Rothenburger: Who will be first to blink on Idle?

Mel Rothenburger / Kamloops Daily News
January 3, 2013 01:00 AM

If Idle No More is supposed to be about unity, sending a message, standing strong, it's also about politics, conflict, and about racial skirmishing that has once again broken through the surface of public debate like an infected boil.

While the identified foe is the heavy handedness of the Harper regime, it has created divisions within, such as the political cage match Chief Shane Gottfriedson finds himself in over his tepid support of the cause.

Admittedly, there's a certain admiration for the determination of First Nations against the arrogance of this government when the rest of us have passively accepted it so often.

Bill C-45, the genesis of Idle No More, is said to endanger First Nations rights to consultation. Yet, this omnibus legislation, at more than 400 pages, changes so much about our country that everybody of any colour should want to understand the government's thinking.

MP Cathy McLeod devoted some space to it in her householder when the bill was introduced last October. It would, she claimed, help "grow Canada's economy, fuel job creation and secure Canada's long-term prosperity."

And it would "strengthen" environmental assessment.

Environmentalists see it differently. Ecojustice, an environmental-law think-tank, stated on the day the bill was introduced that it removes environmental hurdles for projects like Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and,

"(This bill) hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada's rich natural legacy."

But it's the racial undercurrent to the public debate stirred up by Idle No More that's so unfortunate. The blogosphere has lit up with a war of words in which the objectives of Idle No More have become a casualty.

As the rallies focus on environmental and aboriginal rights issues, the old stereotypes of lazy Indians and redneck whites are being trotted out on websites.

Concern over the loss of protection for waterways has been usurped in the public dialogue by questions about whether Chief Theresa Spence is cheating in her hunger strike by drinking Boost, a meal-replacement drink popular with seniors.

"Suck it up 'first nation' losers," is a not-atypical comment on the websites. "If you want something: wake up, stop drinking, and try to work for a change."

Racial insults are a two-way street, as in the response that characterizes non-natives as "immigrants" who are "ignorant" and motivated by "evilness."

Such exchanges ignore the diversity of today's Canada, as if there are only two kinds of people - native and "white man." And if you aren't on one side, you must be on the other.

What a sad state we're in. It's possible that Idle No More will turn out to be just another Occupy Wall Street, unable to sustain itself for long, and maybe Chief Spence will give up and start eating again.

Or, maybe the prime minister will stop worrying so much about giving the protesters a moral victory, realize, as his predecessor Joe Clark put it, that "First Nations-Canada relations are heading in a dangerous direction," and make the first move.

It's not so much to ask, really.

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