Idle No More: Re-lighting ‘The 8th Fire’

Reporting on Idle No More, referred to as the largest collective movement ever to sweep Canada, is nothing short of breathtaking.

In the subarctic, where I work as TV reporter at CBC North in close to -40 degree temperatures, Indigenous youth, leaders and non-Aboriginal supporters come out in the hundreds, blocking main intersections and snaking through shopping centres in drum-dance flash mobs. Their singing, dancing, drumming, laughing and display of pride is contagious. It's now the heartbeat of our nation, composed of many cultures of people, pushing for political change.

On the street, on social media, and on television, Idle No More is gripping every aspect of Canada. Indigenous people are dominating mainstream media coverage, visible in the thousands daily, and are leading discussions in the political landscape. A growing number of Indigenous youth are educated and tech-savvy leading the way forward.

It all started with a tiny spark: three Indigenous women and one self-identified "settler" from Saskatchewan declared they had enough of sitting silent; tired of running idle. So they seized the time, to come face-to-face with over 500 years of federal legislation controlling Aboriginal lives, lands, and waters. Their drive to act was spurred by the passing of omnibus budget Bill C-45, which changed legislation on environmental protection. It was seen as a direct attack on Aboriginal treaties, rights and title. But today, like it was two months ago, it's not just about Indigenous people. The movement that started with four is now hundreds of thousands strong, and is growing in influence among all Canadians.

Lighting the eighth fire, an analogy based on an Ojibway prophesy, is how some youth describe this Indigenous-led movement. Elders prophesied that the eighth fire would be a time of a rekindling of old flames -- interpreted now as picking up the pieces shattered by colonization, and relearning languages, songs and traditional political systems. It's what Indigenous youth debated and celebrated in the CBC's "8th Fire," a four-part TV documentary series on how to create a new relationship with Canada's Aboriginal Peoples.

Now, with a growing movement of Indigenous people embracing rights, culture and identity, "8th Fire" has new relevance to Canada.

In the first of four episodes, "8th Fire" host Wab Kinew encouraged the audience to "meet the neighbors" (many Canadians say they have never met an Aboriginal person before). We showed the struggles of Indigenous youth, who -- in the face of the multi-generational effects of colonization, of residential school and racism -- are rising up. Using art, music and culture, they are teaching others about who Aboriginal people are and why it is imperative to fix our broken relationship with Canada.

"8th Fire" presciently opened up a desperately-needed dialogue about the awkward and ugly realities of Canada: racism, oppression, and a denial of both issues facing Aboriginal peoples. In the series, we examined ways to move forward, to get past stereotypes, bust myths and our mutual misunderstandings.

It's hard to ignore now that a new national conversation is needed. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems reluctant to talk, despite a growing impatience playing out on the streets, there's no denying that the world is seeing an Indigenous resurgence unfold. It seems implausible that this movement will slow or dwindle any time soon. Grassroots leaders of Idle No more say with the 8th fire now lit, they must keep it burning. With a fire in their hearts and bellies, Canada's Aboriginal peoples are moving down a new path, one driven by unity, hope and love for all Canadians.

Angela Sterritt is a Gitxsan woman, working with CBC North in Yellowknife, NT. She was one of the producers on the "8th Fire" tv series and a reporter on the "8th Fire" digital project. You can read more about her and find links to her stories here.

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