How the Idle No More movement started and where it might go from here – by Tristin Hopper (National Post – December 27, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

In this occasional feature, the National Post tells you everything you need to know about a complicated issue. Today, Tristin Hopper gets to the bottom of the Aboriginal protest movement Idle No More.

What exactly is Idle No More?

Conceived in November by four Saskatchewan women frustrated with the Tories’ latest omnibus budget bill, Idle No More is a First Nations protest movement looking to obtain renewed government guarantees for treaty agreements and halt what organizers see as a legislative erosion of First Nations rights. The movement’s most visible spokeswoman is Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, the Northern Ontario reserve struck by an emergency housing crisis last year.

Since Dec. 11, Ms. Spence has been on a hunger strike while camped on an Ottawa River island only a few hundred metres from Parliament Hill, vowing not to eat until she has secured a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Since early December, protests spurred by Idle No More have included a 1,000-person demonstration on Parliament Hill last week, a blockade of a CN rail spur near Sarnia that continued for a sixth day on Wednesday and a variety of brief demonstrations and blockades across Canada and parts of the United States.

Although Idle No More trended on social media over the holidays, has there been much non-virtual movement of late?

Protests largely quieted down over Christmas, although on Boxing Day scattered demonstrations were seen at malls in the Prairie provinces, Sarnia remains blockaded and Theresa Spence still has not eaten. On Wednesday, Ms. Spence received endorsements from the two frontrunners in the Liberal leadership race, Marc Garneau and Justin Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau met with Ms. Spence in her Victoria Island teepee, while Mr. Garneau released a letter calling for Mr. Harper to build “renewed understanding” with Canada’s First Nations.

The crux of the protest is ensuring that treaty rights are respected. Are treaty rights being disrespected?

Ontario, the three Prairie Provinces as well as large parts of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories all sit on land that First Nations people signed over to Canada in exchange for a package of government guarantees. Treaty 9, the 1905/1906 treaty signed the people of Attawapiskat, for instance, guarantees that, in perpetuity, First Nations would receive “benefits that served to balance anything that they were giving.” The treaty also guaranteed total Aboriginal control over reserve lands.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: