At what point did the Idle No More movement switch gears; from being the information picket we saw Hobbema natives stage last month to being a disruptive political force with threats of terrorism?
Idle No More started out as a statement, a rallying point for Canada’s disparate native tribes. It was a show of solidarity among the younger people that they would no longer sit on the sidelines and let millionaire chiefs and patriarchal politicians decide their fate. They would take responsibility for change at home and for changing Canadian attitudes toward them and their role in Canada. This new generation of activists wanted to stimulate dialogue to build and repair relationships with their neighbours and with Canadians.
Inconveniencing commuters, passing out pamphlets and waving signs was a quaint way of natives letting the rest of us know that they wanted to be seen and heard. Damaging rail lines and threatening to block access to and from oil sands projects in Fort McMurray is unacceptable.
Idle No More has been hijacked by a militant minority that still thinks the best way to negotiate with the federal government is with violence and blackmail. Chief Theresa Spence is no Mahatma Gandhi, no Bobby Sands willing to die for the cause, and the government knows that. And the sooner Idle No More organizers realize she is part of what’s so obviously wrong on Canadian reserves the sooner they will be heard.
Spence wanted a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Governor General, the Queen’s ceremonial representative in Canada. The minister of aboriginal affairs was not good enough. A meeting with the PM last week was good enough for some native leaders, not for all.
Spence is taking no responsibility for causing any of the issues on her Attawapiskat First Nation. Her “hunger strike” is patently disingenuous, which plays more to her character than to the movement itself.
A Deloitte audit of the reserve’s finances showed 81 per cent of the 505 audited transactions between 2005 and 2011 were improperly accounted for. More than 60 per cent of the $104 million given to Attawapiskat by the federal government was spent without supporting documents. Chief Spence’s boyfriend, Clayton Kennedy, is the band’s co-manager and is paid more than $800 a day.
With this millstone, does the Idle No More movement have a chance of generating any respect and support from Canadians and the federal government? Natives might not want to be a part of the society that flushes $8 billion a year into reserves but they damn well need to account for how the money was spent to improve lives for band members.
Yes, natives on many reserves are suffering with inadequate housing, a lack of fresh potable water and no electricity. But it’s not the federal government that’s wasting the millions of tax dollars that disappear into the black hole of band accounts. Activists on these reserves need to look to a lack of dedicated, honest leadership for their cycle of poverty. Along with the millions they have squandered, these elitist leaders on the worst of Canadian Indian reserves have consigned their people to another generation of poverty and disengagement.
For the most part, the four bands at Hobbema manage their money and their enterprises well. Like many reserves across Canada, Hobbema has its share of alcoholism and drug abuse, and health and social problems. Problems federal handouts alone can’t solve.
The success of Hobbema’s First nations and many in British Columbia has shown strong leadership that provides a vision for the next generation’s future can be the difference. Squalor, mistrust and dishonesty does not have to be accepted by natives as a way of life on reserves.
Rather than waving placards at motorists, maybe the Idle No More protesters should turn around and face the real problem on their reserves and address the lack of leadership within.