“The grassroots movement is the heart of it. It comes from the people. But it very much is a political issue too, because there are going to be political ramifications that need to be addressed, and those can’t be ignored either.”
— Idle No More protester Clyford Sinclair
On Friday night, nearly 200 protesters took over the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue to stage a peaceful demonstration in support of Idle No More.
As the Sun reported, Brandon police were out rerouting traffic around the intersection to ensure the protest remained peaceful, though this local group of Idle No More supporters seemed far more interested in making a statement than causing any major disturbance.
And for the most part, protests like these across the country have been relatively peaceful, in spite of the sometimes inflammatory rhetoric that comes with any kind of mass protest. In Brandon, for example, protesters carried signs that read “Honour Our Treaties,” “Ask Questions” and one that likened Harper to Adolf Hitler.
At worst, Friday’s protest in Brandon inconvenienced city motorists, while participants attempted to focus the public’s attention on their demands for a few hours.
Clyford Sinclair, who was among the many protesters attending the demonstration, said the protest was about more than just Idle No More — it was about “bringing the whole community together” to build relationships to incite change in the world.
And yet, that message was entirely lost on more than a few souls who took to message boards and Facebook Friday evening to comment on the protest, and voice their visceral displeasure over the traffic delay.
Many of the comments we read struck at the heart of what has become a chasm of misunderstanding between First Nations people and non-aboriginal Canadians. The arguments on both sides of the equation essentially boiled down to the same bigoted, racist and closed-minded comments that seem to pass for discussion on aboriginal issues these days.
That same tainted rhetoric is being played out on a national scale as the Idle No More movement has fractured First Nations leadership across the country, even as it stokes discontent among non-aboriginal Canadians who feel the protest is unjustified. Just read the comment sections of national news stories on the subject and it’s clear that aboriginal indignation isn’t the only thing that has been awakened.
As we’ve said before on this page, we believe it is unfortunate that Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has become a poster child for the Idle No More movement.
It is also unfortunate that not one Manitoba chief chose to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, all because he would not cede to the misguided demand that the British Crown’s ceremonial representative be present. A few of the more vocal chiefs have even called for blockades of highways and railways to begin this week. It’s a shame they could not find it within themselves to acknowledge that the prime minister was prepared to listen to their concerns.
What was — and still is, to some extent — a grassroots movement has lost its focus as arguments turn to questions of accountability, treaty entitlements and arguments over which federal representatives need to be at the table.
Nevertheless that movement has garnered a change in tone from Ottawa — Harper has promised high-level talks with Assembly of First Nations members in the coming weeks.
As such, we suggest that aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike take a few deep breaths and cool the rhetoric that has been heating up over the past few weeks.
If one peaceful little protest march in Brandon can fan the flames of old hatreds and prejudices among our citizens, a further escalation in tensions would lead to ramifications that no rational person can want.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 14, 2013