McMaster prof likens Idle No More to Arab Spring

Jeff Denis, an associate professor of sociology at McMaster University, spoke about Idle No More — the First Nations' rights campaign that's sprung up across Canada — on CBC Thunder Bay's 'Superior Morning' on Friday.
About 200 protesters gathered at Hamilton City Hall on Dec. 22 to denounce the federal government's approach to aboriginal issues. The demonstration was part of the nationwide Idle No More campaign, which a McMaster prof has compared to the Arab Spring. (Adam Carter/CBC)

A McMaster sociology professor is comparing Idle No More — the First Nations' rights campaign that's sprung up across Canada — to the Arab Spring, the youth-driven pro-democracy push that took hold in North Africa and the Middle East starting in late-2010.

"Aboriginal peoples are a very young population," Jeff Denis, who studies the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, told CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning on Friday. "They are the fastest-growing population in Canada. They are increasingly well-educated and aware of injustice."

"They have high expectations for the future, but they still face tremendous barriers in terms of racism, lack of job opportunities, cuts to social programs and so forth," added the Harvard-educated prof.

"If we think about other recent social movements around the world — including the Arab Spring, for example — those are just some of the factors that might be expected to facilitate this type of movement."

Social media, Denis said, has played a big role in the Idle No More protests, adding tools such as Facebook and Twitter "have enabled this new, younger generation of activists to quickly and efficiently spread the word and organize across and also increasingly internationally."

The Idle No More campaign developed in response to the federal Bill-C45, which includes changes to the Indian Act about how reserve lands are managed and removes thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water.

The movement has also rallied around the activism of Theresa Spence, the chief of Attawapiskat, a First Nations territory in Northern Ontario. The Cree leader has been staging a hunger strike near Parliament Hill since Dec. 11, trying to force Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet about Bill C-45. She also aims to raise greater awareness about living conditions on First Nations reserves.