‘Idle No More’ movement grows beyond a single hunger strike

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s plan to starve herself until she gets a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rounding through its second week without an end in sight.

However the First Nations leader’s hunger strike is just the tip of a mountain of discontent growing in Canada, as members of aboriginal communities coast-to-coast rise up and demand to be heard. Elders in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have joined Spence in her campaign.

But more than that, an informal campaign to have the voice of First Nations heard in Ottawa has grown into a nation-wide movement.

The group Idle No More, borne at a kitchen table in Saskatoon, has organized more than a dozen protests and rallies across the country.

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Hundreds of supporters have gathered at shopping centres and along highways everywhere from Toronto and Winnipeg to Vancouver and Whitehorse.

The push will grow even larger on Friday, when protests are held outside the Canadian embassy in Los Angeles and the consulate in San Francisco, as well as on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, where thousands are expected to gather.

Idle No More stems from outrage at Bill C-45, an omnibus budget plan that, among other things, is being accused of weakening environmental protection and Indian reserve land rights.

First Nations chiefs are upset that such changes would be pushed forward without input from the aboriginal community. So are Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilson – the four Saskatchewan women who sparked the Idle No More movement.

Gordon told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix the name started out as a motivational slogan:

We thought it would just be a planning group and we titled the page Idle No More as a way to get our butts off the couch to work on this.

Since then, the movement has grown through word of mouth and on Twitter, and rallies have been planned through Facebook. Leaders including NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations have weighed in, urging Harper to meet with Spence.

So far, no luck. But Spence is expected to appear at Friday’s rally in Ottawa, raising the hope that something may be arranged.

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A mere meeting might end her hunger strike, but at this point it likely won’t end the Idle No More movement.