Idle, as if there is nothing to do

Native talks with government need a unified voice if they hope to stop projects like Gateway.

Idle – to move slowly or lounge, without purpose as if there is nothing to do.


Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Alliance of First Nations, was satisfied with on-going talks with the federal government over treaty rights.

But Chief Theresa Spence, of Idle No More, refused to attend, hoping a meeting with the governor general, a link to the monarchy, would be more productive.

Last Saturday, it was reported that Spence left Rideau Hall early because the meeting with the Queen’s rep ‘seemed like a show.’ Natives at the grass roots feel that way about more talks, while Harper continues to erase habitat protection in law – an imminent threat to water.

“Water is life for our people,” insists the 2012 document, “Save the Fraser Declaration.” It’s endorsed by 100 indigenous nations, who warn they won’t allow fish, animals, and people to be exposed to an Enbridge oil spill in the Upper Fraser River Watershed.

Native talks with government need a unified voice if they hope to stop projects like Gateway. Enabling oil industry expansion is a powerful motive made clear by Harper’s program to erase habitat protection in statues – the Fisheries Act last year, and now the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

The 1982, NWPA guaranteed all Canadians unobstructed travel down rivers – no pipelines, bridges. In doing so, it protected rivers from pollution.

According to ecojustice (Bill-C45 and the NWPA), amendments mean the act will only prohibit work “in, over, under, across, or through” a mere 62 of Canada’s 2.25 million rivers. That leaves 99.7 per cent with no protection.

Last week, MP, Fin Donnelly told a local town hall meeting that rivers left out include the Alouette.

Natives in northern B.C. are fearful. If the Enbridge pipeline goes ahead, 800 streams and five major salmon rivers would have pipes across them. Oil spills would destroy streams, habitat, and native culture. B.C.’s First Nations would share the fate of those in Alberta forced to abandon a tradition of fishing in rivers like the Athabasca, or eat a poisonous catch.

In Alberta, water has been poisoned by the tar sands. A recent study by Environment Canada and Queen’s University links toxic sediment in lakes – chemicals, mercury, and 40 carcinogenic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons – to the sands.

Dr. John Smol, a biologist with the study, told Quirks and Quarks (CBC, Jan. 12) sediment in lakes 50-90 km from the sands prove PAHs have multiplied 23 times since production began there in 1967.

“We have the smoking gun,” said Smol.

Impact on water will only increase, he added, because the oil industry will bump production 2.5 times in the next 15 years.

Many behind Idle No More think time for talk has run out. They say they’ve been treated like victimized children for centuries.

History bears them out. In 1670, King Charles II of England, without consultation, ruled that indigenous people who’d occupied Canada didn’t have any legal rights to it. He gifted it to the newly formed Hudson Bay Company of Adventurers. One of the principles of the firm – capitalists known as “bourgeois” – was the king’s cousin. Charles dubbed the newly discovered territory, Rupert’s Land, after him.

Transfer of ownership was easy for a king. Charles drafted a “charter” – a kind of omnibus bill in those days. It entitled the HBC to “all the rivers and streams draining into Hudson Bay” – 1.5 million square miles, land known today as Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the North West Territory, much of Alberta, and Nunavut.

Control here remained in the hands of the elitist HBC for 200 years; until the new Dominion of Canada bought it for provinces in the 1870s – not from the natives, but from the firm.

What 17th Century thinking justified giving 40 per cent of Canada to a group of private businessmen?

Firstly, “the divine right of kings” asserted that Christian monarchs with direct links to God, were entitled to act without consulting aboriginals.

That idea lives on in Canada with a Prime Minister who rewrites laws to enable industry, and disempower and demoralize citizens.

Charles believed “savages” were children to be managed, and the feudalistic HBC exploited them. Canada’s Indian Act of 1876 is equally paternalistic. It still allows the federal government to decide – unilaterally – who qualifies as an Indian. Folks in Idle No More think a change in attitude is overdue.

Lastly, trade and commerce were considered the backbone of civilization in the 17th Century; resources to be extracted for profit.

According to King Charles, savages couldn’t develop a solid business plan. That would need the bourgeois, who deserved an open door to development. Sound familiar?

Like the Arab Spring, Idle No More may bring the only solutions to centuries of social injustice.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

Maple Ridge News

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