It seemed to happen overnight. A new uprising for Indigenous rights and environmental justice has begun. Most of us heard about it through social media first. Flash mob Round Dance videos uploaded to YouTube of First Nations in Canada reclaiming public spaces to send their message of un-honored treaties have now reached all four corners of the globe. Solidarity rallies all over the U.S. have been held and have spread to as far as Egypt, New Zealand, Palestine, England and Norway.
Locally, there have been Idle No More solidarity rallies held in Portland, Eugene, Klamath Falls, Warm Springs, Yakama, Tacoma, Tulalip, Vancouver, Spokane, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, to name a few, with many more to come.
This is the culmination of similar resistance efforts from Aboriginal and environmental activists who are now calling on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honor treaties with Aborigines, open dialogue with environmentalists and reject tar sands pipelines that would infiltrate First Nation territories. This has now become known as the Idle No More movement. What started as a string of emails between four Saskatchewan women back in November in protest of Bill C-45, an omnibus bill passed by the Harper Regime to strip First Nations treaty rights and sell these resources to multinational oil corporations, eventually became a hashtag on social media, accumulating over time into a global movement for indigenous rights and environmental justice: #idlenomore
The U.S. is the main consumer of tar sands oil. Sixty percent of the 1.34 million barrels of tar sands oil being produced daily in Canada are exported to the U.S., and oil companies are aiming to expand production to as much as 3.5 million barrels per day by 2025. In America, oil and pipeline companies plan to build an extensive tar sands pipeline and refinery infrastructure that will lock the U.S. into reliance on this high-carbon fossil fuel for decades. This investment commitment conflicts with tackling global warming and shifting the U.S. transportation sector to cleaner alternatives. Further, pipelines bring a danger of oil spills to America’s agricultural heartland, while pollution from refineries would threaten local communities and the Great Lakes.
Over the last few years, First Nations resistance to multinational oil has been on the rise, with very little attention from mainstream media. Powerful resistances against pipelines, tankers and tar sands have been in the works for the last few years. A prime example is Jackie Thomas, chief of the Saik’uz Nation in British Columbia, who sparked the opposition to the Enbridge oil pipeline. “We’ve always said that we are not just fighting to protect our own First Nations communities from oil pipelines and tankers, but rather that we are fighting to protect every woman, man and child in B.C., no matter where they live,” Chief Thomas said. “The Enbridge project puts our food sources and water at risk from the threat of oil spills that can never be cleaned up. We will not allow that to happen and we are glad to know that cities and towns in B.C. are standing with us against this threat. Together, we will stop these pipelines and tankers.”
In Ottawa, Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation of Canada has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11 demanding justice and respect for her people. She intends to continue to strike until Prime Minister Harper agrees to meet with her. As of Dec. 31, she is on her 21st day without food. While writing this article, I fasted for 24 hours in solidarity with Chief Spence and all the others who have decided to fast along beside her. I cannot even begin to imagine how she must feel after 21 days without food.
Dec. 11 marked the beginning of an indefinite hunger strike demanding justice and respect for her people and for all First Nations in Canada. At a press conference on Parliament Hill, Chief Spence told reporters, “I am willing to die for my people because the pain is too much and it’s time for the government to realize what it’s doing to us.”
Pam Palmater, chair in indigenous governance at Ryerson University, spokeswoman for the Idle No More movement and a member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, said:
Bill C-45 is intended to break up Aboriginal communities and assimilate First Nations people. There is a bigger dimension to this as well — there has to be a fundamental shift in the relationship between Canada and First Nations that recognizes our sovereignty and jurisdiction over our own lives and one which respects the nation-to-nation relationship which stems from our treaties. A treaty promise was made that both treaty partners would enjoy the wealth and prosperity of our lands. So far only Canada has benefited from our lands and resources, while many of our First Nations live in multiple, over-lapping crises like youth suicides, poor health, over-representation in child and family services and prisons, hundreds of murdered and missing Indigenous women and deaths in police custody. Canadians need to realize that we are their last best hope at saving the lands, waters, plants, animals and resources for future generations because our Aboriginal and treaty rights are constitutionally protected. We have the power to stop Harper’s destruction of our farmable lands and clean waters. We are not just doing this for us, we are doing this for all of our future generations because if we can’t use the lands or drink the waters, Canadians won’t be able to either.
It is not my intention to criticize those who have held solidarity rallies because these rallies are creating unity among Natives and non-natives like nothing we have ever seen before, but if we want to fully stand in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters, then we must address our consumption of Alberta tar sands oil, and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through our country, because it is killing those who we stand in solidarity with.
In Canada, the U.S., and if you pay close attention, all over the world, it’s the same story. We are all being held hostage by multinational oil, by people with a disproportionate amount of wealth. Our only hope is alliances with each other and honoring First People’s treaty rights. Here, on a local level, our Indigenous people must find the strength to uphold our treaties and demand they be honored by our governments, in order for us to survive as a human race. The resistance must be worldwide.
As 2012 comes to a close, I cry for all the pain and struggles that our people endure everyday. I cry for the strength to continue on together in solidarity against this inhumane oppression. I cry for all the children that will be the next caretakers of this planet, in hopes that they will not be left with the destruction and injustices that our oppressors are creating. But, looking at history, we have to teach them the way of The Struggle, because this beast never sleeps. We will have to teach them to stand strong for their rights in the face of oppression. We will have to teach them of our legacy. They will know the history of resistance and insurmountable strength of our people. We are witnessing a spark that could ignite the entire planet, engulfing our world in the flames of revolution. We are witnessing the beginning of a new age, a new time of hope and inspiration for our people, unlike any we have ever seen in our lifetime.