Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Idle No More, moving forward
I do not know where Idle No More is heading down the road. I hope that Natives reclaim their rights, and that Canadian racism towards aboriginals is destroyed. Yet to succeed, the movement should remain grassroots, eschewing the influence of corrupt tribal leaders.
Some history is required here. In 1876, Ottawa passed the Indian Act, which gave the federal government control over the lives of reserve Indians. Under the Act, chiefs and councils are accountable to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, not their own people. Thus many tribal leaders became easy to bribe, much like the reviled 'peace chiefs' of Tecumseh's day. For example, Saskatchewan chief Roland Crowe signed the Framework Land Entitlement Agreement with Brian Mulroney, eradicating Indian control over the province's water and mineral rights in exchange for $450 million. No grassroots Native organisation endorsed the agreement, and no Native person was asked whether they wanted it.
Of course, the Canadian government likes this. The system gives corporations access to cheap aboriginal labour for mining and forestry, while chiefs and councillors reap millions in bribes.
To its credit, Idle No More has mostly distanced itself from 'peace chiefs,' but that is not enough. Self-government cannot be imposed from above, and Natives themselves must organise to address the problems of reserves and urban centres. I do not think that chiefs or councillors are intrinsically bad, but the system was created to reward bad behaviour. The problem is Canadian government policy, not aboriginal leadership per se. Idle No More has an important role to fill in this regard.