Are “Idle No More” protestors complaining too much?
Idle No More, as its name suggests, is not about demanding more hand-outs, or dragging out the Treaty process forever, or perpetuating the status quo for the financial benefit of lawyers, consultants, or existing band chiefs.
It is, in part, a protest precisely against that state of affairs.
Deliberately or not, protestors seem to have confused a genuine grassroots movement that has spread like wildfire with a glacier-like Treaty process that has been occupied by special interests. It is not hard to spot the difference.
In the first place, the amendment that makes it easier to lease reserve land to private interests on the basis of a single majority vote at a meeting (and not with permission of a majority of band members as was the case previously) is intensely controversial; much of the literature suggests that band democracy should move towards consensus, not away from it, and that education levels and voting procedures should be improved before moving in the direction of greater alienation or development of land.
In the second place, the amendments to the Navigable Waters Act and the Environmental Assessment Act that make it easier to build pipelines and power lines across all but the largest rivers and lakes remove an important source of political leverage for First Nations people.
Environmentalists support First Nations in recognizing that large bodies of water ultimately depend upon many smaller bodies of water for their existence; it is not clear that a business should be excused from its onus to prove that it is not doing harm just because the body of water it could be harming is small.
In the third place, the federal government has historically had both an important role as an environmental counterweight to provincial and corporate interests and as the level of government which has a special fiduciary obligation to First Nations.
As a political scientist who studies and teaches about some of these subjects for a living, I have to conclude that these moves are deeply problematic, and merit much more detailed discussion in separate bills with their own separate parliamentary committees and studies. They are fundamentally not about implementing last year’s budget!
It is great that the Harper government issued an historic apology to First Nations for the residential schools in 2008.
But that does not excuse the cavalier fashion in which native interests have been treated whenever they conflict with the government’s economic priorities.
Like the F-35 fiasco, the determination to close the Onsite clinic and build more prisons regardless of either expert or public opinion; the breath-taking “any treaty is a good treaty” rush to sign trade deals, the Prorogation crisis, the unilateral cap on health spending, and the omnibus budgets themselves, the C-45 amendments are an example of Stephen Harper’s general downgrading of democracy and proceduralism in policy-making. I for one find the prime minister’s whole approach to be a step in the wrong direction. The First Nations do not protest too much; the rest of us protest too little.
Mark Crawford’s biography notes that he is an Assistant Professor at Athabasca University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Crawford hails from Williams Lake, is a Columneetza graduate and former instructor for TRU in Williams Lake and UNBC in Prince George. He has written a few columns for The Tribune over the years. “More recently I have been a regular contributor to the Anahim-Nimpo Lake Messenger, where I like to think that I have gotten the hang of writing 400-500 word columns on current events for general audiences,” Crawford says.