WINNIPEG, MB, Jan 17, 2014/ Troy Media/ – It is becoming apparent from a historical context that the greatest purpose served by Idle No More might be that it has provided something meaningful for young First Nation people to join that reaches beyond their own individual needs and dreams.
That is not to say that Idle No More hasn’t made more far-reaching achievements. This movement to protect our environment by supporting First Nations Treaty Rights has made allies with mainstream Canadians to create an ongoing awareness about legislation, including that which can be hidden in things like omnibus bills, that some may think threatens the sacred relationship we all enjoy with Mother Earth.
While that work continues, we continue to witness horrendous headlines where two young Native men died in Winnipeg’s north end from stab wounds within half a block and half an hour of each other, the knowledge that far more Aboriginal children live in foster care on a yearly basis than ever did in the Indian Residential School system, that suicide rates are much higher and graduation rates much lower for First Nations youth yet funding for education and child care for First Nations children and youth is much lower and, well, it goes on and on.
The problem for most of these kids is that they are not being raised in a “family” that is able to overcome any and all of the dysfunctions that lead children into conflict with the rest of society.
So what can these young people do to overcome these deplorable life situations? What do we tell them to do?
For the most part, we tell them to “join something”.
Like school. Education is always advanced as the way to advance out of almost anything. But, as we have seen, education as it exists today has, for a large part, failed First Nations kids.
Along the way, we encourage First Nations youth to join sports teams, or a rock band, a pow wow group, or any alternative to the gangs which can also provide the support a “family” can provide.
The problem with all of these options is that they only appeal to the self. First Nations youth, indeed all human beings, have an urge to be part of a greater self; something which involves selflessness, and until Idle No More came into being, there was no such thing for young native people.
Back in the 1960s, black kids in the United States had the option of joining the Freedom Riders, and over 1,200 young people filled the jails in Mississippi by sitting in the front of the bus or at the lunch counters or in the white waiting rooms at bus depots. Okay, most native kids were locked up in residential schools or, like their parents, needed a pass to leave the Rez, but whatever civil rights group that were around, like the American Indian Movement or the Ojibway Warrior Society (which occupied Anicinabe Park in Ontario), weren’t able to attract mass support and participation. Idle No more is proving different.
Americans eventually accepted the non-violence movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because it appealed to the social and economic justice and equality of all, just as Idle No More wants all Canadians to join together in a movement which protects all of our rights; both shared and distinct.
If you don’t have rights, then I don’t and none of us do.
When young people of First Nations today come out to dance and demonstrate for causes which will most likely affect their children much more than themselves, they are benefitting from something much bigger than a diploma or a sports championship or a music award.
They are standing up for others as much as themselves and this is what builds character and leadership.
And this is one of the most important achievements of Idle No More.
Troy Media’s Eye on Manitoba columnist Don Marks is a Winnipeg-based writer.
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