by Michael Leonardi
In just a few short months a grassroots movement has grown in North America that is inspiring people across the planet. Idle No More has been the rallying cry of the indigenous people in Canada that have now been joined in solidarity by people all over the world. Its blogspot can be found here and its manifestations can be seen and heard internationally. The Occupy Wall Street! movement has joined in solidarity with the Idle No More insurgency across North America. With Occupy Canada and the recent victories of the student uprising in Quebec, including the shuttering of the only nuclear plant in Quebec just last week, visions of a North American Spring seem a more distinct possibility with strong hopes that the powerful forces stirring across Canada can push their way south across the border and inspire the sleeping and drugged US populace to finally be shaken awake, as Occupy has already managed to raise the consciousnesses of the 99%.
Canada is usually snowy this time of year and the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have been no exception. Snow covers at least 90 percent of the ground in Canada today. As uprisings go, Spring has tended been the season for the multitudes to take to the streets to demand a better existence. But in Canada, the indigenous people and their allies have been pushed by draconian new anti-environmental legislation and violations of native sovereignty by the Conservative Party government headed by Stephen Harper. They have decided that this winter is the season for the dawn of a Canadian uprising that could help to internationalize the world's Spring revolts into a cohesive force that puts the planet and its ecosystems at the forefront for the survival of future generations. Idle No More is expanding fast as it targets the criminal chemical and energy cartels and their governmental sponsors which collude to bring us more nukes, more tar sands, more poison, continued ecological devastation and more cancer. In Canada the cry of Enough! is sounding across the snowy landscape.
Over the New Year's weekend my family and I visited one of the powerful blockades set up in recent days throughout Canada. This blockade was constructed on the Winter Solstice to block a CN rail line that crosses Aamjiwnaang land outside of Sarnia, Ontario and is known as the Aamjiwnaang Blockade. It was set up over a rail line that is central to delivering toxic chemical stews to be processed, refined and manufactured in what is known as Canada’s chemical valley in Sarnia. This area is considered one of the most polluted
areas of Canada where the air is poisoned around the clock by refineries and chemical plants that stretch for miles along the St. Clair river.
We arrived at the blockade on Sunday, December 30 after a trek over from Grand Bend, Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron. I was given directions to the site from Ron Plain, an Aamjiwnaang environmental justice activist and local leader. Plain has been helping his people confront the chemical pollution and expansion of tar sands drilling and oil pipelines that desecrate the landscape around Sarnia and bring in the poisons extracted from the devastated wilderness areas of more western and northern parts of the continent. The blockade was just on the outskirts of Sarnia and we knew we had arrived when we saw the colorful flags and signs marking the area.
The main spark to the Idle No More uprising was created when the conservative-dominated Canadian parliament, led by its Texas-trained, Bush dynasty, energy frontman Stephen Harper, passed a new law called C-45. This law opens up vast parts of Canadian land and many areas protected by native sovereignty rights to unadulterated exploitation, devastation and desecration as has already been experienced with Tar Sands and Uranium mining for decades. The passage of this law eliminates environmental protections for over two and half million previously protected rivers, lakes and streams and is viewed as not only as a frontal assault on the environment of all Canadians but also the beginning of an attack on Indigenous People’s sovereignty and treaties.
We were filled with anticipation as we pulled up our car past the no trespassing signs and barricades closer to the makeshift structures in the distance. We were greeted by a group of wonderful people and witnessed a powerful display of solidarity. There was a shipping container that acted as a kitchen and was full of food, as a constant stream of visitors -- mostly from surrounding native tribes -- came through to drop off food and other supplies. Tarps and tents made a circle over the single line of railroad tracks that traversed the land through a small snowy woods at the point of the blockade. Two fire barrels burned in the center of the camp. We stayed for about an hour, discussing the situation in Sarnia and its similarities to Toledo, where we too are surrounded by nukes, coal plants and refineries.
