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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Idle no more?

BY Will Nicholls Jul 3, 2024

There are times when you look at what is around you and wonder why it is this way. Look at the 1992 Rodney King trials and the riots as the white policemen were exonerated of beating him unnecessarily. 

First Nations people usually do not react in the same manner as other cultures. Hell, even the Mohawks didn’t do anything until the Sûreté du Québec charged them in Kanesatake in 1990. Many of the people I know said at most the armed warriors shot in the air to slow the police down while the women, children, and Elders escaped. That brought a national response but not one that would reach the level African Americans would have expressed. At most First Nations blocked roads and rail lines that saw rapid police response to contain them.

In 2020, when the Algonquians protested the moose hunt in La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve, SQ officers swooped in and allegedly put bags over some people’s heads as they beat them with billy clubs, including Elders as well as pregnant women. Again, such an incident elsewhere would have seen an aggressive response.

Crees have experienced the systematic racism surrounding their communities. To be fair, we have seen those who have worked against it, but they have always been the minority. One story I remember was about two Cree girls who were kidnapped and used for sex by two individuals in Chibougamau. A neighbour hearing disturbing noises alerted police, who rescued the two girls. That happened in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Things did not change, and we have to wonder why.

Perhaps the reason is that the Cree, like many Indigenous peoples in Canada, are survival oriented. As a survival-oriented people you have to understand your environment so that life could continue. In those days Cree and other First Nations did not know much about life outside their traditional territories. 

Now we have learned much more about the expanding environment that we have to survive in. It not only includes our traditional territories, but the surrounding political, economic and cultural realities.

On the fifth anniversary of the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, it’s not surprising that we have seen little progress. After all, does anyone expect us rally together and cause any sort of trouble? Could we occupy a university campus with tents or teepees without an immediate and forceful response from the police? 

Compared to the rest of the world, because of our desire for survival, a solution that contains consensus of all parties, a prison population that doesn’t reflect our percentage of the total population but racial attitudes (over 50% of women in federal prisons are Indigenous), a high percentage of Indigenous children in foster care and more so we are wondering what this fifth anniversary means to non-First Nations.

We jumped onto the listen-to-us-or-else bandwagon for a short time in the early 1990s, but we seem to have forgotten what Idle No More was. The fifth anniversary of the MMIWG needs all First Nations to stand up and respond to the calls for justice. Hoping for justice doesn’t seem to be anything but idle no more. 

In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, he coined the slogan “War is peace.” If a nation is in constant conflict with external forces, people will ignore that they are unhappy with their government and thus have domestic peace. 

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.