The post colonial challenges of Canadian First Nations have had a tendency of appearing much less complicated than many other postcolonial societies -- or at least much less obvious. Some have attributed the silence to highly democratic values and processes in the Canadian society that leave no need for violent objections. Others, however, attribute the silence to structural repression because, they say, Canada has never become postcolonial, it continues to be an actively colonial state.
Whatever the colonial status of Canada may be, the peaceful veneer has been gradually peeling off the society's face lately, as countless ghosts of atrocities, racism and inequalities push their ways back to the surface of the collective conscious, particularly to that of the aboriginal communities themselves.
Ironically enough, as the Idle No More (INM) aboriginal social movement continues to grow and gain momentum, criticisms and methods of facing it sound uncannily familiar to anybody who has followed the Arab Spring. Two of the most regularly repeated mantras are that the people demonstrating on the streets do not know what they want, and that their movement is not going to go anywhere because it does not have a leader.
And then there is the issue of racism, which, like so many other aggressive traits, has a habit of flowing through a deeply disguised language of caring and calm reason -- laced as it may be with supercilious derision or outright contempt. "Trippy references to Mother Earth with paranoid claims about the hidden contents of Bill C-45," is how Terry Glavin, a well known Canadian pundit describes the movement. Tying together the INM, the Ontario First Nation Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike, and the high rates of poverty and suicide across the Canadian aboriginal communities, Glavin writes:
If I were a 14-year-old boy living in Pikangikum with no prospect of getting out, I'd probably want to kill myself too. What is far more difficult to get one's head around is just what possible good might come from Idle No More, the recently erupted viral craze that has attached itself to Chief Spence specifically, and to aboriginal grievances in Canada more amorphously.
INM has so far been greeted by many, primarily the white community, as something that does not merit much attention or concern. Harper himself, when asked whether he was worried the movement might snowball, said "people have a right in our country to demonstrate and express their points of view peacefully as long as they obey the law, but I think the Canadian population expects everyone will obey the law in holding such protests." He too seems to believe the way to deal with this is to wait for INM to run its course and join the host of vague memories of demonstrations by Canadian aboriginals.
But the optimism is not shared by all. Joe Clark, former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, warned last week that Canada and First Nations are "headed in a dangerous direction" of clash. And even Harper might be feeling less reassured today, after a much anticipated meeting last Friday between himself and a number of First Nations chiefs failed to achieve any tangible results.
More important yet, many within the Aboriginal community also see things quite differently from Stephen Harper. Idle No More is merely the visible tip, they would tell you, of an immense iceberg of suppressed resentments running centuries deep. The Indian awakening is not going to "fizzle out" back into another historic slumber as easily as the white man predicts, they insist, and more significantly, there are some who plan to make sure such a relapse will not happen.
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak from Manitoba said in an interview with CBC, "the warrior spirit of our people is once again across the land -- it's very strong," and warned that "at some point the energy and power of our young people will start to spill over the political boundaries we've tried to create."
Allan Adam, the chief of Alberta's Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation predicts "local resentment" will soon block the main artery connecting Fort McMurray to the south. He insists, "If [Harper] is going to stonewall the first nations people, we can stonewall the highways too," and warns that "a major disruption will end in violence."
Ontario's Grand Chief Gordon Peters of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians warns sternly that blockades and disruptive actions can start soon. In fact, systematic blockades of roads, railway tracks and U.S. borders across the country have now been announced to start on Wednesday January 16. Alberta's Chief Wallace Fox threatened, "If we have to shut down this economy, then we will."
Terrance Nelson, the controversial Native American leader and Vice-Chairman of the radical American Indian Movement, is among those betting on INM going long and strong, and he is planning to push things as far as needed to make sure it will. "Blockades will occur on January 16 if you do not succeed tomorrow," he wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister on Thursday, warning ominously: "bloodshed will occur, make no mistake."
One of Nelson's immediate plans is a provocative rally in front of the RCMP (Canadian Mounted Police) headquarters in Winnipeg, on January 19, where he will announce plans to set up indigenous owned casinos in defiance of the Canadian government. The last time they set up a small independent gambling business of video lottery terminals on their reserve was 20 years ago. The business was raided and Nelson was arrested by the police. Now, in line with one of INM's central demands, he says, this will be a claim to aboriginal sovereignty.
Like Alberta's Chief Fox, Ontario's Chief Peters, and so many others across Canadian First Nations, Nelson seems intent on resisting in ways different from the past. "This isn't a round dance, this will have consequences," says Nelson, "It will block everything going east and west."