Close to 100 people gathered at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Chilliwack last week to get both an academic and a First Nations perspective on the Idle No More movement.
UFV faculty members Hamish Telford and Robert Harding spoke about omnibus bills and media coverage, respectively, while Sakej Warden and Joanne Gutierrez talked about indigenous nationhood and indigenous government.
While the teach-in held in the Aboriginal Gathering Place hosted a diversity of speakers, none were critical of the grassroots movement.
Political science instructor Telford kicked off the planned speakers with a rundown on the basics of Parliamentary procedure and what exactly an omnibus bill is.
The Idle No More movement, which has since grown internationally, began in October with four women in Saskatchewan exchanging emails about the impacts the omnibus budget Bill C45 might have on aboriginal rights.
Telford explained how Canadian legislation works and how omnibus bills can be perfectly legitimate. He argued, however, that not only do Conservative budget bills C-38 and C-45 violate Parliamentary procedure by unnecessarily including unrelated items, but they "may constitute a violation of the Constitution."
To that end, some court proceedings are already underway in Canada and more are likely coming from various First Nations bands.
"Ultimately First Nations may be able to do what the opposition parties have not been able to do and that is hold the government accountable," Telford said.
The second speaker was Warden, a member of Warrior Societies Alliance who holds a master's degree in indigenous government.
Warden outlined some Canadian and British Columbia history with an emphasis on the fact that the First Nations people never agreed to the creation of the colony or the country.
"This area does not have a legitimate claim to sovereignty by Canada," Warden said. "People do not consent to be colonized."
But he went further, arguing that the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) amounts to neo-colonization and is nothing but a puppet regime of the federal government.
"That's why the goals of grassroots people [through Idle No More] are different than the goals of the AFN," he said.
Harding, a UFV social work instructor who analyzes media coverage of aboriginal peoples, talked about the history of First Nations in newspapers.
In the early days of the formation of the country, Harding said "the Indian was an object" and there was an "us versus them" dialogue in print. And today?
"There are many similarities," he said, pointing to a 2002 headline in the Province: "Natives go to Europe to block our Olympic bid."
As for the Idle No More movement, Harding had criticism of newspaper coverage although his focus was on opinion writers, and particularly Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail.
But Harding's biggest criticism of media coverage of Idle No More was of comments that appear underneath online newspaper stories-in other words, reader feedback.
"Some of the coverage is pretty offensive," he argued, pointing to a number of reader responses to a Jan. 5 Simpson column.
After the speakers, many of those in attendance were asked to say a few words.
The predominant theme from the speakers, both those in attendance and those introducing the event, was that more education and understanding of First Nations issues was needed.
Student Megan Davies urged those in attendance to tell somebody else about what they heard that day. Davies said she frequently spoke with people who do not understand the issues of Idle No More, let along aboriginal history.
"That ignorance just builds," Davies said.
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