Parsing the online comments on #IdleNoMore

How Canadians are failing a tolerance test

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence. (CP/Sean Kilpatrick)

Canadians are a tolerant people, right? It’s certainly something we pride ourselves on. The Idle No More movement provides an ideal opportunity to test this notion, as Canadians turn to mass media outlets online to express their thoughts about the matter.

Let’s take, for example, the comments on articles about Idle No More from a variety of media outlets:,, and, just as easy examples. By this I mean the comments that have not been removed for being blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, vulgar, or hateful. The ordinary stuff, in other words. The ideas and opinions that are helping to form and reflect actual public opinion on this important issue.

Now, it would, at first blush, be easy to read some of the comments on those articles as intolerant. But let’s face it: people often misread online communication. So it’s only fair to give these folks the benefit of the doubt, and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s the Canadian way, eh?

Here, then, are examples of several of the most common statements made in comments on these articles, thoughtfully translated so the tolerance really stands out.

What they say: All people are equal, and should be treated the same.

What they must mean: I’m willing to trade situations with any Inuit or First Nations person at any time.

What they say: As a taxpayer I resent my hard-earned money going to support First Nations.

What they must mean: I only want my taxes to go to the traditional stewards of the Canadian environment, like the oil industry, the forestry industry, the airline industry and the automotive industry.

What they say: If First Nations and Inuit people choose to live way out there in the bush, it’s their problem.

What they must mean: I wish a lot more First Nations people lived in my town.

What they say: Aboriginal leaders are corrupt, or incompetent.

What they must mean: Non-aboriginal leaders are the most honest, effective bunch of self-sacrificing saints ever to walk the face of the Earth.

What they say: First Nations and Inuit people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

What they must mean: I never had a single opportunity in my life. My people were downtrodden for a few hundred years, my language was beaten out of me, my family was broken by residential schools, my access to health care was poor, I was economically and socially isolated, I had little opportunity for jobs or education, and yet I became the selfless contributor to society that I am today all by myself.

What they say: Native people need to get with the times and join the rest of Canadian society.

What they must mean: A wasteful, polluting materialist culture for everyone!

What they say: The Indian Act/Treaties should be repealed and special treatment for Native people should end.

What they must mean: I’m totally awesome at economics, politics, anthropology, sociology, spirituality and geography, and I figured out a new system, that no one’s ever thought of, let alone tried to implement in the past. My idea redresses the problems of the past and creates stepping stones toward a new and profitable future together. I’m willing to spend my lifetime helping put it in place for the good of all. So let’s do that instead.

There you have it. Canadians are a tolerant people, if you’ll just take the time to try to understand where they’re coming from.

We can all be grateful for the the Idle No More movement. It has provided the opportunity to see our collective tolerance demonstrated so plainly.

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