by Glenn Reed
(Swans - January 28, 2013) There have been many people that I've met in my life who have made me feel awe in their presence.
Such individuals have left me grasping for words and feeling very humble. They have a certain aura that is based on the intensity of their life experiences. Most often they exude a wisdom that is beyond words, and the words they do choose tend to be carefully chosen and thoughtful.
As are their actions.
For me, personally, such individuals have included the Vietnam vets with whom I protested against United States policies in Central America back in the 1980s, one environmental and anti-war activist who had lost both of his legs due to the violent response to his direct action protesting shipments of arms to repressive governments, and an African-American janitor at a work site who described to me, in detail, lifetime experiences of discrimination and who still had a great sense of humor in spite of their daily occurrence.
And it includes so many of the Aboriginal people that I've met over the years. These are as varied as a woman selling rock paintings on a dusty roadside near Arizona's Canyon de Chelly to a quadriplegic member of a Northern California tribe who motors her electric wheelchair from one activist meeting to another, to an American Northwest tribal poet whom I heard read a piece about both blatant and subtle daily discrimination he experienced.
The enormity of the wrongs committed against native people over centuries and the affinity I have for their close relationship to the environment and respect for nature have engendered a deep admiration for them. Given the United States' long history of genocidal policies against Native Americans and Canada's less overtly violent, but still devastating ones, I'm now particularly inspired by the burgeoning Idle No More movement that has spread like wildfire to our north and may (hopefully) be taking root in the U.S. and elsewhere. There have been numerous protests and direct actions staged across Canada and elsewhere in recent months, with more planned in the near future.
Idle No More has been a grassroots response by Aboriginal people to proposed policies by Canada's Conservative Stephen Harper government which, the movement claims, are both an assault on native sovereignty and on laws protecting the environment. This has been through the proposed omnibus Bill C-45, which encompasses six separate bills that affect Canada's First Nations and which is meant to overhaul the country's Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882 as well as the Indian Act. The movement grew out of an educational event on this bill that was initiated by activists Nina Wilson, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon in November of 2012. Attention has grown by leaps and bounds, especially since the beginning of a hunger strike by Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence and Elder Raymond Robinson in Canada.
The changes put forth by the Harper government appear to be rooted in the far-right, neoliberal policies that favor corporate rule across the globe, claim deregulation will spur growth and jobs, place environmental protection low on the priority list, and that deny native cultural values in the imposition of those policies. They will make radical changes to a law that, though dated, has tended to serve to help protect the environment since it was enacted.
Harper's government claims the revamped law will enhance property ownership and economic growth in designated Aboriginal lands that are hurting economically. Of course, the methods they want to employ are based on the same philosophy that has oppressed native people since Europeans first arrived on American shores and First Nations people have not been consulted with in the whole ramming through of Bill C-45 in the Canadian Parliament.
They want to ease federal regulations to make it easier for big corporations and (compliant?) Canadian provincial governments to promote economic growth, but based on rules that pay no attention to sustainability, that trample native fishing rights, and that are based on artificial map boundaries that bear no relation to the fragile reality of ecosystems.
What's also so disturbing about what's happening in Canada is that those in power are, once again, pitting native Aboriginal groups against each other in the quest to achieve goals that most certainly are not focused on the welfare of those First Nations people. Of course, this tried and true strategy has worked throughout the ages when the powerful seek to take from the less powerful. Keep them impoverished, then promise them good-paying jobs and thriving, rich communities if they just...allow a corporation to come in and rape the landscape. Be really nice to the tribal people based upstream and "share" the riches from the minerals or oil extracted there, but ignore those that are downstream and who will be (literally) pissed on when polluted waters kill their fish and destroy their drinking water.
And that brings us to another typical aspect of this proposal in Ottawa. It's one that is very familiar here in the U.S. Neoliberal policies are completely wedded to, and happily ever after with, the practice of displacement of costs.
The Harper government wants to give more power to Provincial governments by weakening federal environmental regulations, which is the same game that's been played for decades by right-wingers here in the United States. Promise the high-paying jobs in one community and to hell with the town...or province...or other country...and any ecosystems that are downstream. Play them off against each other and laugh all the way to the bank while the planet dies and those that you exploit are fighting amongst themselves. All the while, get the compliant, mainstream media to play your tune to the masses and keep them ill-informed, distracted, and divided.
The divide and conquer approach by the powers-that-be has been applied repeatedly throughout the world so corporate interests benefit economically at the expense of the environment and poorer people (the 99%, in their world view). Here in the U.S., this strategy is currently in overdrive with the Keystone pipeline issue, pitting small farmers, environmentalists, tribal people, and others against labor unions. It's also happening with mountaintop removal in West Virginia and other states, and with the proposed "coal trains" that are intended to ship mountains of coal to China by ferrying the material across the west- and Pacific-coast states to various ports. Locals who are desperate for work in an economy that is being held hostage by corporate interests and their puppets in the U.S. government are pitted against others who are adversely affected by that economic development that benefits the first group.
As Idle No More and other grassroots movements such as Occupy Wall Street emphasize again, it's all about an economic/political system with "values" that do not focus on the future or the common good, but only on short-term gain (for a few). These movements remind that if those in power prioritized sustainability and renewable energy resources, for instance, that we would all benefit. The planet can be protected and sustainable jobs created as well. But the few who benefit massively from the predominant, neoliberal model would be deprived of their massive, short-term profits, especially those in the extraction industries.
Therefore, in the instance of Bill C-45 and the native people in Canada, the latter must be forced to speak the English of that economic system, ostensibly for their own good. It's just another example of the same old arrogance and paternalism of the western European model that's always been shoved down the throats of native people.
The Idle No More effort is also a stark reminder that no country is immune from the ravages of the neoliberal, corporate global rule model. For many progressives in the United States, for instance, Canada has been perceived as the "kinder, gentler" nation, where the common good has always been recognized as an essential part of the culture. This is the land where draft evaders could flee the U.S. during the Vietnam War and many fantasized about moving to during years of the far-right swing under George W. Bush.
Apparently, that's no longer the case, under Harper. This became clear when Canada began shipping back Iraq war evaders and is more apparent now with the Harper government's policies that display contempt for anything "environmental."
Maybe that's a good thing. So now the global emperor is even more without clothes and a wake-up call has been issued to us all. While the powers-that-be want to tear down boundary lines for the purposes of their making big profits, such as through "free" trade deals, they don't want to extend that philosophy to the 99% if it means environmental protections or labor rights. And they most certainly don't want movements such as Idle No More to begin transcending the boundaries that they have established to keep us all divided and conquered.
That's why it's so important to recognize, support, and expand upon the stand that Aboriginal people have taken in Canada. After all, their fight is not just for themselves. It's for Planet Earth, and there's no more vital fight to have at this time.
Thank you to those involved in Idle No More and may we all begin displaying such principles and bravery. You leave me in awe, but more determined to never be complacent.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)