Five years after round dances and rallies swept communities across Canada, Indigenous students at Laurentian University are reflecting on how the Idle No More movement inspired their journey to post-secondary education.
"I guess you could say it was life-changing, because I never thought I was going to get that opportunity to be part of something so big," said Laurentian University psychology student Frankie Antone.
Originally from Oneida Nation of the Thames near London, Ont., she was in Grade 10 when the Indigenous rights movement began gaining momentum in December 2012.
"It was huge, because it wasn't just me. It was me and my friends who were going out to the protests. We were going out and speaking and advocating at our school and our communities about it," said Antone. "So you could just see that the next generation was so powerful and gonna be able to make that change."
Antone originally planned to study zoology in university after high school, but Idle No More motivated her to pursue politics and community advocacy. She wants to eventually work in mental health with Indigenous youth.
Back to school
Seeing the rallies march through downtown Sudbury inspired Rose Messina to quit her federal government job and go back to school.
"When Idle No More started I was an employee of Indigenous Affairs. So as an employee I wasn't allowed to get involved. I wasn't allowed to express an opinion," said Messina, who studies at Laurentian and lives in Serpent River First Nation west of Sudbury.
"I've since left the department and returned to school, and I've embarked on Indigenous studies...so that I can re-train my brain, basically, from working for the government."
She took a college Aboriginal community relations course before coming to Laurentian, and credits Idle No More with encouraging her to learn what she calls the "accurate history" of Canada.
"That's where I think the Idle No More movements come into play, because they're the people who collectively made it safe for us, I guess, again to have a voice and to have an opinion and to be able to express it," she said.
'It moved me more in a political direction'
"I was definitely inspired by a lot of the rallies," said Laurentian Indigenous Studies student Brittney Shki-Giizis. "And I was also inspired by the negative feedback that people got for it, because that just came from a place of ignorance and I was super inspired and motivated to educate as many possible people as I can for the real cause of what was happening."
A member of Dokis First Nation, she says Idle No More helped make her post-secondary path clearer.
"I had already had university in my plans, but it definitely influenced some of the classes that I took. It moved me more in a political direction and it's influenced some of my assignments and a lot of my discussion points in the classroom," said Shki-Giizis.
She believes the original message of the movement is still alive, and that the work continues.
"I hope that more people become politically aware. Especially First Nations people. I hope more people find their voice. And I hope that non-Native people shed their ignorance. And I hope that we can all come together and work on solutions that benefit everyone."