01/24/2013 12:13 EST | Updated 03/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Non-Aboriginal? Idle From the Sidelines


Up to this point, I have been hesitant to speak at lengths for the #IdleNoMore movement largely because as a middle-class Canadian of European ancestry who has never spent much time on a reserve, I feel like it's not my place to do so.

Allow me to clarify.

I'm in solidarity with the movement -- even a staunch supporter of it, but only if the First Nations themselves are the ones leading the march.

In my opinion, non-Aboriginals with little knowledge of treaty laws or reservation conditions dictating to First Nations activists -- even with good intentions -- is an unwelcome restoration of the patronizing relationship which laid the foundations for #IdleNoMore's current outpouring of frustration and anger in the first place.

So, I trust you understand my irritation when every time I log onto my computer or flip through a newspaper, I am flooded with smug commentary by an entitled Caucasian detachment of buzzing commentators, pundits, and activists, claiming to know what exactly is best for the Indigenous populations in this country.

Doesn't anyone else see a discerning pattern forming when, yet again, we have non-Aboriginal government employees and under-informed right-wing think tankers telling the Indigenous protesters within the movement what exactly they should be protesting, and how exactly they should be doing it?

Petty post-colonialist commentaries such as these reek of a dated condescension that is better suited for the 1800s than the 2000s.

Moreover, they fail to recognize one of the movement's biggest complications. Not only must #IdleNoMore contend with a condescending administration that responds best to displays of power and strength, it must also reprimand its own entrenched band leaders -- "a leadership which long ago made a deal with the neo-colonial devil: you pay us and we will pretend to lead while you pretend to listen."

Thus, there is a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, both by an administration reluctant to cede more autonomy to Indigenous populations, and until perhaps very recently, by many of the First Nations leaders themselves -- some of whom were made dependent on the Canadian government in the 1960s with the targeted government funding of salaries for elected board members of Metis and Native organisations.

In short, many of the very same aboriginal leaders currently engaged in protest under the banner of the #IdleNoMore movement, have in fact previously entered into relationships of total dependency with the nation-state that they are currently trying to play hardball with -- a complicated love-hate relationship indeed.

On top of all this, #IdleNoMore still faces the crucial test thrust upon all de-structuralizing protest movements which represent the interests of a diverse group of peoples -- how does it determine what exactly it wants to accomplish?

Again, those of us who have enjoyed a life relatively free from that patronizing relationship -- never spending more than a novelty moment on a reservation, must resist the temptation to speak for the wants and needs of #IdleNoMore.

Even if our intentions are admirable, un-informed non-aboriginals need to take a passive support role. Listening instead of talking, heeding instead of telling, and following instead of leading.

Muffling out the voices of the oppressed in an attempt to blindly emancipate them always ends up doing much more harm than good -- the White Man's Burden is largely responsible for underpinning these unequal relationships in the first place.

To clarify, I'm not saying that non-Aboriginal Canadians should not be openly and actively supportive -- and at times critical -- of our brothers and sisters in their fight against the oppressive structures that currently keep their people trapped in cyclical poverty. Not in the least.

What I am saying is this -- agree or disagree, #IdleNoMore isn't our movement to lead.

After all, there are many things that the average non-Indigenous, non-activist, yet conscious Canadian can do to show his or her support that won't muffle the First Nations voices central to the movement -- #IdleNoMore is about more than just colonial guilt, it's about cooperation.

Demonstrate your solidarity by attending a rally -- educate yourself regarding current reservation conditions and treaty negotiations -- challenge the racist stereotypes that you hear time and again in public spaces -- write a letter to your MLA, MP, or local newspaper voicing your solidarity.

Or don't do any of these things -- it's a free country. But for the last time, please stop thinking that as a non-Aboriginal you have the same speaking authority as an Indigenous activist fighting for their people. We don't.

Idle No More Art