The average social and economic develop-
ment status in indigenous Canada is dec-
ades or more behind the socio-economic
status of the country as a whole, whether
you look at health, education, labour mar-
ket participation, life expectancy or income.
Idle No More is saying essentially, “This dis-
parity is obvious and intolerable. It must
be fixed. Now and for the
sweeping changes to federal environmental
protection laws are a serious frontal threat
to indigenous peoples, and to our lands and
waters. Most indigenous nations still live in
the hearts of our traditional territories, and
many still depend to a great ex-
tent on the birds, animals, and
other natural resources with
which we share our lands and
Idle No More is not making up this
harsh diagnosis. It is fully reviewed and
explained in the 4,000 pages of the 1996
Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal
Peoples. It can be read in many judgements of Canada’s non-Native courts, and
in numerous UN studies and reports.
Aboriginal leaders, me included, have
warned for years that Canada is sitting on
a social powder keg. The recent courageous protests by our grassroots people are
Matthew Coon Come
The Federal Government
intends to fast track unprecedented oil, gas, mineral,
hydro and other resource exploitation across Canada. The
government wants to weaken
or avoid any prior assessment
of the social and environmental impacts.
The adverse impacts will affect indigenous peoples more than anyone else. We
live in and depend on the sustainability
of our lands and waters the Federal Government is targeting for mega-industrial-ization.
Canada has a sophis-
ticated system of govern-
ance. It has a constitution,
laws, a head of state, legis-
latures, judiciary, govern-
mental machinery and
many other institutions
of governance. However,
amazingly, none of these
many features of this Great
Importantly, these legal changes af-
fecting our peoples and territories were
passed into federal law without the prior
informed consent of our peoples, and not
even with any meaningful advance con-
sultation about our aboriginal, treaty and
other human rights.
Omnibus legislation is not a new phenomenon in Canada. And legislation
passed without considering the rights of
Aboriginal peoples and over our objections is, sadly, not uncommon either. But
the broad groundswell of support Idle No
More has activated is new and remarkable.
Indigenous peoples have been completely excluded, dispossessed, sidelined, oppressed, suppressed and ignored. Two orders
of government, namely the federal and the
provincial, each sovereign in their respective
spheres, have carved
up 100 per cent of the
total jurisdictional and
resource wealth pie,
and written the rules
to serve themselves, and isolate and exclude
The breadth and depth of this movement presents a challenge and an opportunity for all Canadians – and maybe
especially for the Church.
Canada is a country of enormous
wealth and immense opportunities. It is
also a country that says it upholds certain admirable values, including respect
for fundamental human rights, environmental stewardship, and sustainable and
equitable development. This may have
been somewhat true in the past, but the
messaging is wearing thin.
The result is that settler society in Canada – French, English, European and others
who recently arrived on these shores – is
doing very well in our territories, while Aboriginal peoples’ social development is
languishing and we continue to experience
mass poverty and unemployment, underdevelopment and despair.
There are over 600 “First Nations” in
Canada, and over a thousand communities.
the inevitable outcome of long-term and
widespread frustration, anger, hopelessness – and now determination.
Up to now, indigenous peoples have
been expected, indeed told, to be patient
and “realistic.” Indigenous peoples have
been told the many solemn agreements
they have made in good faith with the
Crown over the last 400 years – our Treaties – are no longer relevant or meaningful,
and are part of Canada’s heritage, but no
longer really part of Canada’s governing
policies and laws.
The message of Idle No More is simple: Canada must commit itself to a new,
important as that may be, is no longer
adequate. All the apologies must now be
translated into changes to the rules – and
profound and meaningful changes to social
and economic outcomes – so indigenous
peoples can soon experience standards of
living and participation equivalent to that
of Canadians in general.
The alternative is continuing illegitimacy for Canada, gross social disparities
and unrest because Idle No More is not
As I see it, Idle No More also means
Excluded No Longer and Included Fully
From Now On. Only when there is profound change – including constitutional
change – in the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown, and when
the social and economic disparities have
disappeared, will the protests and unrest
become unnecessary. FT
have been completely
suppressed and ignored.