Idle No More, and the reliable Old Fart

Emma Teitel takes on the FAIPOFS. Kelly McParland, Barbara Kay and Margaret Wente, she’s talking to you
First Nations Idle No More protestors march and block the International Bridge between the Canada and U.S. border near Cornwall Ontario, Saturday January 5 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
CP/Fred Chartrand

In the National Post yesterday, Kelly McParland coined a new term for the progressive social movements of our time: the Arab Spring, Occupy and Idle No More.

“The great International anti-The Man movement,” is what he likes to call them — a catch-all phrase for bacchanals of smelly young people clutching placards, weighed down by the billion Che Guevara pins on their canvas bags, the Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians who died brutally for democracy—and now—the aboriginal Canadians who block roadways to protest treaty violations. Who knew they had so much in common?

I would like to coin my own term for people like McParland, and Barbara Kay, and Margaret Wente, pundits who defecate rhetorically on every liberal protest movement that makes the nightly news. My term is easier to remember.

I like to call these people FAIPOFS—For all Intents and Purposes, Old Farts. Not necessarily physically old, that is (I’m not ageist), just unfathomable to fathom as young: like Ms. Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, who admits she doesn’t care for children because she never was one. You try to picture the FAIPOFS young at heart, at a party, maybe even sitting friendless in a high school cafeteria, but you can’t. Because unless their long-form birth certificates verify otherwise, it’s almost certain they exited the womb fully grown, hurling insults at shiftless grad students. Or in Wente’s case, imaginary shiftless grad students.

Yesterday’s star FAIPOF, Kelly McParland, actually doesn’t mind the original sentiment behind Idle No More, likely because it would have remained idle without the radicalism, road blockades and hunger strikes clogging news feeds every hour. Below, he writes approvingly of the original movement’s website.

“The photo section is like a suburban family’s Facebook page, with shots [of] kids and nature, and what looks like someone’s vacation snapshot from Beijing. It’s pretty harmless and well-meaning. But it’s been largely co-opted by the great international anti-The Man movement.”

That McParland wouldn’t be aware of the website’s existence without the great anti-The Man movement seems lost on him entirely. And that is—to everyone who looks at Theresa Spence’s tent with annoyed bewilderment—precisely the point.

Like clockwork, every time people take to the streets or roads or parks with a cause, they are celebrated and disdained. The Toronto Star says good for them, the National Post says get a life, and the Globe and Mail says something I can’t remember.

What matters though, is that right or wrong these people are seen and heard. If they stayed home, or as every FAIPOF suggested—went through the appropriate channels to voice their concerns—we wouldn’t know their names or their grievances. Now we do.

Now we can’t avoid them. Now, some of my friends, most of whom have never paid attention to aboriginal affairs, are talking about Idle No More. My extended family, at our weekly Friday night Shabbat dinner, is talking about Idle No More. Most of them (one FAIPOF in particular, you know who you are) don’t particularly like the movement, but the fact remains that without it, we would not have replaced our Israel-Palestine debates with discussions on First Nations policy—and thank God we did, because the Israel thing was getting really old.

Chances are, my friends and family will not heed the call of Chief Spence (they are still, as far as I tell, very much idle), but at least they’ve heard it loud and clear. At least they can pronounce Attawapiskat.

As for the old farts, they’ll fart on until the end of time, content, I’d imagine, with the recent discovery that two thirds of Canadians think “Canada’s Aboriginal peoples receive too much support from Canadian taxpayers,” and the Aboriginal peoples themselves will be content that we’re thinking of them at all.