Chiefs from the surrounding First Nations were stopping in to voice their solidarity with the movement and announce that plans were a foot for more direct actions in the coming days. That afternoon the ferry crossing to the United States on the Walpole Island First Nation reserve had been shut down by a circle dance and the demonstrators took the Ferry across to Michigan and marched down the main street of Algonac for a time, too. There was an Idle No More Christmas tree at the camp and many wonderful flags symbolizing native resistance and the respect for future generations that is held so dearly as the underpinning of native belief systems. We watched as three purple flags were hoisted on a log pole, some of the symbols of this growing movement. It was inspiring to witness the profound ecological understanding of these comrades and to see that this movement was truly focused on saving the planet, our children and future generations from the continuous industrial onslaught that we are experiencing. We headed home at dusk and decided to come back through with firewood when we would be making our way back to Toledo.
Idle No More is a truly grassroots phenomenon and began when four native and non native women began holding teach-ins’ in Saskatoon. Regina and Prince Albert to start bringing awareness of Bill C 45 back in October. When C-45 came up for a vote on December 4th, the leaders of the First Nations from across Canada made it clear that they were hearing the voices of concern that were spreading like wildfire about this legislation and attempted to enter Parliament to voice their concerns. They were barred entry and a physical scuffle ensued that led to intensified national outrage and a unified support for the Idle No More movement coming from the tribal leadership and Indian chiefs that have often been criticized for their ineffectiveness and weakness in addressing these issues.
On the 10th of December, there was a national day of action called for by the Idle No More movement and circle dances, rallies and marches took place across the country. On the 11th, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike that has now stretched into its 24th day, further galvanizing the movement. Spence has promised to starve herself to death if the Prime Minister himself does not meet with her to discuss the greed-driven direction of the country. On the December 21, winter solstice, protests and blockades were launched in numerous places around Canada with solidarity actions held in the United States and around the world.
Yesterday, January 2, on our way back through Sarnia to Toledo we stopped at the blockade to drop off some firewood and show our solidarity. The Canadian authorities planned to crack down this day and Ron Plain was in court to face contempt charges along with the chief of Sarnia’s police forces. The police in Sarnia had refused to follow a court injunction to remove the blockade just after it started. Yesterday, a judge acting on behalf of Canada’s criminal government and corporate sponsors ordered that the blockade be removed by the Ontario Provincial Police. The mood at the blockade was festive nonetheless. We met a member of Occupy Toronto busy cutting wood. The blockade was dismantled around midnight last night after a celebration of its successes in bringing broader international attention to this movement. The Idle No More Christmas tree was burned, a feast was eaten and drums were played around the fire. Now the movement in Southern Ontario will move forward with other plans. Border crossings may be targeted in coming days.
Instead of seeing December 21, 2012 as the end of the world, the Indigenous people of Canada and their international allies recognized it as a new beginning where the health of our environment and the protection of Mother Earth would be the new priority for human kind. Clearly, this shift in priorities is not going to happen without a serious struggle. Images from the Idle No More movement are multiplying around the social networks as we begin this new year, coupled with images of a massive march of the Zapatistas in Mexico that took place on the 21st as well. Both to the North and South of the U.S. borders an Earth-centered movement is a foot that is looking to kick the anthropocentrism of industrial capitalism to the curb.
There are sparks of resistance here in the U.S. as well. In the coming days a new blockade will be set up in Texas as the resistance to Tar Sands grows. Plans are afoot across the country and the world for solidarity actions with Idle No More movement and direct actions targeting these industries and governments that continue to push our health, the environment and the existence of future generations aside for the profits of the transnational corporations defining the global political regime. Let’s hope that 2013 brings a needed awakening in the United States and that the Obama liberals and progressives shake off their shackles to a system that is plodding along in the wrong direction and decide to be Idle No More!!!
Michael Leonardi is an activist and writer living in Toledo, Ohio. He works with the Coalition Against Nukes and Occupy Toledo. He has also submitted this article to CounterPunch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.