Idle No More gained steam at the beginning of December, 2012 when four Canadian women took to social media sites Facebook and Twitter to discuss the blatant disregard for Native treaty agreements by the government and the substantial environmental issues that affect the Native population. First Nations leaders across Canada have adopted the movement to voice concerns about the mistreatment of Native Canadians. None are more visible than Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Chief Spence initiated a hunger strike on December 11th to spread awareness of the issues facing her people and to compel Prime Minister Stephan Harper and Governor General David Johnston to engage in a serious dialogue about the rights and sovereignty of Aboriginals in Canada.
What originally sparked the movement was the founders’ concerns over provisions in the second omnibus bill C-45. Stemming from the controversy surrounding the government’s 450 page omnibus budget bill, Native Canadians have rallied together across the nation to voice their displeasure with specific provisions outlined within the document. Bill C-45, now the Jobs and Growth Act, was the second large-scale budget implementation bill by the Harper government. It outlined the Canadian budget for 2013 and contained a series of amendments to legislation to help facilitate the budget.
The two main points of contention within the act are the amendments made to the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Act. Changes to the Indian Act are such that it has made the surrender or lease of protected land much easier to consent to. Making reserve land more susceptible to development has been presented as a means for facilitating the possibility of economic expansion through increased industry.
Changes to the Navigable Waters Act include a drastic reduction in the amount of waterways protected by federal scrutiny over the construction of various development projects. Again, proponents of this amendment focus on the potential for economic growth whereas those in opposition look at the amendment as a systematic weakening of environmental oversight by the Harper government.
Canadian Aboriginals frame these changes as a way of stealing important rights from future generations. This is in terms of the major changes to land rights and usages as well as the weakening of environmental assessment provisions which may aid in the expansion of Canada’s already burgeoning oil industry.
Despite mainstream media framing the issue as a Native problem, Idle No More represents more than just the mistreatment of Aboriginals but all Canadians. It represents the disdain for increased environmental degradation of the Canadian landscape, the effects of which will be felt by all who live here. It is not simply a Native problem, it is a Canadian problem.
Alternative journalism, being associated with subversion, activating social change and challenging traditional social structures like government, mainstream media and capitalist entities provides an important counterbalance to dominant portrayals of the movement. It has mobilized citizens across the country and has established Idle No More as a significant cause that all Canadians should be engaged with.
The difference in sentiment between mainstream and alternative media is stark. Whereas the majority of alternative coverage of Idle No More has been largely supportive, mainstream counterparts have taken a less enthusiastic approach. Though mainstream media has shown some signs of sympathy towards the movement, there is a level of animosity that is palpable.
Mainstream media has covered the movement from its inception and has worked diligently to frame the discourse in a very particular way. Mainstream sources have managed to build the movement into one that is burdening a nation and hindering business as usual. Stories emphasize the disruption of infrastructure and the general lack of unity and purpose that is reminiscent of the former Occupy movements. Some sources have gone as far as painting key leaders around stories of scandal.
Mainstream media has done little to produce feelings of cultural empowerment nor has it encouraged citizen participation or citizen activism. However, such calls for action are common within the alternative media. Alternative coverage has been paramount in disseminating information that has been either misrepresented or ignored completely by mainstream sources. Alternative coverage has performed its duty by subverting the dominant discourse and by privileging the powerless or those at the margins thereby strengthening the Idle No More movement. It therefore goes to show the power of alternative media to challenge mainstream discourse in a way that has become very difficult to ignore.
Originally posted January 23, 2013 on mediamargins.net