Idle? Know More! Learning about Indigenous Sovereignty and Land-based Resurgence

Khelsilem Rivers
Khelsilem Rivers

Three hundred people packed into a large room at the main Vancouver Public Library and another 1200 watched on Facebook.  It was the Idle? Know More! event on Jan 22.  “It’s for those of us who aren’t Indigenous to open our hearts,” organizer Harsha Walia told the crowd.  The purpose of gathering was “to raise awareness about Indigenous struggles and the racist colonial history,” said Walia, so we can “take up our responsibility as non Indigenous people to be allies with Indigenous people and integrate an analysis of Indigenous struggles into our work.”

“We start with a deep connection with our mother the earth,” Darla Goodwin told the group.  Goodwin, also named Singing Thunderbird Child-Twice Standing Woman is a Cree Ojibwa from Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is a knowledge keeper, carrier of the Sacred Correction Pipe for the Desecration of the female side of life, starting with our mother the Earth.

“Idle No More started in November with four women to oppose Harper’s Bill C-45 about water and changes to the Indian Act,” explained Khelsilem Rivers, a community organizer and language revitalization activist.  “Idle No More at its base is about Indigenous sovereignty and protection of our land, water and air.”  Idle No More isn’t a hierarchical organization, Rivers said.  “It has hosts and organizers.  Traditional concepts are being enacted through Idle No More.  I don’t speak for them,” he said.  “The way we create change is to practice a new way.  For us it’s being Indigenous, reclaiming our culture, making changes of ourselves, as families, communities, nations. Then the old system gets pushed to the fringe.  That’s the idea of hosting and organizing.”

Dr. Glen Coulthard looked at the history of Indigenous struggles since 1969.  Coulthard is a member of the Yellowknives Dene and a scholar of contemporary Indigenous politics. He is an Assistant Professor in First Nations Studies and the Department of Political Science at UBC. He explained that the Idle No More movement is the 4th cycle of indigenous peoples’ struggle for freedom and land since 1969.  Coulthard went through some of the history from the attempt of the government to remove treaty rights in 1969 to the present.  Like the old legislation, the new laws, said Coulthard, will promote ongoing capitalist exploitation and settlement. “We need to organize and be active with non- Indigenous allies.”

“Everyone’s up late at night researching, Googling, facebooking,” said Idle No More organizer Jerilynn Webster, a Vancouver based female hip hop artist, beat-boxer, performing artist, aboriginal youth educator, single mother, award-winning actor, and member of the Nuxalk and Cayauga Nations.  “We have to unlearn what the colonial media is telling us,” said Webster.  “My heart is full because we’re unlearning together.  It makes me feel like everything that we’ve imagined is going to happen.”

“I’ve been through all the four stages of change that Glen was talking about,” said Arthur Manuel, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade and Defenders of the Land network and former chairperson of the Interior Alliance of BC First Nations. “The established organizations have reached their full capacity to make change.”  Manuel explained that 60% of BC Indigenous Bands are negotiating with the government under the comprehensive land claims policy and 40% aren’t.  The 40% “won’t sit across the table from a government that wants to extinguish our land rights,” he explained.  A grassroots movement like Idle No More may be able to change the government’s goal of extinguishing land rights, Manuel said.

A video of the panel is available here:

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