Idle No More began as a social media call to action by four women in Saskatchewan. It has grown into an international social movement featuring grassroots protests, hunger strikes and blockades. Flashpoints have been provisions in Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, including changes made to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. For aboriginal people, land is sacred and the Creator has placed them here to care for it.
How does their spirituality affect these actions for treaty rights, land claims and environmental protection? Some have said Idle No More is a protest 400 years in the making. Are we witnessing a pivotal moment of aboriginal and Canadian history? A distinguished Faith Exchange panel has convened to help answer these questions and more.
Wanda Nanibush is a Toronto-based Idle No More organizer and an Anishnabe-kwe writer, artist and filmmaker from Beausoleil First Nation.
Mark MacDonald is National Indigenous Bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada.
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy represents 133 first nations in the Assembly of First Nations.
Guest moderator Lorna Dueck has been reporting on Christian practice in Canadian life for the past 20 years. She is an evangelical Christian and host of the TV program Context with Lorna Dueck, seen Sundays on Global TV at 9:30 a.m. ET and Vision TV at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Lorna Dueck: Aboriginal spiritualities, expressed in as many ways as their are clans in Canada, affirm that we are always in conversation with the Creator, and that the Creator has a plan for aboriginal peoples to care for the land and live in a holistic manner within it. How do we see this spiritual orientation reflected in Idle No More?
Wanda Nanibush: I think the language of the Creator is useful for discussions cross-culturally but for me, the word is translated as “the Great Mystery,” which is considerably different. The basis of our sacred relationship with the land, waters and all of creation is the same, though.
This underlies Idle No More actions because of the focus on the loss of environmental protection under Bill C-45. We look to honouring the nation-to-nation relationship in order to protect all of creation, especially the water. Because humans are the weakest link in all of creation because we depend on all of it to survive – we must protect and nurture it. Humans have relationships with the natural world precisely because we are one with it and dependant upon it. The interconnnectedness of all living things means it is necessary for relationships to be maintained for the continuance of life for the future generations. We choose actions that place a deep emphasis on remembering and maintaining our relationships with all of creation.
Stan Beardy: For centuries, first nations have been guided by two pillars: our special relationship with the Creator and our special relationship with the land. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are based on these pillars. Idle No More is responding with spiritual orientation in that many first nations see Bills C-38 and C-45 in direct violation of these two pillars. These bills desecrate the sacred responsibility of that special relationship with the Creator and the land because they deal with destruction of essential elements for healthy living – clean air, water etc.
Mark MacDonald: These are all good thoughts. I would add one or two: The relationship with the land is God-given and necessary for a good life. To grow in the good life, in morality and spirituality, is to grow in the beneficial relationship with God and creation. This is demonstrated by the way we call male elders Akiwensi – meaning that they care for the Earth.
This means that the relationship with creation, with the land, is a moral absolute. It cannot be eclipsed by other considerations. The way in which economics has become morally absolute is dangerous to all human beings and all creatures. It seems to me that Idle No More is helping to remind us of this vital fact of existence.
Lorna Dueck: Wanda, many of us would see ourselves first as consumers, before being stewards of creation in relationship with the Great Mystery. Are you saying Idle No More is a wake-up call to remind us we are in relationship to protect land and water? Chief Beardy, what are the Seven Grandfather Teachings and how widely known are they among your people? And Bishop MacDonald, what then is the significance of economic development for the sustainability of aboriginal communities?