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Why the 'Idle No More' Movement Is Our Best Chance for Clean Land and Water

In an urgent pursuit for environmental justice and basic human rights, First Nations gather across North America under the banner of Idle No More.

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Aboriginal leaders charge the Conservative government with pushing the bill through without consulting them. They note the bill infringes on their treaty rights, compromises ownership of their land, and takes away protection for Canada’s waterways and most of the environment. Since Canada’s economy is largely based on exploiting natural resources at an alarming rate, moving into a leading position in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, fracking and lacing pristine water with cyanide for new mines, it’s convenient to gut the environmental laws. It’s also convenient to violate the international laws which are treaties.

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In the United States, the native community has been coming out in numbers and regalia to support the Canadian native struggle to protect the environment—drawing attention at the same time to similar concerns and issues here in the U.S. For instance, Ojibwe from the Keewenaw Bay Community in Michigan rallied against a Rio Tinto Zinc mine project, while Navajo protesters in Flagstaff, Ariz., continued opposing a ski project with manufactured snow at a sacred mountain.

“The first Nations are the last best hope that Canadians have for protecting land for food and clean water for the future,” she said. “Not just for our people but for Canadians as well. So this country falls or survives on whether they acknowledge or recognize and implement those aboriginal and treaty rights. So they need to stand with us and protect what is essential.”Pamela Paimeta, a spokesperson for the Idle No More movement in Canada, urges the larger community to see what is occuring across the country as a reality check.

Meanwhile , Chief Theresa Spence is still hoping to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging him to "open his heart" and meet with native leaders angered by his policies.

"He's a person with a heart but he needs to open his heart,” she said. “I'm sure he has faith in the Creator himself and for him to delay this, it's very disrespectful, I feel, to not even meet with us.”

The reality is that Attawapiskat, Aamjiwnaang, and Kashechewan are remote native communities that receive little or no attention until a human rights crisis of great proportion causes national shame.

Facebook and social media equalize access for those who never see the spotlight. (Just think of the Arab Spring). With the help of social media, the Idle No More movement has taken on a life of its own in much the same way the first "Occupy Wall Street" camp gave birth to a multitude of "occupy" protests with no clear leadership.

"This has spread in ways that we wouldn't even have imagined," said Sheelah McLean, an instructor at the University of Saskatchewan and one of the four women who originally coined the "Idle No More" slogan.

"What this movement is supposed to do is build consciousness about the inequalities so that everyone is outraged about what is happening here in Canada. Every Canadian should be outraged."

Actually, we all should be outraged, and Idle no More.

Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) is a contributing editor at  YES! Magazine , as well as an internationally acclaimed author, orator, and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of native communities.

 
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