Why the Idle No More Movement is missing from the public agenda.

11 Feb

1n 1972, Maxwell McComb and his colleague Donald Shaw developed the agenda-setting hypothesis and used Watergate as an example of how this phenomenon happens (Griffin, E.).  Their premise:  if you keep plunking something on the front page of the news, it will eventually become the news.  Fast forward to 2012 and politics in Canada.  The Conservative Party, with a majority government and an attitude that conveys arrogance and power, is focused on streamlining the law-making process in Canada by introducing omnibus bills (a single bill that covers many diverse areas of law) as part of their modus operandi.  Bill C-45 which amends the Environmental Act, Navigable Waterways and the Indian Act pushed First Nations too far. 

The push back from First Nations and their diverse supporters gave birth to the movement known as Idle No More.  And like any birth, it has been painful and life-changing.  From the first gasp of air in December the story was the darling of the media.  You could search all of the major news outlets in Canada and follow the plight of Chief Theresa Spence (who used this movement to stage a hunger strike as a platform to bring awareness to the socio-economic plight of First Nations communities across Canada) as well as strikingly peaceful and artistic protests that incorporated the rich First Nations culture.  And the people of Canada were enthralled.  Who doesn’t love a story about a hunger strike?  It’s dramatic.  It can be deadly.  But quickly the rhetoric turned to a raw visitation of the history of colonialization in Canada.  It’s not something to be terribly proud of.  It’s not something we want to chat about at birthday parties.  It’s not even something that all citizens in Canada fully understand.  It’s one of those nasty little family secrets that we quickly grow tired of hearing about.   

Why is it so hard to listen to this story?  It’s hard to listen because noise from the power brokers that control the political and economic agenda is growing.  They want us to listen to their noise and move off of the Idle No More issue onto other distractions (such as the audit of Chief Spence).  David Eaves wrote a great blog post on January 13 categorizing the Idle No More Movement as an “existential threat” to Canada because it makes us have to talk about things like equality and fairness in meaningful ways and that is a difficult conversation.   The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples published a lengthy tomb in 1996 – almost twenty years ago – that laid out some key deficiencies in the relationship between the Government of Canada and First Nations.   Those issues haven’t changed.  They are the same issues that Chief Spence is arguing for fairness and equality now:

  • ·         Life expectancy is lower.
  • ·          Illness is more common.
  • ·          Human problems, from family violence to alcohol abuse, are more common too.
  • ·          Fewer children graduate from high school.
  • ·          Far fewer go on to colleges and universities.
  • ·          The homes of Aboriginal people are more often flimsy, leaky and overcrowded.
  • ·         Water and sanitation systems in Aboriginal communities are more often inadequate.
  • ·          Fewer Aboriginal people have jobs.
  • ·          More spend time in jails and prisons.

These points come directly from that report yet almost twenty years later they could be the dire message from the wounded spirits of any First Nations Chief in Canada.  How does or should the Government of Canada defend its position?

They say that the best offense is a good defense.  And so – agenda setting is happening in the mainstream media in Canada.  Fewer and fewer stories are being told in the main stream media that paint a sympathetic or empathetic voice to the movement.  Instead we have media coverage of the now-disgraced Senator who has publicly ridiculed Chief Spence in her hunger movement and in fact, dismissed the entire Idle No More Movement.  It’s a distraction – and not a pleasant one.  We have a well-placed; well-timed story of the accounting irregularities in Attawapiskat; and we have the Finance Minister purporting how the protests and roadblocks are devastating the economy of Canada…. Really?  Pretty sure our economy was in the tank long before Idle No More started.

So although there are fabulous stories and coverage of the Idle No More movement out there, we aren’t seeing them on the news.  Take for example this respectful piece by Santbir Singh in the LangarHall who clearly understands that this is not just about the rights of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada.  It’s a struggle for human rights, something that is guaranteed in our Constitution.  It’s a right that is at risk of being undermined in support of government that is dominated ideologically by power and economics.  Our need for orientation as a society draws us to the media.  This need for orientation is growing as our society becomes more and more uncertain.  Recessions and downturns create instability.  Historically, this makes us less tolerant and some might argue that governments understand this well.  Sweeping changes can happen with little consultation and discussion.  Sound familiar?

The Idle No More movement is not going away.  It will grow in strength and resolve and this will be supported by social media and the use of digital communications.  It will not rely on mass media because that agenda is being drafted by the people who feel most threatened.







One Response to “Why the Idle No More Movement is missing from the public agenda.”

  1. JD Orr February 12, 2013 at 12:14 am #

    Nicely said. If we’re going to have a wide ranging and socially engaged public conversation, where will it take place? As I recall this was a similar issue in the Occupy movement, which required armed intervention to move out of the public imagination. Any thoughts on how the mass media can be kept focused? It sounds like you think it might be better to bypass them completely…. Keep up the good work!

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