This article explores the Idle No More movement through the eyes of three CUPW Sisters who are actively involved: Darlene Kaboni, from the Wikwemikong First Nation, Dodie Ferguson, from the Cowessess First Nation and Diane Mitchell, a Métis descendant from Ottawa.
The Idle No More movement, which began in November 2012, has sparked creative actions and protest from coast to coast to coast in response to Bill C-45, the government’s sweeping omnibus budget legislation, and several other bills, which affect treaty rights and the environment.
“Right at the moment, if you care about the environment, if you care about the air you breathe and the water, the only thing left to protect all this, is the indigenous law,” said Mitchell.
The 457-page Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Act. The bill shows total disregard for treaty rights and environmental protection.
These changes have mobilized many First Nations people who consider themselves stewards of the land. “In our culture, we believe that we are merely residents on this land, it isn’t ours, we don’t own it,” said Ferguson. “We are just in charge of maintaining its health and its well-being.”
The Idle No More movement was sparked by four women from Saskatchewan – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean – who held a teach-in about Bill C-45 in November 2012. Women continue to play a lead role in the movement.
Women have always played a vital and key role in First Nations cultures, according to Ferguson. “Prior to European contact, First Nations were matrilineal; things flowed through the women’s lines.” Patriarchy was introduced into First Nations cultures through European colonization.
Furthermore, First Nations women have always raised issues that aren’t right, said Kaboni. For example, they fought the racist, patriarchal overtones in the Indian Act, which saw First Nations women losing their status if they married a non-native man.
All three sisters highlight that this movement has fostered conversations on the workfloor and in their communities. “If there’s something that you want to know, ask,” says Kaboni. “Just ask those questions and don’t jump to conclusions without doing your research. Every ‘why’ will have an answer.”
Broader progressive voices and movements have also become involved in the movement. Ferguson notes that CUPW members and the public have been drawing the connections between the Idle No More movement and the postal lock-out or changes to labour law or the environment. “All of a sudden we’re having all these people coming up and saying, you know what, we’re all concerned and maybe we should all start being Idle No More because it affects everybody.”
“When we can speak as a collective voice, that’s when the power happens,” says Ferguson. “I’m just so happy that the union is supporting it, that workers are supporting it, that they’re actually willing to ask questions of something that for so long has seemed taboo on the workfloor.”