Idle No More’s Jan 28 Global Day of Action
by Zig Zag, Warrior Publications, January 30, 2013
January 28 was Idle No More’s “Global Day of Action,” yet another in a series of rallies meant to put pressure on the Canadian government to rescind Bill C-45 and engage in “meaningful dialogue” with Native peoples. The date was chosen as it is the day when members of parliament resume sitting in the House of Commons, located in Ottawa.
Unlike previous days of action, this one was also called with Common Causes, a new (and little heard of) coalition that includes the Council of Canadians, environmentalist and labour groups.
Despite the new coalition and nearly two weeks of promotion, however, numbers were far lower than previous national days of action, such as those on December 10 and 21, 2012. These mobilizations each saw several thousand Natives rally across the country, accompanied by several blockades of railways and highways.
Ottawa, which had seen many as 4,000 rally on December 10, saw less than 600 people on Jan 28. While perhaps as many as 2,000 rallied in Edmonton on Dec 10, less than 500 attended on Jan 28. Winnipeg, which had also seen some 2,000 rally previously (on Dec 21), saw an estimated 800 gather at the Manitoba Legislature (despite the scheduled appearance of singer Buffy Ste-Marie).
The one significant direct action that did occur on Jan 28 was an hours-long blockade of the Snow Lake mine in northern Manitoba. A reported 30 protesters from the nearby Mathias Colomb Cree Nation were involved in the action.
Internationally, there appeared to be many more rallies and round dances across the United States than previously, although these were also smaller. There were also solidarity rallies in countries such as Australia, Croatia, Norway, Sweden, etc. Most of these rallies were small, with less than a dozen people participating. In Oxford, England, people dropped a banner over a tower wall calling for the Queen to honour her commitment to Crown treaties made with Natives in Canada.
Over the last two weeks, since the last big days of national protests on January 11 and 16, there has also been a steady decrease in the numbers of flash mob round dances, which at some points had been occurring multiple times on the same day in some cities, involving hundreds.
What has led to the seemingly drastic decline in numbers? There are undoubtedly many factors, such as the ending of chief Spence’s fast on Jan 24 (which had created a high level of emotion and concern among Natives), the mixed messages and confusion caused by the Assembly of First Nations internal divisions, as well as the January 11 meeting with Harper and some AFN chiefs.
Many Natives may have also felt frustrated by the circular trajectory the movement had taken, that after weeks of rallies, flash mobs and blockades, the end result was another government meeting with the chiefs.
In addition, there were mixed messages coming out of Idle No More. While it was proclaimed that INM was a grassroots movement with no official leaders or spokespersons, the “official” founders of INM continually issued statements about how the movement was to conduct itself, and distanced themselves from any “illegal” actions (such as the symbolic blockades).
Then there was Bill C-45, the federal omnibus bill that had been the primary target of INM when it started back in November. By mid-December, however, the bill had been passed in the House of Commons and received royal ascent (an archaic tradition leftover from Canada’s legacy as a colony of Britain).
Not only has the bill not been scrapped, the federal government has given no indication that it is considering revising any portion of it. In this regard, INM has not been successful and the countless rallies and round dances were never enough of a threat, nor was the movement as a whole, to force the state to concede anything (other than the symbolic January 11 meeting).
Like Occupy, which had in most cities peaked by the end of October (after one and half of months of intensive organizing), Idle No More has most likely reached its climax and will be unable to mobilize the same numbers as it had in December 2012. This will not stop small groups of committed individuals and newcomers from continuing to organize flash mobs and rallies over the next few months, however, as also occurred during Occupy. But these will most likely become even smaller and more marginalized over time (i.e., Occupy).
In the meantime, INM (official) has moved into the realm of teleconferences, social forums, and alliances with other like-minded, non-Indigenous, reformist groups. Its pacifist methods are firmly entrenched, as are its strictly legal methods, the apparent results of both ideology and an acute sensitivity to public opinion polls.
In Canada, most Occupy sites began to “idle” around late October (after a month and a half of activity). Organizers were struggling with declining numbers, increased attacks by business associations and corporate media, and a growing sense of disunity within the ranks. Around this time there began efforts to renew the movement, and one result was a vast increase in bureaucracy. New committees were set up, then sub-committees and then sub-committees of these, and on and on. The idea seemed to be that the more they “organized” Occupy, the stronger it would become, until it was the truly mass movement of citizens envisioned by its founders.
This was not case however, as under these conditions small groups of determined organizers simply burn out. Despite this, Occupy had a significant impact on the social consciousness and changed the lives of many of its participants. The high levels of public support in the early periods of Occupy also revealed the yearning for social change among broad sectors of the population.
Idle No More has had a similar impact on Indigenous peoples in Canada, empowering many and mobilizing them into a campaign that at least spoke about protecting land and water. It has indeed changed the lives of many of those who participated. At this time, however, it appears to have reached its limits, and organizers will now most likely turn to creating more bureaucratic structures and “official” chapters as a means of compensating for its decline in numbers.