One year of Idle No More: update and analysis

Idle No More Dec 21 ottawa sign

INM rally on Dec 21, 2012, in Ottawa.

by Zig Zag, Warrior Publications, Dec 11, 2013

Last month at around this time, I posted one or two corporate news articles about the one year anniversary of Idle No More (INM). Yesterday (Dec 10), there were a few more articles about the one year anniversary. “What’s up with that?” I thought, so I checked out INM’s website. Turns out, the one year anniversary was officially declared to be a month-long series of events by INM Official (the website).

That was probably a clever move, because combined together, the events over the last month don’t come anywhere close to the mass mobilizations seen last year. In Ottawa alone, hundreds of people gathered on Dec 10, 2012, while this year’s anniversary rally on the same day drew just over 80 people (an estimate based on video of the event).

INM rally in Ottawa on Dec 10, 2012.

INM rally in Ottawa on Dec 10, 2012.

Idle No More organizers and supporters explained this drastic decline in various ways. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and academic, and one of the most high profile of INM’s supporters, stated “It’s going to be the larger movement itself. So, far beyond Idle No More, but the larger resistance indigenous movement is going to be stronger, more coordinated.”

(“Idle No More marks one year anniversary,” CTV Winnipeg, November 11, 2013)

This, of course, is a convenient way of obscuring INM’s decline by merging it with ongoing grassroots struggles across the country. While there is some truth in this, in that INM’ers have become associated with some grassroots campaigns, it is also somewhat disingenuous in that INM failed to make any significant contributions to the recent Mi’kmaq resistance, for example, a struggle that certainly required a stronger and more coordinated effort from grassroots Natives acting in solidarity.

INM rally on Dec 10, 2013, in Ottawa to mark 1 year anniversary.

INM rally on Dec 10, 2013, in Ottawa to mark 1 year anniversary.

A Winnipeg INM organizer, Leah Gazan, claimed that “much of the activism has gone underground” when asked about the smaller turnout during the one year anniversary rally in Winnipeg on Dec 10, 2013. While there has certainly been a major decline in INM’s ability to mobilize Natives, one can hardly take the suggestion that this is because many have gone “underground” with any seriousness.

#Sovereignty Summer: Not Exactly a Heat Wave

While the movement has grown smaller, and is probably now comprised of more committed activists (along with a trickle of newer participants), their basicmodus operandi remains pretty much the same as last year: rallies, extensive use of social media (including webinars), and educational work.

Perhaps the most significant change was the alliance established with Defenders of the Land (DOTL) in March 2013. This led to the call for #Sovereignty Summer, intended as an intensifying of “nonviolent direct action” because INM Official now supported such actions (including blockades, which the four “official” founders had previously condemned). This new commitment to direct action was expressed in a press release announcing the launch of #Sovereignty Summer:

“Idle No More’s founders and its chapters across the country have issued a call to build mounting pressure, including through mass non-violent direct actions to be joined by non-natives, to challenge “the Harper government and the corporate agenda.”

(“Idle No More and Defenders of the Land join to call for sustained campaign of action,” March 18, 2013, Press Release)

The Canada Day banner drop, July 1, 2013.

The Canada Day banner drop, July 1, 2013.

The call-out fell far short of its goals of “intensifying” actions. Perhaps the most significant action associated with Sovereignty Summer was the banner drop at a July 1st Canada Day celebration in Toronto. Digital data analyst Mark Blevis released a report on social media activity related to Sovereignty Summer, entitled “Sovereignty Summer struggled to capture public attention.”

According to Blevis, the summer campaign struggled for various reasons. For one, many people do not engage in political events during the summer, and use of social media also drops. This summer also saw the Lac Megantic train derailment and explosion, as well as flooding in Toronto and Calgary, events which Sovereignty Summer could not compete with in terms of media coverage.

“The result was Sovereignty Summer faced challenges online. Between June 1 and August 31 hashtags and terms associated with Sovereignty Summer (#SovSummer and #SovereigntySummer and the phrase “Sovereignty Summer”) were mentioned 7,698 times online. The most active platform was Twitter where 2,588 Twitter handles issued 7,311 relevant tweets. That was followed by news sources (224), blogs (143) and forums including Reddit (19). Nineteen videos which mentioned Sovereignty Summer or one of its known hashtags in video titles or descriptive meta-text were uploaded.

