Idle No More is a Christmas gift to us all

Brigitte DePape on an unexpected offering at the end of 2012
Brigette DePape
Brigette DePape, the page who was fired for holding up a "Stop Harper" sign in the House of Commons, talks in Mondragon Bookstore and Coffeehouse in downtown Winnipeg on Monday, May 14, 2012. (Photo by Marianne Helm for Maclean’s Magazine)

The gift I will cherish most this holiday wasn’t a new pair of new slippers, another bar of soap, or an iPod. It was an unexpected offering, and one that many people have been asking for years.

In the face of a Harper majority government, which was elected with a mere 39 per cent of the vote in 2011, we’ve been asking for an end to unjust policies, and a transformation of a broken system.

In the face of climate change that threatens the survival of humanity, coming to the public consciousness in the 1960s with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and then by the UN Commission in the 1970s, we’ve been searching for a solution to a path towards a clean future.

Since the beginning of consumer culture, we have been searching for some kind of meaning amid all the stuff.

Since the 15th century and the beginnings of colonization, we’ve been searching for a way to face our history, and to transform relations between settlers (non-Aboriginal people) and First Nations.

All the things we have been asking for have arrived at a shopping malls near us — in the form of the Idle No More movement.

Instead of big signs of advertising for perfumes and shampoos, Idle No More is filling our shopping malls with posters and signs against Harper. I’m incredibly inspired by the young Indigenous women who began Idle No More to not only build in opposition to Bill C-45, which would reduce protections over waterways, but also to build a revolution for Indigenous sovereignty and to defend the earth. Idle No More is exposing the ruthlessness of the Harper government. Chief Theresa Spence is risking her life for all of us. Harper is letting Chief Spence starve, refusing to meet the simple ask of a meeting. But the strength and resolve of this leader in her 14th day without food is galvanizing opposition.

At shopping malls for Idle No More actions, our solution to climate change is not just buying another cloth bag or green toilet paper, but listening to elders talk about another relationship with the land and the water.

As articulated in an article in The Guardian about Idle No More, Aboriginal rights and treaties, which can mean vetoes over industry, are our best hope for defending the land, water and climate, and Idle No More gives us a chance to begin supporting them.

At stores during Idle No More round-dances, we don’t just see each other any more as someone who is in your way to get to the checkout counter, we look each other in the eyes, we talk and even join hands to dance. Instead of people getting mad at each other for taking the last Laura Secord box of chocolates, we find joy of our shared humanity.

Instead of shopping, we sing, dance, and come together for something bigger than Macbooks or Starbucks.

We make choices that are bigger than Coke or Pepsi. Rather than choosing to stay idle in the face of an unjust government, we choose to be active participants in our communities and our democracy.

Since the point of contact, colonial forces have tried to force Indigenous Peoples to conform to their ways. Here, we stand behind this wonderful movement led by Indigenous youth, we listen to the elders, we dance to the beat of their drum.

The protests across the country have sparked conversations about our colonial history and reality. We exchange about the destruction of residential schools the pillaging of Indigenous land to fill the jewelry stores, while communities lack running water and funding for education.

We talk about what a different relationship between Canada and First Nations could look like, one that is not based on dominance, but based on an equal, nation-to-nation way of relating to one another.

But what is a gift unless it is shared?

For so long, I felt isolated from much of my family because I felt I couldn’t talk to them about these issues and it created distance between us.

But, for the first time ever, I shared the joy of democratic demonstration with my family — my Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, and brother-in-law. There was nothing more special than huddling near the sacred fire with my brother in-law to listen to a former soldier speak in support of Idle No More. There was nothing better than making signs with my grandpa that read: “Harper, have you packed your bags yet?” and “Support Aboriginal Rights”. What an incredible joy!

Many gifts, think laptops and iPods, often make me feel further away from the people who are dear to me. But by joining in Idle No More, I feel closer now to my family and closer to a place of shared understanding.

And in the wake of the Idle No More demo we’d just participated in, at our family dinner this year, we didn’t just talk about the gravy, but about the ugliness and destructiveness of some of our history and our reality, and the incredible opportunity of this moment to be part of creating a brave and bright future for us all.

Brigette DePape is a Canadian youth leader and activist.