Published in Windspeaker newspaper | January 2013 | Circulation: 145,000
“The way we see it,” Sylvia McAdam tells Windspeaker, “we’re just going to keep moving on until our goal of Indigenous sovereignty and the protection of land and water is in place.”
As one of the four Saskatchewan women who founded the Idle No More movement late last year–a phenomenon which in only two months has transformed the conversation in Canada around Indigenous People –McAdam has faced a steep learning curve about social activism, political manoeuvering, and media spin.
Hailing from Big River First Nation, the Cree woman never quite expected the series of teach-ins and events she organized with Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon to explode in the way it has: massive round dances, a full-scale powwow Grand Entry in the West Edmonton Mall, and demonstrations overseas and a 44-day hunger strike in the shadow of Parliament Hill.
“At first, we were seeing all this political stuff happening,” she ponders, when asked what’s next for the movement. “I think we’re moving past that, and I believe that the voice of Idle No More–the voice of grassroots people–will become clearer and more focused, in terms of its direction and its vision.
“I think this is where people are mistaking Idle No More as an Indigenous movement; really, it’s a grassroots movement for all people. It’s an energetic movement, and it’s bound to inspire all walks of life. It’s a beautiful movement and people want to be a part of it. It’s inspired grassroots people to be creative in their resistance. When we speak of water and the protection of water and land, of course it’s going to motivate and inspire people to want to protect that for our children and the generations to come.”
Lofty goals, McAdam will admit–ones that mainstream media commentators and political elites have frequently declared vague, unrealistic or even entirely unachievable.
But the movement’s aims, which have oscillated between the repeal of federal omnibus bills C-45 and C-38 to a much more transformative vision–the de-colonization of Canada–have clearly touched a nerve among a substantial number of people.
That passion for change is no surprise to McAdam, a cultural educator and author of the book Cultural Teachings: First Nations Protocols & Methodologies. Growing up on the Prairies, McAdam has experienced both the heights of Native culture and the depths of injustice.
“My parents very much lived off the land, when I was growing up in the winter,” she revealed. “In the summer, we were sent to Alberta to work.
“I’ve [since] spent a whole summer just going back onto the land and seeing first-hand–witnessing–the devastation… I’ve seen many injustices done through the Indian Act towards Indigenous people. I recognize the injustice of Bill C-45, and it’s not just Indigenous people that this injustice is directed at; it’s now directed at Canadian citizens as well. There’s an injustice happening, and people have a right to know.”
Some Indigenous activists–particularly those pouring their efforts into Native rights and land defence struggles which long preceded Idle No More–were at first puzzled by the founding women’s choice of names, spawning a rival Twitter hashtag, #NeverBeenIdle.
But McAdam admits it was the founders who they felt needed to be kicked into action. She cites as inspiration the Defenders of the Land cross-country grassroots network, Mikisew First Nation’s 2005 court victory over treaty rights violations, and the struggle against oil sands and pipelines in western Canada.