#Sovereignty Summer Twitter trend statistics compiled by Mark

#Sovereignty Summer Twitter trend statistics compiled by Mark Blevis.

“By way of comparison, 2,800 participants issued over 14,600 tweets on December 10 [2012], the day Idle No More truly launched online.

“Trending information shows Sovereignty Summer didn’t really take hold online until late June, in the days leading up to a planned Canada Day protest. The online energy was short lived, dropping sharply to very limited activity on July 7th and struggling to keep above 50 mentions each day for the remainder of the summer.”

(“Sovereignty Summer struggled to capture public attention,” By Mark Blevis,, September 17, 2013)

After Sovereignty Summer, INM and DOTL called for rallies and educational events for October 7, 2013, the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Royal Proclamation. According to INM, this day saw some 40 events across the country.

INM and INM: Competing Acronyms

Throughout the spring and summer, I kept seeing vague postings about the Indigenous Nationhood Movement making it’s big debut on November 5, 2013. At first I thought it was a transformation of Idle No More into something a bit more focused and perhaps more significant. I awaited the day with anticipation, to see what would transpire.Indigenous Nationhood Movement logo

Then the day came. And it was—wait for it—the official launch of the Indigenous Nationhood Movementwebsite! Now enter the intellectuals, including Taiaiake Alfred and Glen Coulthard, two university professors who have strong anti-colonial analysis and who have been critical of Idle No More’s convoluted approach.

In fact, Taiaiakie began building the hype for the Nationhood Movement as early as January 29, 2013, with his article “Indigenous Nationhood: Beyond Idle No More,” in which he asserted the movement had “plateaued” and had now lost its initial passion (see “Indigenous Nationhood: Beyond Idle No More,” by Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, Common Dreams, January 29, 2013).

Taiaiake continued to build the hype through a Nationhood Movement Facebook page established in March 2013, claiming that,

“INM is the continuation, the revitalization, the realization… of our long-standing fight to recover our lands, demand respect for the treaties that are the foundation of North American societies, and demonstrate the strength and dignity of our people. It’s decolonization in the 21st century, it’s Idle No More without restraint, it’s acting on our ancestral rites, it is Indigenous Nationhood!”

(Indigenous Nationhood Movement Facebook, March 7, 2013)

But using the same acronym? INM and INM, really? Perhaps the Nationhood Movement thought that Idle No More really was finished, and it would be an opportune time to usurp the acronym as a means of drawing in demobilized INM’ers. Overall, the Nationhood Movement’s activities have thus far focused on posting articles to its website while recruiting members online. Time will tell how successful it will be in its efforts, but using the same acronym as Idle No More will become confusing if it expands into an actual movement capable of mobilizing people.

Who are Defenders of the Land?

For those that don’t know, the Defenders of the Land (DOTL) is a network of Native organizers from various “high profile” struggles across the country. Established in 2008, the group met several times at locations across the country, including Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Ottawa. Although it portrays itself as a “grassroots” network, the fact is it has always allied itself with Indian Actchiefs (at least those involved in some kind of dispute with mining or logging industries, for example).INM DOL logo

Two founders of DOTL, Art Manuel (Secwepemc) and Russell Diabo (Mohawk), have both been involved in Native politics since the 1970s. Manuel has served as the Neskonlith band chief as well as head of the Secwepemc Tribal Council. Manuel’s family were one of those involved in the anti-Sun Peaks ski resort campaign in the early 2000′s. Diabo is based in Ottawa where he works as a lobbyist and researcher.

Together with Manuel and Diabo, DOTL has also had younger organizers who have been involved for several years now with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), such as Clayton Thomas-Muller (Cree), who has worked with the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and the campaign against the Tar Sands. Muller is also now an organizer with Idle No More, and served as the “national campaign organizer” for Sovereignty Summer.

