The Idle No More movement comes to Prince George this afternoon, with a demonstration scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Civic Centre Plaza.
The local demonstration comes a day after a crowd of about 3,000 descended on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with national First Nations leaders. The protesters started their march from Victoria Island, a nearby outcrop of the Ottawa River where Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been camped out for the last month, subsisting on a liquids-only diet of fish broth and tea.
Spence and many, but not all, aboriginal leaders were insisting that any meeting with the Prime Minister must include Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, since he is the Queen's formal representative and the treaties many First Nations have is between their groups and the Crown. These chiefs can claim all they want that they can cut the Prime Minister out of the loop but the British North America Act of 1867 and the 1982 Constitution, not to mention past practice since Confederation, shows that Canada is governed by Canadians, specifically the Prime Minister and his cabinet,
and the Governor-General and the Queen are symbolic leaders with no real power.
In other words, the Prime Minister and cabinet have replaced the Crown as the agents behind those treaties.
To put it rudely, but accurately, the cheques come from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and they say the Government of Canada on the top, so why the need to negotiate with the Crown?
It's not just who should be at the table where many aboriginal leaders, including Spence, are off-base. The Idle No More movement is ultimately doomed to failure, even though the ideals are noble and true and the injustices are real and significant, because the leaders of it are trying to do too much at once.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s in the United States didn't get bogged down trying to overcome racial intolerance and the scourge of slavery. Rather, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders focused on bite-sized action items that they knew would build momentum going forward. They targeted the little day-to-day issues where racism manifested itself - voting rights, segregation and access to education. Racism is too big to wrestle to the ground but everybody understands what one person, one vote means.
Win the battles and the war will take care of itself.
Closer to home, the Quebec Cree were able to get the Quebec government to slow down on James Bay hydroelectric expansion in the 1990s by focusing on the significant environmental damage, as well as the forced relocation of entire villages without consultation or compensation. Having a charismatic, articulate McGill-educated lawyer named Matthew Coon Come as grand chief (he would later go on to lead the Assembly of First Nations) didn't hurt, either.
Idle No More will fail as surely as the Occupy movement and the Tea Party in the United States have failed. If you're mad at everything and you want to change everything, nothing changes. Occupy might have seen some success if all it focused on was making sure the "one per cent" paid more than one per cent of the taxes, rather than some undefined revolution against the rich. The Tea Party might have had success if it focused solely on defeating President Obama's healthcare plan, rather than trying to take over the Republican Party and returning America to some idyllic ideal that never existed in the first place.
The right leader, the right issue, the right message and the right time are the necessary ingredients for incremental, long-term success in protest movements.
At the moment, Idle No More is lacking on all fronts.
-- Managing editor Neil Godbout