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Why Idle No More is in neutral

Good article by Warren Kinsella on Idle No More.

Where did Chief Spence and Idle No More get off track? How did a movement that showed such promise lose so much momentum? Three reasons.

One, if you have a compelling message — and Idle No More inarguably did — stick to it. Have one “ask,” not 100. Idle No More lost the public because, after a while, no one could figure what it was about anymore.

Two, have a single spokesman saying one thing — not a disputatious chorus, all clamouring for time before the TV cameras and thereby creating communications chaos. At the start, Chief Spence was the face of the movement. Eventually, every other First Nations leader seemed to be trying to get in on the action, creating confusion about who led Idle No More, and what it hoped to achieve.

Thirdly and finally, don’t alienate the folks holding the microphones and notepads. The moment Chief Spence and her allies started to physically bar — or eject — reporters asking unwelcome questions, they were doomed. At the start, their main allies were the media. When Chief Spence lost them, she lost the larger war. Idle No More could have secured positive change — and may still. A few short weeks after it began, however, it has been hurt by too many messages, too many spokesmen and a grave miscalculation about the media.

For First Nations willing to pay heed, Idle No More offers lessons about how to do things. And how not to do them, too.

2 Comments

  1. Jordon…I’m going to take a lot of space, because I respect your thinking immensely, but this one is off base in a lot of ways. Here’s why.

    Idle No More is not about Chief Spence. She started her hunger strikes over treaty issues following an AFN meeting. It coincided with the beginnings of Idle No More, but INM is about Bill C-45, the lack of federal consultation and the removal of federal protection of the environment.

    But it’s also about consciousness rising amongst many many young indigenous people. It is not “for” Warren Kinsella, neither is it off track. It continues to be a positive expression of indigenous identity and it is creating the learning ground for a generation of young people who are becoming active, knowledgeable and committed to changing leadership. In 1990, when I was coming up, it was Oka that galvanized us. This is that moment for this generation. Hundreds of young people are addressing crowds of friends and allies using their indigenous names and speaking their language and strategizing about how to assert and live their Aboriginal rights and title. It is an amazing thing to watch, and it doesn’t matter if mainstream society doesn’t get it. It is a more powerful movement within our communities than it is outside of our communities but it is also welcoming of settlers and allies. it invites Canadian to join, not to be the enemy.

    Second…Warren Kinsella demands a single voice speaking for all First Nations, but I suspect he would be a little more sanguine if one person spoke for him. Why isn’t there one voice speaking for all municipalities in Canada? Wouldn’t that make it easier to deal with urban issues? Can’t Canadian cities just appoint the mayor of Rimouski to speak for all of them? What is wrong with these people?

    Idle No More is diverse because First Nations are diverse. In your part of the world, treaties are important, in BC, Aboriginal title is important, in Ottawa, relations with government is important. Let’s put the myth aside that First Nations are a monolithic force…different conversations need to happen in different contexts. Having one leader speaking is exactly the problem. It makes it simple for mainstream society to have one target, or to sit down with one person and have everything done and dusted. But that has always been impossible and it will continue to be impossible because First Nations are hugely diverse culturally, and the legal, social and economic contexts are wildly different.

    Thirdly and finally, Spence is not INM. She is not uniformly supported by everyone. Here in Vancouver INM organizers are hosting teach ins and learning sessions as well as flash mobs. At these sessions, folks are speaking to one another, journalists are there, video is shared. INM organizers WANT the story to be told

    There is no larger war to win here. INM is part protest, part celebration, part cultural classroom, part mobile university. Mark my words. The larger agenda is to create a new generation of indigenous leadership and that is exactly what is happening. With cases like the Williams case now heading for the Supreme Court, it is likely that the next generation of leaders will be the first in more that 200 years to have to govern with their Aboriginal title recognized. What you are seeing across Canada this winter is a new flock of young birds stretching their wings.

  2. While the Idle No More movement is not without its weaknesses, I found Kinsella’s piece to be troubling on a number of fronts.

    First, he said:

    “One, if you have a compelling message — and Idle No More inarguably did — stick to it. Have one “ask,” not 100. Idle No More lost the public because, after a while, no one could figure what it was about anymore.”

    While this might be more effective, it demands that a people struggling with systemic injustice must choose one issue to deal with. As we look back on the civil rights movement led by such people as Martin Luther King, Jr., we see similar criticism, which I equally as unjust and, ultimately, untrue.

    Kinsella goes on:

    “Two, have a single spokesman saying one thing — not a disputatious chorus, all clamouring for time before the TV cameras and thereby creating communications chaos. At the start, Chief Spence was the face of the movement. Eventually, every other First Nations leader seemed to be trying to get in on the action, creating confusion about who led Idle No More, and what it hoped to achieve.”

    While there needs to be organization and coherency in the movement, demanding a single spokesperson reflects an ignorance or dismissal of aspect of First Nations cultures that are fundamental to their identity- namely the communal approach to leadership. For many First Nations, the singular leader model was imposed on them by colonial forces. We cannot demand that they build their movement according to our expectations, values and cultural norms. That defeats the very purpose.

    Finally, he says:

    “Thirdly and finally, don’t alienate the folks holding the microphones and notepads. The moment Chief Spence and her allies started to physically bar — or eject — reporters asking unwelcome questions, they were doomed. At the start, their main allies were the media. When Chief Spence lost them, she lost the larger war. Idle No More could have secured positive change — and may still. A few short weeks after it began, however, it has been hurt by too many messages, too many spokesmen and a grave miscalculation about the media.”

    Once again, there is a kernal of wisdom here, but every movement must learn to find its stride, its boundaries, etc. That said- and what I say now is said as a member of a family of journalists going back over a century- the media is not the unbiased ally that our idealism thinks it to be. This is even more so for First Nations people, because the vast majority of media outlets covering this movement- including those who are supportive of Idle No More- are steeped in the white privilege, which inevitably impacts what is reported. So, in my mind, a degree of mistrust for the media and a demand to tell their own story (something far more available in this internet age) is completely legitimate.

    Again, it is not the Kinsella fails to offer any helpful advice, but rather that I believe he has failed to see how systemic the issues involved are. It cannot be on our terms.

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