DOTL was also the main organizer of a June 24 Indigenous day of action during the build up to the Toronto G20 in 2010. In the call-out for this action, DOTL also called for nation-wide protests:

“Defenders of the Land, a network of Indigenous Nations in land struggle, is calling for June 24, 2010, to be a cross-Canada day of non-violent action focusing on Indigenous rights” (

There were no nation-wide protests outside of the rally in Toronto, and DOTL was criticized beforehand for attempting to impose its “nonviolence” ideology on the grassroots. This occurred in the context of fear mongering resulting from militant actions directed against the 2010 Olympics.

The G20 call out was signed by a number of band councils and NGOs, including Algonquins of Barriere Lake, Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Deh Cho First Nation, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI, also known as Big Trout Lake FN, six of its councillors were briefly imprisoned in 2008 for obstructing mining operations), and Pimicikamak (Cross Lake FN), the Defenders of the Land organizing committee, and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).

A member of the RCMP's "community relations group" which worked with Defenders of the Land for their June 24, 2010 rally.

A member of the RCMP’s “community relations group” which worked with Defenders of the Land for their June 24, 2010 rally.

The June 24 Indigenous day of action during the Toronto G20 was characterized by close collaboration with police, including the RCMP’s community relations group. Police liaison members worked closely with organizers, and in the organizing meetings for the rallies there were efforts to impose a ban on masks during the rally itself. While other days of action saw overwhelming police deployments and harassment, DOTL’s rally saw little police presence and was tightly controlled by the organizers. Cops participated in the rally and claimed they were there to “protect the elders” (while beating and arresting Natives and non-Natives on all the other days of actions).

DOTL was also criticized by some grassroots Native women in 2011, who issued a fake public statement apologizing on behalf of DOTL for being male dominated and for attempting to impose nonviolence on the grassroots:

“We would like to especially apologize for exercising our male and class privilege, by using “nonviolence” language” (“A Public Statement of Apology From the Organizing Committee of Defenders of the Land,” April 22, 2011).

In addition, the question was raised as to what kind of “grassroots” organization DOTL was, and specifically how decisions were made and imposed on the network by the vague and undefined “organizing committee” of DOTL.

A few days later, Indigenous Women of the Movement released a statement clarifying that they had in fact issue the parody statement to draw attention to the criticisms they had of the group (“Why We Wrote the Statement of Apology,” April 27, 2011).

Ongoing Collaboration withIndian Act Chiefs

One of my main criticisms of INM last year was its close relationship with manyIndian Act chiefs, including band councils and provincial organizations such as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC). Some of the chiefs leading the charge in this respect are also among the most heavily invested in oil and gas production (such as chief Wallace Fox of the Onion Lake FN). Others, such as Derek Nepinak of the AMC, had just received news that their organization’s funding was to be cut.

Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake FN leads the "charge" into House of Commons, Dec 4, 2012, an action that helped jump start the INM rallies.

Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake FN leads the “charge” into House of Commons, Dec 4, 2012, an action that helped jump start the INM rallies.

Despite the alliance with the “grassroots” network of DOTL, INM has not only continued to work with Indian Act chiefs, they have now entered into formal alliance with them against the proposed First Nations Education Act (FNEA). The Dec 10, 2013 rally in Ottawa, for example, was a joint effort by DOTL, INM, and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN)  (along with a new entity, the National Treaty Alliance, formed in Onion Lake in July 2013 and comprised of those chiefs who allied with INM last year against AFN grand chief Shawn Atleo).

Art Manuel and Russell Diabo, the founders of DOTL, also participated in the AFN’s special chief’s assembly in Gatineau, Quebec, in early December 2013, with Manuel acting as a proxy for the Neskonlith band and Diabo as a proxy for the Wolf Lake First Nation in Quebec.

Art Manuel, left, and Russell Diabo, right, acting as proxies during AFN meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, Dec 2013.

Art Manuel, left, and Russell Diabo, right, founders of Defenders of the Land, acting as proxies during AFN meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, Dec 2013.

This odd alliance has also called for January 28, 2014, to be a national “day of teach-ins”:

Idle No More and Defenders of the Land set January 28, 2014 as national day of teach-ins focused on First Nations Education Act.

