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Watching the Watchdog: Supporting Idle No More is a No-Brainer

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Tim Knight writes the regular media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

I've been writing this Watching the Watchdog column since March, 2012.

At roughly two-and-half columns a week, that makes around 100 editions in the past ten months. To which you, the HuffPost readers, have added perhaps 700 most welcome comments.

Sometimes, when your comments have taken the matter further and found meaning I've missed, they've enlightened and delighted me.

Then there are the times when you've rightly disagreed with my judgment, so I've re-thought my position and even publicly apologized.

On a few occasions, your comments have praised my intelligence, even my reasoning/writing. (These are my favourites.)

Other times they've simply baffled me.

And a few times, your comments have had nothing whatsoever to do with what I wrote.

As Forrest Gump explained so elegantly, life is "like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Gump knew whereof he spoke.

For instance, on September 15 last year I wrote about Canada's journalists: "What if we all revolt? I believe that only a journalists' revolt can save Canadian TV news and protect the people's sacred right to fair, disinterested, honest, public service information." Although this is a column which, you may have noticed, is devoted to the media, I got not a single comment in response.

On November 17 I wrote about the power of white-skin privilege in the first U.S. election debate. I accused President Obama of "behaving like a cautious, respectful black man facing a very powerful white man" when he took on Mitt Romney. I expected a flood of comments accusing me of racism. There were seven, all politely agreeing with me.

On November 28, I wrote: "Israel claims the right to kill anyone who, in its opinion, has 'relevance to terror activity.' Which means, in turn, that any government, including our own Canadian government (which supports Israel in just about everything it does), can use that same excuse any time it wishes to kill a few journalists it doesn't like." Again, not a single comment. Maybe there's a general belief around that it's a good idea to kill journalists you don't agree with.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came the comments to my columns about the First Nations' protest. Most reaction to anything I'd ever written here.

On December 21 I wrote about Chief Spence's hunger strike and the First Nations Idle No More protest and asked: "How has it come to this?" I answered: "Simple. It's what inevitably happens eventually when colonial powers invade aboriginal land. The newcomers carry big guns and speak grand words about the glory of their civilization and the power of their mighty god. And they justify the invasion by trying to destroy native culture, 'civilize' the people and turn them into lesser versions of the colonizers."

Thirty comments poured in. Most were along the theme of "I am so tired of the whining and complaining of Indians; their sense of entitlement is astounding. This is not their country, never has been."

And "Waiting for someone to feel sorry for you and give you something you think you are entitled to is an exercise in futility."

And "They don't want to pay taxes. They want other citizens to fork over billions to them -- forever. Natives [hold] a perpetual grudge against the rest of their countrymen. I believe there will come a day when the majority will finally say, 'Enough already. Sort yourselves out.'

On the very first day of this year I wrote about dancing with Idle No More protesters in Toronto's Dundas Square and got another twenty-seven comments. One attacked Chief Spence, whose hunger strike sparked a planned meeting with Prime Minister Harper this week.

It called her: "... incompetent, irresponsible and just plain disrespectful to the planet. This woman is a disgraceful example of female 'leadership'."

But it's not just the comments to my Watching the Watchdog columns that baffle me.

All over the Internet, people delight in zapping Chief Spence and Idle No More.

Even a couple of my friends have chimed in.

One friend, in his sixties and noticeably liberal and urbane, emailed: "Having been stopped from getting off one train onto another in Vancouver yesterday by these lawless renegades I have no sympathy nor support for these ne'r do wells. Not to mention a chief who has received millions of our money and achieved nothing for her village which by any modern standard would not exist were it not for white guilt and gutless politicians!"

Another, in his early thirties, wrote: "All I can say is that as a former professional protester myself, my instinct is usually that the real problem is that the protesters are poor because they smoke pot all night and wake up at noon. They're 'marginalized' because nobody agrees with them because they're crazy."

I don't understand.

Centuries of racism, neglect and broken promises have spawned a righteous anger among Canada's native people.

The outward and visible signs of that anger are the Idle no More blockades of trains and roads designed to "stop the Harper government from passing more laws and legislation that will further erode treaty and indigenous rights and the rights of all Canadians."

That doesn't seem to me to be asking a lot. Particularly in light of the damage done by the colonial residential schools to First Nations culture and the appalling conditions that still exist today on so many reserves.

Writing about it seems to trigger some deep, residual guilt in people.

But the Idle No More protesters are simply asking that we Canadians, represented by our government in Ottawa, respect the treaties signed with our First Nations.

Thankfully, they have some powerful supporters:

Among those supporters are Amnesty International Canada, Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Quakers, Earth Roots, Indigenous World Association, Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada and a whole galaxy of aboriginal organizations.

Here's the last part of these organizations' joint statement: "It is tragic that a hunger strike and Canada-wide protests are necessary, in order for Indigenous peoples to bring attention to violations of their dignity, Treaties and human rights. We urge all Canadians to engage with Indigenous peoples, to help educate others, and to support the current movement of awareness raising and ensuring vital reforms."

Damned if I can see how any Canadian can be against keeping our promises to the people who were here first.

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