(MintPress) – The Idle No More movement in Canada has sparked widespread support for First Nations people calling on their government to honor treaties intended to protect the country’s natural resources currently on tap for destruction by the oil and logging industries.
The First Nations’ call for a halt to resource tapping is nothing new, but their movement has been reinvigorated with a campaign that is pouring out from their own community and seeping into the lives of the average Canadian. Mobilizing the base, and drawing in sympathetic Canadians, First Nations activists are taking their fight to the streets — not just for demonstrates, but for human blockades.
And oil and logging companies are scrambling.
The human blockades are intended to halt — or at least slow down — the movement of goods and resources associated with the logging and tar sand industries which are booming in Canada. This week, activists plan on converging on the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international bridge between the U.S. and Canada, adding to the list of blockade attempts this winter throughout the nation.
The intent is to stop the destruction of their land through the temporary halt to the industries responsible, in the hopes that hitting oil and logging companies where it hurts will lead to meaningful dialogue between First Nations leaders and the government.
“The message is united and clear among leadership and people. We are going to show Canada that we do have the power to slow this country down,” Raymond Deleary, a policy analyst for Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, told the Observer newspaper.
In the same week, Idle No More activists will gather in Northeastern Alberta to block Highway 63, a key transportation route to and from Fort McMurray. The region of Alberta is considered a heart of the tar sands industry, home to the Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands, not too far away from the Peace River oil reserves.
“It’s a full closure, it has a dramatic impact, not just on the oilsands but the entire community,” Oil Sands Developers Group Ken Chapman told Global Edmonton, speaking on behalf of the oil sands industry.
The Alberta tar sands are the starting point for the infamous 55,000-mile Keystone Pipeline, expected to be constructed through the U.S., destination Gulf of Mexico, where it will be sold in the international market.
The blockade in Alberta was sparked by failed negotiations between First Nations leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a ruggedly pro-business and economic-driven leader.
There was some movement toward one another on the issue, with Harper’s government acknowledging the need to consult First Nations people before widespread destruction (or use) of their land. While calling on Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence to end her hunger strike, acknowledging progress within discussions, opposition leader Thomas Mulcair indicated he did understand why First Nations people were distrustful of the government’s word. Plainly put, they’ve broken promises before.
“There have been a lot of broken promises,” he said, according to CTV News. “We can understand the frustration. But I think we show a lot of respect for the chiefs who were there negotiating and working hard on Friday, when we acknowledge that there has been movement. I think we should be supportive of them.”
Harper has also emerged as a somewhat unapologetic figure when it comes to First Nations and their concerns. In the second week of Spence’s hunger strike for First Nations land rights, Harper tweeted, “Mmm… bacon.” While the intended recipient of the tweet was “Homer Simpson,” it was seen by some Canadians as an insensitive remark, considering the timing.
Supportive, yes, but First Nations people across the country are serious about the need for additional action, hence the blockades — they realize that they are realistically able to create change through such protests, proving more effective than agreements that in the past have amounted to broken promises.
“The fact is that critical infrastructure in Canada is at the mercy of Indigenous peoples, who are more rural than Canadians and have access to important arteries for economic flows: transportation corridors, energy sectors, and sites of natural resource extraction,” writes Shiri Pasternak, an indigenous solidarity organizer and writer.
The indigenous community knows what success looks like. The Canadian Anishinaabe community celebrated a successful 10-year blockade campaign that kept logging companies from foresting their land. While the Grassy Narrows First Nations blockade was a semi-permanent structure guarded by people residing in the area, it still represents the ability and success that can be achieved when working together in rural areas.
Predicting a revolt?
Douglas Bland is a conservative Canadian writer and commentator, known primarily for his pro-government views in the debate between the country’s First Nations people. He’s long predicted that a movement similar to what the nation is seeing with Idle No More would happen, considering the rural landscape of the nation and the sheer number of First Nations people.
In 2011, he wrote a piece published in the Winnipeg Free Press, in which he asserts that in order for a First Nations revolt to be successful, it must be done with the support of average Canadians. Idle No More, thus far, has been successful in doing so.
Referring to First Nations as potentially taking part in “insurgencies,” Bland suggests that First Nations have a means to success — there needs to be proof of success of similar actions in the past. First Nations people have this proof, found through the Grassy Narrows First Nations blockade success and other temporary blockades throughout the nation.
Bland also goes to suggest that the “insurgency” must have a young, healthy composite, along with a means to disrupt an industry that depends at least 25 percent on the export of resources.
“In Canada, this vulnerable target is the nation’s critical infrastructure that transports natural resources and manufactured goods from mines, oil fields, hydroelectric facilities and factories to international markets. Without these reliable systems, Canada’s economy would collapse,” he wrote.
He went on to assert that the government and police throughout the nation understand this, and spoke directly about how a blockade system could be effective, especially in areas such as Manitoba, where more than 175,000 First Nations people live — more than 15 percent of the total population.
“Such a gathering of First Nations people, peaceful as it may begin, would be fraught with the threat of sudden escalation at the first sign of aggressive Canadian responses,” Bland wrote.
In regard to the recently plan blockade near the tar sands of Northeastern Alberta, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokeswoman Sgt. Josee Valiquette told Global Edmonton that officers were taking “appropriate” measures to protect the public and the protesters, but gave no further speculation on how or what those measures would be.
Blockades have been peaceful on behalf of the First Nations people up until this point, and while plans are to continue campaigns through the spring — or as long as needed — in the same peaceful manner, there is cause for concern that constant disruptions to an oil industry, considered the second largest (albeit untapped) in the world, wouldn’t be tolerated continuously by large corporations that stand to lose millions.
Considering the U.S.-Canadian relationship with the 55,000 mile Keystone Pipeline, with plans to connect the Alberta tar sands with the U.S. Gulf, there is room for other interests — mainly U.S. corporations — to pay attention to the Idle No More movement, too.
“The multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project will reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and support job growth by putting thousands of Americans to work,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said in a press release.
In January 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama delayed a decision to place the final stamp of approval on the Keystone Pipeline project, pending environmental reviews, although he is intended to give it the go-ahead this year.
Even the simple act of delaying the pipeline for environmental reasons gave Canada’s government a reason to look to China as a second option, showing they’re not willing to wait around to make a profit on what are trillion dollar industries — not for the Americans and certainly not for First Nations protesters.