“National Treaty Alliance and Assembly of First Nations joins Idle No More and Defenders of the Land on Canada’s Parliament Hill to say “NO” to First Nations Education Act (FNEA)…”

(“NO” to First Nations Education Act (FNEA) and Federal Termination Plan” INM Press Release, December 10, 2013)

Why a national day of “teach-ins”? Probably, on the one hand, to actually carry out public education about the proposed act, but one would also suspect because all parties lack faith in their ability to mobilize Natives on the scale of last year’s INM rallies. But we can be sure that INM, DOTL, and their allies in the Indian Act system will most certainly try. This was shown in an APTN news article about the special chief’s assembly in Gatineau that focused on a remark by aboriginal affairs deputy minister Michael Wernick about the low level of protests compared to last year.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs told APTN that

“One of the most senior federal officials made a very snide remark… (Wernick) said something to the effect that there is not as much noise outside this time… The only time they are compelled to act is when we have that noise outside… We need to actually manifest ourselves as nations.”

(“Aboriginal Affairs DM made “snide remark” about Idle No More’s silence: BC Chief,” APTN National News, Dec 10, 2013)

We can therefore expect another attempt to resuscitate INM, with the help of DOTL and the Indian Act chiefs, who are once again engaging in a power struggle with the federal government over funding and attempting to use the grassroots as political leverage (one of their standard tactics).

Derek Nepinak on the cover of Winnipeg Sun, 2012.

Derek Nepinak on the cover of Edmonton Sun, 2012.

But that canoe has already paddled. It is unlikely that INM, DOTL, or the AFN will be able to mobilize another effort on the scale of last year’s INM. The flash-mob round dances in malls has been played out, and many Natives have likely lost interest in protesting more government legislation. The fact is, despite claims to the contrary, last year’s INM mobilization had a specific goal: stopping Bill C-45. It failed, and we are now left with the residue of INM and those attempting to use it as a platform to pursue their own agendas (including numerous genuine grassroots struggles who think that by linking themselves to INM they will raise their profile and garner more support).

I thank the Creator for bringing us the Mi’kmaq resistance against fracking. The warriors on the front line have demonstrated to all of us the effectiveness of militant direct action in defending land and water. Despite small numbers and few resources, the Mi’kmaq and their allies succeeded in disrupting and delaying the work of SWN Resources Canada in its efforts to carry out seismic testing. They did this by grassroots community organizing and despite the attempts by the Elsipogtog chief Aaron Sock to undermine the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society.

Mi'kmaq warriors at tire fire blockade, December 2013.

Mi’kmaq warriors at tire fire blockade, December 2013.

And where were INM, DOTL or the AFN during the most intense period of the Mi’kmaq struggle, following the Oct 17 RCMP raid? Where were the tens of thousands of Idle No More-Official Facebook members? True, INM Official did denounce the police attack and called for “peaceful actions” to support the Mi’kmaq, but it’s overall response was minimal. Despite claims of leading a “peaceful revolution,” INM hasn’t done anything significant since January 2013, and that was only with the assistance of Indian Act chiefs (including chief Spences’ “hunger strike to the death”). The truth is, it is mostly a movement on social media.

As I’ve stated in previous articles, the Indian Act chiefs need something like INM in order to mobilize the grassroots for their power struggles with the federal government, and something like INM needs the chiefs and their resources to pull off any major events. It’s a symbiotic relationship that only confuses the people and which undermines our efforts to build a genuine grassroots Native resistance.

Links to previous articles on INM:

Idle No More? Speak for Yourself: Analysis of Idle No More Mobilization,” by Zig Zag, Warrior Publications, Dec. 12, 2012

Indian Act Chiefs and Idle No More: Snakes in the Grassroots?” by Zig Zag,Warrior Publications, Dec. 14, 2012

Oily Chiefs, Idle No More, and the AFN,” by Zig Zag, Warrior Publications, January 17, 2013

Idle No More starts to idle,” by Zig Zag, Warrior Publications, January 30, 2013


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