Idle No More prepares for day of action

The Idle No More movement plans protests and actions across Canada and around the world today. This could be the start of a new phase for the movement, which only began last November.

Activists give their take on the movement

First Nations demonstrators march towards Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 25, 2013. in support of seven members of the Whapmagoostui First Nation in northern Quebec who walked to Ottawa in support of the Idle No More movement. The movement plans over 63 protests and actions across Canada today. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The Idle No More movement has plans for over 63 protests and actions across Canada today, with solidarity events expected in over 12 countries.

The day should indicate whether the movement still has the energy and intensity it displayed last winter.

Idle No More began a year ago with an email exchange between four women in Saskatchewan, growing very quickly into one of the biggest protest movements Canada has seen in years. Idle No More uses social media as a key organizing tool, as it has for today's events.

Oct. 7 was chosen because that's the date 250 years ago that King George III signed the Royal Proclamation, which, in its concluding paragraphs, sets out policy for the Crown's relationship with the "nations or tribes of Indians" and the lands "reserved to them."

A "purpose of Idle No More was to reinvent the relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada," movement activist Niigaan Sinclair told CBC News.

Idle No More also formed to oppose federal legislation they see as further eroding treaty and indigenous rights, and to push for emergency situations at some First Nations communities to be stabilized.

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He also describes the movement as "about love and about community building and it's about education and it's about honesty."

Some 400 to 500 people take part in an Idle No More round dance at Saskatoon's Midtown Plaza, Dec. 20, 2012. The event inspired Niigaan Sinclair to get deeply involved in the new movement. (CBC)

Sinclair is also a professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba and one of the members of the Kino-nda-niimi collective that put together the forthcoming book, The Winter We Danced: Voices of the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement. (Kino-nda-niimi means "we are dancing.")

Sinclair was on the periphery of the movement until he was inspired by a huge round dance at Saskatoon's Midtown Mall on Dec. 20. "I knew this was different than anything I'd seen before."

Grassroots movement

Because of its grassroots nature -- Sinclair describes it as "based on local organizations taking ownership over localized events" -- it's difficult to gauge the size or support of Idle No More.

Alex Wilson, an Idle No More organizer, tells CBC News that the movement has about 400 regional affinity groups and, since re-launching their website in July, they have built a database of 125,000 people.

Their main Facebook page has 116,000 likes and their Facebook discussion page has 48,000 members.

In its first six months, to the end of May, there were 1,215,569 Twitter mentions by 143,172 Twitter participants, as detailed in the study, "Idle No More at Six Months," by Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs strategist.

Idle No More organizer Alex Wilson says the movement's rapid growth was in part due to "people's frustrations with the Harper government and people's readiness for real transformation and change." (University of Saskatchewan)

Wilson said the rapid early growth was due to "the combination of people's frustrations with the Harper government and people's readiness for real transformation and change and it just happened to be the perfect storm and the perfect timing for all of those things to happen."

As well, Wilson notes, for a long time, those "little incremental things that are happening build up to a point where all of the sudden its creating a tipping point where people have just had enough."

Wilson is also a professor of education at the University of Saskatchewan.

Sinclair adds that growth was also fueled by a sense of urgency because of the Harper government's omnibus budget bill and the emergency situations in Attawapiskat and elsewhere. "That was the impetus to a sudden rise in resistance, and a sudden rise of interest in a movement that's based on broad-scale community building."

Powered by social media, watched by government

Wilson, Sinclair and Blevis all point to the movement's use of social media to explain that rapid growth.

Of course the government in Ottawa was taking notice.

In just two weeks in January, Aboriginal Affairs accumulated over 1200 pages of records on Idle No More, based on the disclosure of an access to information request.

By February 15, officials had documented 439 protests across Canada. "It's a really good archive," Wilson joked.

After developers created an Idle No More app for sharing information and planning actions, Maclean's magazine reports the Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Michael Wernick, ask whether his office "could surreptitiously piggyback on the app to get its own message across."

"Is it in any way feasible to get our backgrounders into the flow of this app without the appearance of [government] ringers calling into an open-line show?" Wernick asks in one document, according to Maclean's.

Visibility drops

As winter wore on, Idle No More's visibility dropped. That's not surprising given the high level of interest, which probably peaked in January. Blevis documents this via Twitter traffic. It peaked on January 11, Idle No More's Global Day of Action, with 56,924 tweets. Between Dec. 10 and May 30, the lowest count was a still impressive 641 tweets on May 12.

In Wilson's view, "the events didn't slow down, they just changed form." Over the summer she says the movement spread to a more global level, something Blevis's data confirms.

"All over the world, people were taking local issues and using the name and main points of Idle No More and then using that to highlight their local issues." Wilson adds that, "The media didn't really cover it but we knew they were going on."

Wilson says concern about environmental destruction is an important reason behind Idle No More's rapid growth. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

This summer Idle No more organized actions and events they called Sovereignty Summer. Blevis also tracked Twitter traffic for that and related hashtags on Twitter and found traffic peaked around the Canada Day protests and then received very limited activity through summer's end.

Wilson describes Idle No More as an educational movement and claims success there, because of the awareness that was raised about indigenous and environmental issues. She expects more growth lies ahead because of the "wide range of entry points for people."

While some people are just joining the movement, others are engaged in nonviolent direct action. "All you have to have is the intent and the spirit and the will to want to change something," Wilson says.

Change in Harper's approach to First Nations

Niigaan Sinclair says the Harper government now engaging with First Nations in B.C. is a sign of the movement's success. A "purpose of Idle No More was to reinvent the relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada," Sinclair notes. (CBC)

One change that Sinclair points to as a sign of the movement's success is how the Harper government is now engaging First Nations in B.C. The courts had already established a government duty to consult before approving resource development on First Nation traditional territory.

"For the most part he has completely ignored First Nation people, absolutely and completely, we saw that in the omnibus legislation and its imposition.

"Now look at the way he's dealing with First Nation leaders." He points to cabinet ministers and top bureaucrats meeting with B.C. aboriginal leaders, in an effort to win their support for pipeline proposals.

He also sees this as an effort to repair "the real harm to the relationship" that he says Harper has caused.