. We discussed and planned a national day of action for Dec. 10th—which quickly became one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in Canadian history. Now teach-ins, rallies and protests are spreading across Canada with another goal of joining Turtle Island's Indigenous peoples and allies on Dec. 21st.

Although Idle No More (INM) is a national movement which includes thousands of people, it has not gained national media attention. However, APTN has documented many of the events, and there have been some key moments in the movement. For example, On December 4th, AFN Chiefs were urged by INM organizers to walk to Parliament Hill and protest the current legislative attacks. As well, on December 10th, Chief Theresa Spence from Attawapiskat joined the INM movement by fasting until PM Harper and a representative of the Crown meet to address the oppressive conditions for Indigenous peoples in Canada by revisiting the Treaty relationship. Many Canadians have joined Chief Spence in fasting.

Idle No More is a cry for justice that has spread across Canada, flowing into the United States and other global countries. This age old resistance began centuries ago as Indigenous nations and their lands, suffered the impacts of exploration, invasion and colonization. The Treaties—meant to be nation to nation agreements—have been broken time and again since their inception. These ongoing tensions stem from the colonial governments' knowledge that Indigenous people have inherent rights to sovereignty, their territories and the resources. These inherent rights mean that the day to day practices of Canadian institutions are illegitimate, and illegal—every day that the spirit and intent of the treaties is not honored or fulfilled, inequality between Indigenous people and the settler society grows.

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This INM movement began from the deep concerns of the women as we face a foreign government that chooses not to work with us, and disregards our Treaty and how this has directly impacted our people in the most insidious ways, and over a long extended period of time. We are literally dying and the Woman Spirit, has called and the awakening is now. We have many in solidarity with us, and we promote peace, as it is crucial in our treaty. As a beyond marginalized people, our true story is not being covered or told, the erasure has begun. Don’t let this happen to the women, the heartbeat of the world, or all else will fail. The White Buffalo Calf Woman teachings need to be honored…

Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty and protects the land and water. All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water and we welcome Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities. We encourage youth to become engaged in this movement as you are the leaders of our future. There have always been individuals and groups who have been working towards these goals—Idle No More seeks to create grassroots solidarity. We encourage people to organize community gatherings, share knowledge and support, and stay strong and united in spirit as we move forward together.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Jessica Gordon is from Pasqua Treaty 4 Territory, and has always been a contributing part of her community in many ways that includes working within non-profit community based service organizations and volunteering on committees and boards. Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) is a direct descendant of Treaty makers and is from the Treaty 6 territory. She has her law degree and currently resides in the Whitefish Lake Reserve lands #118. Nina Wilson is Nakota and Plains Cree from White Bear Treaty 4 territory, and is currently completing a Master’s degree. Sheelah McLean is from Treaty 6 territory, and a 3rd generation immigrant whose Scottish and Scandinavian ancestors settled from Western Europe. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Sheelah is an anti-racist anti-colonial teacher and activist.