“We Contend”: Manifesto of a Grassroots Indigenous Movement

On 28 January 2013 Idle No More protesters gathered in no fewer than 30 Canadian cities. They were joined by solidarity protests around the world as the indigenous grassroots movement marked a global day of action.

The movement’s Manifesto reads as follows:

We contend that: The Treaties are nation to nation agreements between The Crown and First Nations who are sovereign nations. The Treaties are agreements that cannot be altered or broken by one side of the two Nations. The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing.

We contend that: The state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit. The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned – the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada. We cannot live without the land and water. We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.

We contend that: Currently, this government is trying to pass many laws so that reserve lands can also be bought and sold by big companies to get profit from resources. They are promising to share this time…Why would these promises be different from past promises? We will be left with nothing but poisoned water, land and air. This is an attempt to take away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples.

We contend that: There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well. We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.

A rather malicious reaction to the Idle No More Movement concerns the widely held belief that “it is about time these people moved out of the past and into the 21st century”. Just assimilate and get over it! After all, conventional “wisdom” suggests that white Europeans “conquered” the “Indians.” This is, of course, propaganda.

Contrary to popular belief, indigenous peoples did not surrender their land or sovereignty to the Europeans. Treaties were a scheme devised by the white man to circumvent costly Indian Wars, like those ensuing in the American West (see also here). Moreover, it was believed that once whites “killed the Indian and saved the man,” the treaties would prove unnecessary because supposedly all indigenous peoples would become “civilized” and assimilate into white society.

The white man believed indigenous peoples were just that docile! The white man was wrong!

Aaron Paquette, one of Canada’s premiere First Nations artists, recently captured just how erroneous this thinking was when discussing the Idle No More Movement. He asks: “why are Canada’s Indigenous Peoples the only ones who are standing up? Why are they now the World’s Protectors?”

Paquette continues:

This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware. First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word. Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything. Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing. And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us). From millions of protected waterways a couple weeks ago, we now have hundreds. Yes, you read that right.

As Kent McNeil, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto) has argued, the Idle No More Movement deserves the thanks of all Canadians as it has exposed a lack of respect for aboriginal and treaty rights on the part of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

April Blackbird is a sociology honours students and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

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