Just Like Occupy, Canada's Media Misses the Point of Idle No More

It is hard to tell, when reading commentary from some of Canada's pundits, whether they are being willfully ignorant or whether the ignorance is less willful. In the case of the National Post's Barbara Kay it has to be the latter.

Many observers seem to have been blinded by the shiny object and have failed to see the full picture. Chief Theresa Spence launched a hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of her particular community, and it worked. That is where attention has largely focused. However, regardless of what you think of Chief Spence or the Attawapiskat community in particular, Spence's actions have touched a nerve globally.

When Europe colonized the world they took away the culture, livelihoods, history, language and all too often the lives of the people they conquered. They replaced it with nothing. In some cases the people were enslaved, in other cases they were herded onto reservations (normally on the least desirable land available). Europeans drew arbitrary borders, based on European politics and desires.

The customary thinking in much of the west is that 'we can't be blamed for the sins of our great-great-great-grandparents. However, it is not really about blame. It is about problems that have never been dealt with. Europe took away the former way of life of aboriginal people and did not leave them with a viable (or acceptable) alternative.

There have been many treaties between the two sides but those treaties have always come from an unequal mindset. The European approach has always been to give natives as little as possible to get them to go away for the moment. Europeans have dealt with aboriginals as a problem to be solved rather than as equals, with legitimate needs and grievances. Even then treaties with aboriginals have been repeatedly ignored and broken when they became inconvenient.

The problems caused by European colonization are ongoing, not only in Canada but also the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia and more. The European handling of aboriginal peoples remains a source of many of the worlds ongoing conflicts.

So, Chief Spence came along and threw a match onto a very large pile of straw and the flames spread around the world in just a few weeks. If it hadn't been Spence, it could have been any number of other events, other people or other locations. Aboriginal people, and their supporters, worldwide are standing up to be counted and airing their grievances. More importantly they are talking to one another and rapidly building a movement and it is not a movement that is likely to go away.

This is one of the things the internet does well, it connects people. The problems of the worlds aboriginal people run deep and many of the grievances are five centuries old, but have never been resolved. They will have a great deal to talk about and will find great strength in numbers. It is also worth noting that many of their grievances, poverty, inequality, heavy handed governments, etc., are the same problems that drew Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous together.

I'm not clairvoyant enough to know what it all means or where it will all end, but I am savvy enough to know that it is important and has broad implications.

However, going back to where I started, many of Canada's pundits seem obsessed with Chief Spence specifically, with the problems of Attawapiskat as if they were isolated. Just like with Occupy they are, largely, covering it like it was a sporting event and everything worth seeing was happening on the field. Obviously no one expects anything but hate, ignorance and racism from the Sun (Canada's Fox News), but the Globe's Jeffrey Simpson seems to think that by discrediting Spence he can somehow take the wind out of an international movement and Barbara Kay's comparison of the hunger strike to a diet she was on at a spa once makes her look positively Kardashian. It is sad to think that these people are paid for their opinions, and sadder still that they wonder why newspapers are becoming less relevant. They use a lot of words to (repeatedly) demonstrate a complete lack of understanding or insight.

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