Idle No More and Cross Country Checkup

Impressions of the program from someone who answered the phones

By Gordie Wornoff

Cross Country Checkup callers had lots to say about last week's much anticipated meeting between some First Nation Chiefs and the Prime Minister.

"There's a general consensus from the people participating in these rallies that every aboriginal from across the country has different issues," says Joanne Berezanski of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation.
Concrete improvements for First Nations health, poverty, education and incarceration rates are the only measures of a successful meeting with the Prime Minister or Governor General, she says.

Berezanski, a first time caller from Victoria was in-line to have the last word with Rex, but got bumped when the caller ahead of her went long.  She didn't mind though.

"Some of the points I wanted to make were brought up by an Inuit," she says.  "Their issues in the far north are different than the ones in 'more organized Canada' was the way he put it," she says.

Aboriginals in Canada are "not a separate group that all have exactly the same issues," said Berezanski. "Obviously the Lubicon people who live in the midst of the oilfields - their issues are so much more dire, so much more severe, so much more life-threatening than the issues in some communities in Manitoba."

Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized Canada to act on Lubicon Cree land disputes since 1990, she argued.

The important things to recognize - says Philip Brass, a Saulteaux of the Peepeekasis First Nation in Saskatchewan - are not what Harper, Atleo and Jonston say, but what they do.  

 "Since treaty signing, there has always been this paternalistic relationship [with the Canadian government]," he says.  "They treat us like adversaries."

AFN Chief Shawn Atleo also disappointed Brass by attending Harper's meeting without the support of the Ontario or Manitoba Chiefs.  

"If Atleo doesn't step down, he's got to humble up, reconnect with his Chiefs and take direction from the grassroots," said Brass.

Brass, another first-time caller was featured on the show and enjoyed his time chatting with Rex.  "Rex was really responsive and kept questioning me on other points," he says.

Edward Innis of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation in BC was  concerned that Harper's treatment of aboriginal issues taints how the rest of Canada views the situation.

"If your leadership is a certain way towards native people, the communities at large are going to think the same way he does," says Innis.  "He has to have an ear to listen - you can't go to the negotiating table acting like a bully."

Idle No More owes much of its success to First Nations youth accessing social media many callers claimed.

"The government had the advantage before social media," said Berezanski.  "But they're losing that control."

"For most of the youth, their iPhones are part of their anatomy these days," said Berezanski.  "There's a lot of chatter out there."

 And for Idle No More it's chatter with a focus on solidarity between all aboriginal peoples across Canada.

"With social media, things are turning around because you have more of the grassroots people becoming aware of what the politics are," said Innis.

Innis, another first time caller, didn't make it to air but called to share his experience of being a long-time indigenous activist.  He's been demonstrating and participating in road blockades since the 60s.  Innis says living conditions have improved over 50 years but First Nations are "still the lowest rung on the ladder."  

Joanne Berezanski agrees, saying too little has been done to address the horrific treatment First Nations suffered in government residential schools.  "Aboriginal Peoples have had to stand witness to really abusive behaviour by the government," she says.

"The government thinks it's okay to stand up and apologize to a microphone," she said, but for many, that's not enough.  

A 500 year-old relationship marked with blood and courtrooms is hard to forget, hard to move forward Brass added.

 According to Brass all sides of this conflict need to educate themselves for things to improve.  His father, the late Dr. Oliver Brass - who obtained his doctorate in 1984 and was the first aboriginal in Saskatchewan to earn a PhD -- always told him, "Education will be First Nation's buffalo that will carry us forward."

Idle No More is poised to transcend federal politics and aboriginal issues altogether agreed Brass, Innis and Berezanski.   

"The aboriginal youth who are guiding this movement are highly educated and savvy on world issues like the environment, peak oil, water scarcity and land health," said Brass.

"They're actually connecting the dots as to how the environment is jeopardized by this government," he says.

Berezanski echoed his ideas.   She gives the government credit for fertilizing the movement through the Omnibus Bill which has attracted environmentalists to Idle No More demonstrations. Likewise, she said Canadian Forces veterans share common ground with residential school survivors.

"Our military people are coming back from Afghanistan, and they have no support from the government to overcome what they've witnessed," she said adding that  a shrinking middle class, fewer opportunities for all Canadian youth, and environmental issues make Idle No More a relevant movement for all Canadians - not just aboriginals.

"Idle No More is the genesis of a divide that will become global," says Brass.  "The youth are never wrong.  They are the ones who see the future coming, they have an investment in it."

Edward Innis agreed.  "I know things can change for the positive, that's what I'm counting on.  I hope I see that change in my lifetime - I already see it in myself."

Gordie Wornoff, 31, (BJ,'05, Carleton) is thrilled to be a production assistant on CBC's Cross Country Checkup. He is a writer and woodworker living in Toronto. He specializes in reclaimed materials and artistic furniture designs. His carpentry work can be seen on Discovery Channel's "Junk Raiders," now in its third season. 
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