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End of Spence’s protest leaves #IdleNoMore at a crossroads

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence takes part in a celebration to end her hunger strike in Ottawa on Jan. 24, 2013, after being released from hospital.


The Idle No More movement built itself into a juggernaut on Twitter over the past two months, reaching a peak of nearly 60,000 tweets on Jan. 11, the day native leaders met with the Prime Minister in Ottawa.

But with Theresa Spence's hunger strike at an end, the public momentum behind Idle No More has reached a crucial stage. Discussion of the movement on Twitter has declined significantly. On Thursday, slightly fewer than 8,000 individual tweets had been sent by 6 p.m. (ET), well below the level sustained from late December to Jan. 11.

What that means for the movement is unclear. On the one hand, native leaders say they are energized by the engagement they've seen from their people, and interest in native issues among non-aboriginal Canadians is higher than it has been in years. On the other hand, the movement's ability to capture public attention seems to have stalled, according to one analysis of discussion on Twitter.

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Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs strategist, has been gathering and assessing the nearly 900,000 tweets made by 113,000 people since the movement was launched by four women in Saskatoon last November. He said the pattern of tweets suggests the movement hit a point of critical mass that it couldn't sustain.

"The rate of growth of the movement has stalled, there's no fresh blood," Mr. Blevis said. "It's like the sun. The sun expands and then it gets to a point where it can't sustain itself and collapses into its energy core. It's that epicentre, now, that's going to keep the thing moving."

Mr. Blevis said the people who are really driving Idle No More have likely hit a point where they need to take a break and recharge, as does the general public. Now that they've gained a big chunk of attention, the follow-up will require communicating complex ideas and a new phase in the movement's development, he said.

Through its first phase in early December, the movement was referred to in mostly positive ways on Twitter, with 76 per cent of tweets described as positive by Mr. Blevis's analysis. By early January, as the movement gained momentum and train and road blockades were set up, positive sentiment dropped to 50 per cent and opposition became more prominent.

The Twitter analysis also reveals that Idle No More was originally driven primarily by women. In the first month of online activity, more than 60 per cent of tweets came from women, an extremely unusual finding, Mr. Blevis said.

"It was very exciting for me to see this, because gender in online political discussions is always heavily male," he said.

By mid to late December, men started to get more engaged and that pattern is now closer to 50-50, he said.

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