John Ralston Saul: Indigenous Peoples don't need sympathy, they need you to take action
In other words, he decided to act.
But this wasn't the first time Saul dedicated his attention to the topic of Indigenous issues. In 2008, he published A Fair Country, a book that explores the influence Indigenous Peoples had on the shape of what Canada had become — without being given any credit.
"I thought I'd done my thing, I thought I'd said what I had to say on the subject … and then things really didn't move. And then Idle No More happened, and I thought this was the most fantastic breakthrough. And I felt that I had to make another attempt at talking to non-Indigenous Canadians."
Saul added he was also inspired by people around him who identified with the spirit of Idle No More but didn't know where to take it, or how to channel their desire to get involved.
"They didn't have the language, they didn't have the arguments, they didn't have the mythologies," he said. "They knew it meant something important but they didn't know how to express it in their own terms."
Taking it back to treaties
Digging into the deep history of treaties, Saul sought advice from Indigenous authors and elders and drew on writings from leading Indigenous thinkers to offer non-Indigenous Canadians a primer of this country's history — a history he himself didn't learn about until he reached adulthood.
"For about 125 years, give or take, the Canadian government has acted extremely badly — even in a way which should be called evil — breaking treaties, breaking agreements," he said. "At a certain point, you have to turn around and say, it really isn't good enough for citizens to say 'I feel so badly about what happened.' It's a way of getting out of doing something."
Saul said his hope for the book, and speaking engagements that came after it was published, was to motivate others to turn that sympathy into action, by voting for parties based on their willingness to act on these issues.
"I think that if you insist on sympathy you're trying to avoid action, and that's when I say it becomes a new form of racism," Saul said.
"Because you're avoiding reality, you're avoiding what actually needs to be done for people who have every right, every constitutional, historic and treaty right to these things and are not getting them."