I have mixed feelings about the Idle No More protests. There are growing divisions within the First Nations leadership, and there has always been a lack of clarity about how best to address First Nations’ poverty and unresolved rights and title claims.
However, we must be very careful not to judge these protests too quickly or too harshly.
The freedom to protest is a key tenet of a healthy democracy. While we might be inconvenienced by protests or even disagree with the reasons behind them, it’s important to remember that the freedom to protest is a fundamental democratic right we need to protect.
We must take care that our impatience with the personal inconvenience public protests may create does not enable our government to exercise authoritarian control over our freedom to express ourselves.
The Idle No More protests have been a long time coming. They are the result of increasing frustration with treaty processes that are set up to fail, an Indian Act that maintains a paternalistic relationship with First Nations, and the development of natural resources that continue to have unresolved ownership claims.
Our federal and provincial governments pay lip service to resolving these long-standing issues, but their focus on accelerating the development of Canada’s and B.C.’s natural resources has brought the issue of resource title and benefit sharing to a head. In the absence of consultation processes that work, clarity of ownership over these resources, and equitable sharing of the benefits of resource development, First Nations’ frustrations have grown to the point that they feel compelled to take to the streets.
When the treaty table doesn’t work, when the government won’t resolve long-standing legal rights issues, and when companies and the government make money from natural resources to which they don’t have clear title, what is left for First Nations to do but disrupt the status quo to force action on these issues?
The courts have said these issues must be resolved. The investment community has said these issues must be resolved. But federal and provincial political leaders continue to address First Nations issues with little more than empty talk.
Instead of grumbling about the inconvenience these protests create, if we take the time to educate ourselves about these issues and join the call for reform, then maybe this time our political leaders will finally start doing the hard work of resolving these complex issues once and for all.
By Bob Simpson
Ind. MLA, Cariboo-Chilcotin