The Idle No More movement has stirred up attention; now it needs to get specific. As part of the First Nations protest that is building across the country, singers and drummers blockaded the Coho ferry terminal Saturday, forcing those arriving from Port Angeles, Washington, to wait on the dock for about an hour. As protests go, it was peaceful and congenial, causing only minor inconvenience to travellers.
But if the aim was to elicit sympathy and support for the cause, it was not the best approach. Exasperating people and infringing on their rights doesn’t exactly make them want to rise up and stand with those who are blocking their way. It isn’t an effective way to educate the public about what the movement is seeking.
And it goes against counsel from the Idle No More website.
“We also call out to each community to organize teach-ins and peaceful demonstrations — we believe an educated public is the best form of action,” says the website. It says that actions may vary from one area to another, but notes that “some community members are seeking stronger forms of action such as blockades. While we need to protect the land from further damage, we hope that this will be used as a last resort.”
There’s logic to setting up a blockade at the entrance of an old-growth forest. A protest at the Enbridge pipeline hearings is easily connected to the concern for the potential environmental effects of the project, and it raises awareness of the issue.
But blocking the path of a couple from Colwood on their way back from a shopping trip south of the border is likely to do little more than raise irritation, especially since it’s preaching to the choir: This is a region that generally stands with First Nations against the pipeline and doesn’t like the Stephen Harper government any more than the protesters do.
And the movement needs to get specific: Define the problems, propose solutions and lay out a plan of action.
It is unacceptable that in a country as wealthy as Canada, many people live in Third World squalor in First Nations communities. Life expectancy is too short among Canadian aboriginal peoples, education rates are too low and economic opportunities too limited. In too many areas, traditional ways of life are threatened by resource extraction and other development.
“Idle No More is a peaceful organization that is working towards profound social, political and economic change,” says the group’s website.
Yes, there’s no question change is needed, but how? Talk alone won’t do it. Neither will glib solutions: The complexity of the issues defies simplistic answers.
And conditions that have evolved over centuries and generations won’t be solved with one meeting, or two or three. In B.C., a process was launched in 1992 to bring together federal and provincial governments and First Nations to fast-track treaty settlements. The governments said that with the commission’s help and goodwill, all land claims could be settled by 2000. More than 20 years later, only two treaties have been fully concluded. This doesn’t bode well for speedy national solutions.
But the mistake would be trying to solve everything at once. Progress can be achieved one modest victory at a time. Protests and rallies raise attention, but specific plans and hard work are needed to get things done.
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