In Canada, five women set the spark

Thanks to five women, four of them First Nation women, who have had enough, winter in Canada suddenly turned very hot. Idle No More is sweeping the country with the heat of justice, democracy, emancipation, and peoples’ power. It’s a Native Peoples’ Northern Lights, and it could shine on all of us.

Five women have started a national movement with global reach. Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation is on the fourteenth day of a hunger strike. Her immediate demand is that the Prime Minister and the Queen meet face to face with her and other First Nation leaders to address the longstanding violations of treaties. First Nation peoples and communities have had enough of sitting on the sidelines of their own histories.

At the same time, Chief Spence has another, call it existential demand: life with dignity. Last year, Chief Spence drew international attention to the deplorable living conditions on her Northern Ontario reservation. Since then … nothing has improved. So, Chief Spence is saying that death-in-life, that survival without dignity, that being turned into something less than a shadow is unacceptable. And so she is on a hunger strike.

The hunger strike is as well part of a mass strike, initially organized by four women in Saskatchewan: Jessica Gordon, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean. The women were fed up with the intensifying assault against First Nation peoples by the Canadian government, not to mention the assaults by the State on Native women. The last straw was something called Bill C-45, a monster omnibus bill that threatens First Nations with loss of land, environment, life, agency and autonomy. To the four women, it seemed that Bill C-45, and the Canadian government and State, offered First Nations people, and everyone, loss and the promise of more and deeper loss as the only absolute value. And, of course, the State calls it democracy.

So they organized, and the organizing effort has spread like prairie fire. The lesson here is the lesson the women of Egypt, Sudan, Spain, Chile, have brought over the last couple years. It’s the lesson the women of the Indignados, Girifna, the Arab Spring, the Chilean Winter, Occupy, UK Uncut, and, behind them, of the Zapatistas and Ya Basta, and behind them …

The lesson is that hope is material. Hope must be maintained as a concrete, material part of all of our lives. When loss is offered instead of hope, when debt is offered instead of hope, when autocracy and kleptocracy are offered, in the name of democracy or security, instead of hope, it’s time to be idle no more. It’s time light the winter skies.

And that’s the star the five wise women of Canada and their sisters and brothers have taught us to follow this December. They are “opening the eyes of this land” and, hopefully, this world.

 

(Photo Credit: Idle No More)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.