Just what does “Idle No More” mean to us?

Idle No More demonstration on 18th and Victoria on Friday, January 11, 2013. (Holly Kalyniuk/The Quill)

The ceremony room in the Health Studies Building was far from ‘idle’ this past week.  Infused with a genuine sense of community spirit and cultural camaraderie, the room was transformed into a warm and welcoming ‘sharing circle’ and round dance.

On January 29th, members from Brandon University Aboriginal Student Council (BUASC) organized a gathering of both Native and non-Native community members to explore what “Idle No More” means to everyone.  With approximately one hundred people in attendance, the evening commenced with a traditional smudging and prayer by a First Nations Elder, and was then followed by a deliciously impressive potluck feast.   With bellies full of scrumptious treats and home cooked meals (not to mention the delicious elk-meat chilli!), the session was well underway.

Chief Norman Bone, of Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, opened the discussions by addressing the group by sharing how he believes that the Idle No More movement is an opportunity for First Nations peoples to share their teachings and stated that “the current movement is not one to feel threatened about.”

Jerry Daniels, an economics graduate from the University of Winnipeg, followed up by saying “all we [First Nations people] want is to be mutually prosperous,” and described to the attendees how the current economic ventures in Canada are not utilizing environmentally sustainable methods.  Daniels was emphatic when he spoke on the importance of everybody in the country, not just First Nations people, to tune in on what is happening around them.

Craig Miller, the pastor at Knox United Church, described how involved the United Church is in supporting the Idle No More movement not just locally but nationally as well. Miller went on to describe how Natives and non-Natives need more unity by saying, “We are all in this together.  We have different and similar histories.  We have different and similar approaches to living together.”   Carissa Taylor, President of BUSU, echoed Miller’s commitments by stating “we fully stand behind Idle No More.”

Lisa Whitebutt-Richard (Brandon University) and Will Goodon (Manitoba Métis Federation) were equally alarmed by the government’s apparent disregard for not just the sanctity of water, but also for the practical sustainability of it.  Goodon went on to predict how future wars will be no longer involving the world’s access to oils, but instead, to healthy and protected water sources.

Lorraine Mayer (Brandon University), who teaches Philosophy and Native Studies, shared, “It is time to stop being silent.  It is time to take back our own voices.”

In a statement, BUASC members expressed their satisfaction with the event: “The Idle No More information session was definitely a success.  Many people from various backgrounds came out to learn and voice their own opinions on everything and anything pertaining to Idle No More.  It was very educational and positive.”

While the messages and objectives of the Idle No More movement may seem to be obscure and unfocused to mainstream media, the perspectives shared on January 29th indicate an undeniable need for the Canadian Government to revisit any existing treaties and arrangements with First Nations communities to determine just how our nations can proceed with future opportunities.  Many of the participants suggested the crucial need for more tolerant relations between the Native and non-Native communities, more inclusion of treaty histories within the education system, and the pursuit of a “collective conscience” by all Canadians.

BUASC plans on meeting with the City of Brandon to discuss any shared opportunities that there may be in better educating the local community about the Idle No More movement.

As a treaty status Anishinaabe woman, what does ‘Idle No More’ mean to me?  That question is much like asking a fish to describe the water in which she swims.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 20, February 5, 2013.