Over the past few years, the Idle No More movement has gained steam and support across Canada. The Idle No More movement began on December 10th 2012. To mark International Human Rights Day, Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation began the first day of her 44 day hunger strike (Christoff 2013). For the general public, this was not the first time Attawapiskat had been in the news. From June 1st 2011 to May 31st 2012, the Attawapiskat housing crisis represented 22 percent of all news stories in Ontario about Aboriginal people for the year. The next year from June 1st to May 31st, the Attawapiskat crisis represented 25 percent of all Aboriginal news stories. While the Idle No More moment represented 31 percent of all Ontario Aboriginal news stories (Pierro 2013).
Chief Spence went on her hunger strike to create awareness and attempt to bring change to the life of Aboriginal people. Chief Spence was fighting for improved Aboriginal rights, calling for justice for Aboriginal land rights, economic resources and self-determination. The theory of self-determination was United States President Woodrow Wilson’s tenth point in his 14 point address following the conclusion of the First World War. Wilson stated proposed guaranteed freedoms, the adjustments of colonial claims and the guarantee of political independence and territorial integrity for all states regardless of their size (U.S Department of State Office of the Historian).
The struggle of Aboriginal people within the borders of Canada are an on-going issue dating back to the European settlers and explorers colonizing North America over 300 years ago. As Canada was formed with Confederation in 1867, numerous documents have been signed between the Canadian government and the Aboriginal people. For the Aboriginal populations the treaties signed are not accomplishing what they were require to do in order to preserve their way of life and allow them to have self-determination. As the Idle No More movement has evolved, so has the sentiment of what the movement has become. The Idle No More movement is now perceived as the Aboriginal population against the Conservative Canadian Federal Government.
Frantz Fanon was a 20th century Afro-French philosopher who dedicated his relatively short life to writing on the theory of colonization and decolonization. Fanon’s wrote “Concerning Violence” an article describing his views on the European colonization of Africa and the people of Africa’s desire to decolonize. Fanon called for “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon (Fanon 35).” Fanon believed in his writings that the only way that a nation could defeat and separate from the colonizers was a violent rebellion. The Idle No More movement is fundamentally similar to the ideals of Fanon. Both parties are fighting for national liberation and restoration of their way of life prior to the European settlers colonizing their native land.
Fanon’s belief that violence was the answer to end oppression was not his only philosophical belief as to what was required to decolonization. “To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up (Fanon 35).” The quote from Fanon illustrates his belief that for change to start it has to begin from the lowest members of society. Fanon writes of the differences between the colonizers or settlers and the natives. Fanon depicts the colon cities as being two separate villages. The elite, high class homes of the European settlers and the dark depressed, run down slums that the natives live in. For the decolonization to have success it must start from the lowest rung on the ladder, the natives living in the slums and slowly climb up the ladder, building power and momentum with each successive step up the rung of the ladder. While the Aboriginal people fighting within the Idle No More moment are either living on reserves or like Chief Spence have to deal with the Attawapiskat housing crisis.
Throughout, his writing Fanon described the colonizers and decolonization as two separate groups where there was no middle group. “Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which is in fact owe their originality to that sort of sub-stantification which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies (Fanon 36).” Fanon describes the fundamental structure of conflict between two groups. Fanon depicts how polar opposite the two parties are. The European settlers who colonized both Africa and North America nature was to oppress and exploit the natives. The situation for both the African and Aboriginal people is in such poor condition that they are willing to go to any extent to fight for their freedoms and escape the oppression.
In my opinion, Fanon’s theory of necessary violence was an acceptable way to achieve change as that was where the world was prior to the explosion of mass media. Mass media has grown exponentially since the 1960s with television becoming the number one medium to spread information on the new must have piece of technology. For the Aboriginal community using violence is not the way to accomplish and acquire the rights that the Aboriginal community desires to obtain with the Idle No More movement. Protest are becoming less effective every year and have become an old and out dated method of achieving change. The Idle No More movement harmed itself from the very beginning with the hunger strike of Chief Spence because of the mass media exposure of television, radio and the internet. The reason the hunger strike was harmful to the Idle No More Movement was because when people first look at hunger strikes in the media, they view it as a fast and stupid stunt that will be over in a matter of days. When people initially read a headline about a hungry strike, one of the first instincts of the reader is how stupid they believe the person taking part in a hunger strike is.
For the Aboriginal community violence is also not an acceptable way to achieve change because if the media would instantly label any Aboriginal person who uses violence as either terrorists or a violent radical. Both are negative labels that will not generate any public support. Change is only achieve through using the media as a mechanism to spread knowledge of the cause to the general population and explain why it is worth fighting for and why the Aboriginal community deserves to have certain rights.
Today, the best way to achieve change is to have a charismatic leader. A leader who is capable of effectively articulating the thoughts and needs of the Aboriginal community. The leader has to have an understanding of how the media, technology and social media work in order to harness the power of these mediums to spread the message and gain public support. The leader must be articulate and be able to stand in front of television cameras and be able to provide attention grabbing sound bites that captures the attention of the public. Once the leader has captured the public’s attention they can begin to initiate change. Gaining the support of the general population will build momentum and force change through public support. As a small group that is easily identified as Aboriginal they are easier to ignore by the elected leaders capable of implementing change. However, if the group has the support of the general public and can only be identified as board group of people who are supporting a fight for an Aboriginal cause, it is much harder for the Conservative Federal Government to ignore. Until the Idle No More movement gains an articulate leader who can educate the general public and gain support the Idle No More movement will achieve minimal success.
Christoff, Stefan. “‘Idle No More’ and colonial Canada.” Aljazeera. Last modified January 30, 2013. Accessed January 26, 2015. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/
Pierro, Robin. “Buried Voices: Media Coverage of Aboriginal Issues in Ontario.” Journalists For Human Rights, August 2013, 1-23.
U.S Department of State Office of the Historian. “Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918.” U.S Department of State Office of the Historian. Accessed January 26, 2015. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/fourteen-points.
Fanon, Frantz, “Concerning Violence.” The Wretched