It is trite to say, but those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The Occupy movement failed and organizers of the Idle No More movement – and those sympathetic to the condition of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada – would do well to figure out why.
Occupy raised legitimate issues that had resonance beyond the protestors. Capitalism was delivering too much to the rich and not enough to everyone else. When it was working, the rich were getting richer, the middle class was stagnant and the poor were constantly fighting to stay on the radar of downsizing governments. When capitalism hit a rocky patch, major corporations self destructed, leaving millions without jobs and hundreds just as rich as they had always been.
Out of this self destruction, little was learned and little has really changed.
Occupy did not fail because it was wrong. It didn’t really even fail because of any mistake the protestors made. It failed because it didn’t become something bigger than itself. The Occupy movement did not leverage itself and embrace those sympathetic with the protestors and those who feared the protestors. It had to keep the edge on the protest movement while broadening its tent to provide solutions that served a broader interest than those the protestors could articulate.
This “broadening of the tent” was beyond those living in tents. Those sympathetic to the issues raised – and there were many mainstream, influential people who were – should have been working for and with the protestors to suggest, promote and implement the boring series of regulatory and system changes that were need to make capitalism work better for everyone – including those that capitalism works ok for and those for which it works really well.
The protestors should have welcomed this. By allowing itself to remain a collectivity of the angry and disenfranchised, it never evolved to something that could design solutions that were good for the system and for the country.
In most movements, there is a recognition that some have to work within the halls of power and others have to work outside of them, getting and keeping those door open.
Idle No More is following the Occupy script verbatim.
Theresea Spence has opened a door that has been closed for far too long. Canadians are finally awake to the horrendous living conditions Aboriginal Peoples and the bleak prospects they face.
Canadians seem willing to do something to address these horrible inequalities. But they need someone to talk to and they need solutions that represent everyone’s best interest, not just those of Aboriginal peoples.
First, who does Canada speak with? First Nations views toward Grand Chief Shawn Atleo are emblematic of the disfunctionality of Aboriginal governance and self governance more broadly. No one speaks for anyone else. As soon as a First Nations leaders says something another First Nation disagrees with, they do not speak for them. It is not prejudicial nor is it imposing Western values on Aboriginal peoples to say that someone has to be able to speak for, and bind, First Nations, even when there is internal dissent. And it can’t be 300 individual Chiefs. It is a simple organizing principle. Governments or any large assembly of people, cannot function when no one represents or speaks for anyone else. They also cannot function when everyone has a veto.
Next, First Nations need to propose solutions that are in all Canadian’s best interest, Aboriginal Canadians and non-Aboriginal Canadians. The solution Spence and the Idle No More movement are proposing are wrong. They are borne from narrow self interest and this narrow self interest is what has prevented them from being taken up seriously for the past 30 years.
Aboriginal peoples would be well serves to step back and consider what it is they really need to be a partner in a prosperous Canada. They then need to really think hard about whether the “sacred cows” that have been created are the right ones.
Start with self government. Creating independent “national” governments for communities with only a few thousand (or hundred) people is a recipe for dysfunction. The current model for community based self government will, at best, create hundreds of governments that can never hope to have the capacity and accountability to govern their citizens. Moreover, it sets up a Canada that is impossible to govern, with too many leaders of unequal power. Assimilation versus community-based self governance is a false choice.
The Duty to Consult. Provinces and the federal government will not cede control of natural resource exploitation to Aboriginal peoples. Relying on a duty to be consulted and the courts to enforce these rights makes lawyers wealthy, delays resource development, but does little to allow Aboriginal peoples share in resource wealth creation and associated community develop. For Canada more broadly, it systematizes a poor surrogate for important negotiations on how resource development can happen in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable for all Canadians.
Idle No More needs to let this grow beyond themselves. Aboriginal peoples need to allow someone to speak for them. Someone who is not tied to old ideals that don’t work and someone who sees Aboriginal peoples as part of, not distinct form, a vibrant prosperous Canada.