COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Dec. 28, 2012

Jessica Iron Joseph
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On Friday, Dec. 21, Prince Albert held its Idle No More rally to raise awareness for Bill C-45. My husband, Kevin Joseph, helped organize it, along with Kirsten Scansen, Tammy St. Denis and Gabriella Lee.

The day of the rally things were still undecided. There were obstacles. We weren’t sure if the mayor was OK with the rally. We were unsure if police escorts were on board. People objected to use of their buildings, in fear of jeopardizing government funding. Still we prayed and moved forward in faith that things would work out. We aimed for peace.

When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see police involvement.

We walked slowly to the beat of the drum, stopping at each intersection for a short round dance. The police escorts were incredible -- very welcoming and jovial. People shook their hands in gratitude. The route had been previously planned out, but somehow changed over the course of the walk. Some suggested we were following the spirit of the drum.

We walked to City Hall and I was shocked when people started filing inside. I knew it was unplanned, but I was curious to see what would happen.

Several songs were sung in the foyer and I figured we would be kicked out by security. Contrarily, Mayor Greg Dionne came down and said a few words of encouragement in support of Idle No More. He said he was also against Bill C-45, which everyone cheered to. We then walked to MP Randy Hoback’s office, stopping for a few songs outside.

It was a bitterly cold day, and we were thrilled to finally reach St. Alban’s Cathedral, where coffee, soup and bannock awaited us. Several people gave speeches while we warmed our frozen limbs. Dean Ken Davis later told me that he was upset when he read in the papers that we had no place to end our rally. He prayed on it and realized that the day of the rally was during the week of Advent with the theme of peace, which perfectly suited the cause, being a peaceful protest. This was confirmation to him that we should end the rally at St. Alban’s.

We were grateful, though we noted that many First Nations people were sceptical of using a church for the rally because of the history of First Nations people and the churches. For some, it might have been the first time they had ever entered a church. I think it was a great step towards healing that rift.

When it was over, we were overjoyed and in awe of how the rally had unfolded so easily. We went home inspired, hopeful and empowered.

The next night we attended a debriefing meeting in Saskatoon, with several other rally and flash mob organizers from across the province. Flash mobs are somewhat spontaneous round dances held in public places like malls.

The debriefing meeting was very positive. We talked about plans for the future and how to keep the energy and momentum going. Two ladies who weren’t Aboriginal attended also, and it was wonderful to have their presence there -- because we stressed that this wasn’t just a First Nations issue. It is a Canadian issue. We want to encourage people of all races to join Idle No More. It is about protecting Mother Earth, not just treaty rights.

Idle No More has now had rallies across the world, and people are supporting the movement everywhere. I’ve seen supportive photos and videos from places like England, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico, Ukraine and many U.S. locations.

As it has snowballed almost out of control, and is essentially leaderless, people have been vying to step in and assume post. However, it was intended to be a grassroots movement encouraging education and positive action and will hopefully remain that way.

There are certain things that worry me about its spiralling growth. People are now doing things in the name of Idle No More. Blockades are springing up everywhere. We spoke of this at the debriefing. We all agreed that blockades are most effective when used to prevent direct damage to the environment, as in such cases like pipelines being built, or the nuclear waste repository in Pinehouse. When road blocks occur for no reason other than attention, they place Idle No More in a negative spotlight. I for one do not agree with this.

When angry, militant factions are at the helms of such protests, things can turn ugly quickly. I have seen people shouting furious and forceful speeches in the middle of Flash Mobs and also at rallies. I cringe when I hear these speeches, as do many Idle No More supporters. Passion moves mountains. Rage starts wars.

I worry that people will view this as First Nations versus Everyone Else. This is dangerous thinking on both sides, which could unravel the power of this collective unity.

Unfortunately, I believe some people are veering over to the dark side. I’ve seen posters that call our prime minister names. When has calling names ever worked in someone’s favour? If anything, it impedes progress and builds barriers; ensuring people won’t listen to you and likely won’t meet with you either.

I support people who have courageously embarked on hunger strikes, like Chief Theresa Spence, Emil Bell and Elder Raymond Robinson, in the hopes of Prime Minister Harper meeting with First Nations leaders. My husband and I are both fasting today, as I write this, in solidarity with these three, hoping for a peaceful resolution. We are praying for their health and strength and that a meeting happens quickly to end their hunger strikes.

I worry that if it doesn’t, and something happens to any of those on hunger strikes, that supporters of a more precarious nature will use such an opportunity to spring forth volatile action, bringing dishonour to Idle No More, and potentially risking lives.

If you support Idle No More, please remind others that it is intended as a peaceful movement joining all groups. Do not support hatred, anger or illogical actions. Let’s keep things peaceful.

Organizations: First Nations, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Alban, Saskatoon, England Australia New Zealand Israel Mexico Ukraine U.S. Pinehouse

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Recent comments

  • Margaret Vandale
    January 06, 2013 - 02:21

    I feel compelled to speak out my thoughts on this protest. We have been hearing and reading for months of the vast earnings of Theresa Spence and her partner in excess of $800,000.00, while her people live in squalor. Why do we never hear a word of this from anyone, especially from her people. Why dont the people protest against her? It has been proven time and again, Native militancy does not work, I quote from the Calgary Sun "Protesting creates a dangerous idea,as it encourages a mistaken belief that there is a magic wand deep in some federal gov't vault and that if only the evil Prime Minister would meet with first nation leaders, He would produce that magic wand," We all know there is no magic wand.

  • David Beatty
    January 01, 2013 - 21:36

    I truly support the Idle No More rallies. They depict the togetherness of the First Nations Peoples and their supporters.Somehow the Federal government fogets who was here first in Canada and who helped the Europeans survive the deadly diseases they brought over and when they literally invaded our land.Honour the treaties as set out by the monarchy and the first nations peoples of Canada lest you forget who was here first.