The Idle No More movement in support of First Nation Sovereignty and Treaty rights has swept communities across Canada. It started as a response by First Nations to changes rammed through parliament by the Harper Government in Bill C-45. This bill both guts environmental protection laws & opens the door for the sale of Reserve land to mining corporations. The movement can be traced to a teach-in organized by Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon at Station 20 West in Saskatoon in late November. Since then, flashmob protests have taken place in hundreds of cities, towns & First Nation communities across Canada. The protests quickly spread around the world & as far away as Europe & Australia. The movement has utilized social media, and protest events have primarily been organized on facebook and twitter through the hashtag #IdleNoMore.
On December 4th, a group of Chiefs led by Grand Chief Derek Nepinak were invited into Canada’s parliament by a christian-left politician, and social gospel activist, NDP MP Charlie Angus. As the Chiefs tried to enter parliment and adress their concerns over Bill C-45, they were blocked by security officers at the instruction of the Conservative government. In response to this event, local protests were held across Canada. First Nation leaders declared December 10th a “National Day of Solidarity and Resurgence.”
Despite the marches & protests, the government continued to ignore First Nation concerns, and the bill was quickly passed by Harper’s majority government.
In response to the continued breakdown between First Nations and the federal government, Chief Theresa Spence from Attawapiskat First Nation stepped forward to declare she was going to undertake a hunger strike until Prime Minister Steven Harper would agree to a meeting with her & other First Nation leaders. Although soft spoken, Chief Theresa Spence gained prominace last year when she was forced to declare a state of emergency in her community of Attawapiskat.
The remote northern community struggled with abject poverty and a life-threatening housing crisis while a billion dollar diamond mine was being built on their traditional land, a mere 90 kilometres away. In the closing days of 2011, her voice roused a nation to ask itself some hard questions about how its goverment’s treatment of its First Nations citizens. Because the Canadian government’s response to Attawapiskat was more concerned with deflecting blame, it was left to groups like The International Red Cross to step in to offer disaster assistance and relief. Charlie Angus challenged average Canadians to both give, and pressure the governemt to do the right thing. An article he wrote in the Catholic Register called for the Catholic and Evangelical churches to see this as a practical opportunity for reconciliation with our First Nations sisters and brothers. Donations poured in from churches around the world, even the Southern Baptist Convention contacted Attawapiskat’s leaders to offer support.
Now people across Canada are starting to realize what First Nation leaders have been saying for serveral generations. Canada’s relationship with its First Nations is broken and abusive. Mere apologies and lip-service to Truth and Reconciliation doesn’t go far enough to heal this relationship. Since the days of the Residential School System, where children were forcibly taken from their parents and homes, the government has a track-record of racism and paternalism.
Through her act of selfless courage, Chief Theresa Spence has inspired youth from every First Nation community in Canada. On December 11th, she began a hunger strike until Prime Minister Steven Harper will agree to meet with her. She has chosen to reside in a Teepee on Victoria Island, which is literally in the shadow of Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa. After three weeks, Stephen Harper still refuses to meet with her. National news stories cover how elders have made committments to join her fast for five days or more. Even high-school youth from Saskatoon participated in a 48 hour fast to show their support. Christian First Nation people in urban centres and in communities across the North see her as an Esther figure, raised up by the Creator and His Son, for such a time as this. Taking a page from liberation theology, Indigenous christians in Canada, and around the world, have always had an easier time discerning the problems between right-wing ideology and the teachings of Jesus, then christians with a more Euro-centric worldview. In my inner-city church congregation, many have taken up fasts in support, and parents are instructing their children to pray for Chief Theresa every time they say grace.
No one saw the flash mob round dances coming. Round Dances were outlawed across Canada at the turn of the last century when our government attempted to squash First Nation’s culture and assimilate them into mainstream Canada. Round dances bring both families and communities together, and many First Nations people see it as a prayer walk as well as a dance.
Led by youth, these round dances were staged as flash mob prayers of protest in shopping malls in every major city in Canada. With sacred drums in the centre, First Nations people linked arms across the generations to demand that their voice be heard by mainstream Canadian culture. The first Round Dance Flash Mob took place in Regina on December 17th. Within days, they were taking over shopping malls across Canada & as far away as Los Angeles. Designed to alert Canadians to their on-going struggle with the Harper Government, the Round Dance flash mobs also acted as a prophetic witness against the commercialization of the Christmas season. In the face of crowds of well over a thousand First Nation youth, stores began to close and shoppers were forced to witness this moment; a welcome interruption in our collective compulsive shopping behaviours.
Despite the Steven Harper’s refusal to meet with Chief Thresea Spence, on Christmas Day, the Conservative government began a campaign to undermine the strides grassroots First Nation people were taking to stand up for themselves. The government issued a press release that they were concerned for Threresa Spence, and sent a low level minister to request to meet with Chief Theresa. This offer was rebuffed.
Activist Pamela Palmater claimed that the government wasn’t ofering anything other than the status quo. Pastors from First Nation churches across the north told their congrgations that it was a “Nehemiah 6 moment.” They warned their congregations that the government was attempting to get them to stop building the wall and undermine their cause before the people reached their goal.
As we head into the new year, despite the cultural apathy around the holidays, #IdleNoMore is not going away. Protests and prayers are rising from cities and nations around the world. Here in Canada, First Nation youth have found their voice, and Canada is being forced to listen. First Nations youth are finding they have allies in the church and beyond. Christian hiphop artist Fresh IE has been a huge voice of support, so has Steve Bell, one of Canada’s prominant worship leaders. Many leaders have called Idle No More the 8th Fire. I believe this is Canada’s Kairos moment. Please pray for Canada’s First Nations youth as they step forward to lead the way.
Chris Randall is the director of StreetForce Youth Centre, where he works with inner-city youth in the core of Saskatoon. Chris has a passion for reaching Canada’s First People’s with the gospel. He also serves as assistant pastors at a majority First Nation church in Saskatoon; and has travelled to and ministered in many First Nation’s communities.
In 2007, he has family bought and renovated a former crack-house in so they could both live and minister in the inner-city. You can follow Chris on twitter at @chrisrandall306 or check out http://www.streetforceyouthcentre.com