Idle No More co-founder uneasy with media portrayal of chief

One of the originators of the Idle No More movement says she supports Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, but is concerned with how the media is portraying her as the leader of the grassroots campaign.

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Idle No More co-founder concerned with role of Chief Theresa Spence, Geoff Leo reports. 2:08

One of the originators of the Idle No More movement says she supports Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, but is concerned with how the media is portraying her as the leader of the grassroots campaign.

"Idle No More is the face of all indigenous people, all grassroots people," Sylvia McAdam said Monday, following a forum with university students in Regina. "It's not just the face of one. We hardly have any communications with Chief Spence."

Spence has been limiting her food intake since Dec. 10, consuming only fish broth, water and medicinal tea in an effort to force a meeting attended by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston to address First Nations issues.

The Idle No More campaign originated on social media, first on Facebook and later with Twitter, when Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon expressed concern about provisions of Bill C-45, which reduce the number of federally protected waterways.

"We're going to get off the couch and we're not going to be idle any more," McAdam said about the nascent idea behind the movement. "And we said, 'Why don't we just call it Idle No More?' And it just stuck." 

At first, the movement engaged people in an online discussion. It gained wider attention in late November and early December with what were called flash mob-style round dances at shopping malls.

McAdam said recent coverage of the movement has focused on Spence and other First Nations chiefs, but insists they do not speak for the movement.

She said even the originators are not the official voice of the campaign.

"The founders have been looked toward for guidance and discussions, if that can be defined as leadership," she said.

Blockades a concern

McAdam also questioned the actions of some First Nations planning blockades at border crossings and rail lines.

"I think those portray a message of aggressiveness," McAdam said. "That's not peaceful.

"We have to be careful with Idle No More that we don't go into areas where we're saying, 'Save the gophers,'" she added. "There has to be a purpose behind it."

She said she is worried about the movement's core message, about protecting land and water in Canada and promoting indigenous sovereignty.

But even McAdam was not precise when it came to defining sovereignty.

"We're still talking about that," she said. "We're still defining it as we go."

McAdam was also adamant that neither the Assembly of First Nations, nor individual chiefs, are in charge of the Idle No More movement.

"History has shown that when movements like this happen, if leadership takes over, it kills the movement," she said.

McAdam said the movement is keen to have a global Idle No More rally near the end of January.


  • An earlier version of this story said Sylvia McAdam was uneasy with how Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has taken a leadership role in the Idle No More Movement. In fact, McAdam expressed concerns with how the media was portraying Spence's role, and not uneasiness with Spence herself.
    Jan 15, 2013 9:16 AM CT

With files from CBC's Geoff Leo