An Idle No More Diary

Idle No More Round Dance - January 8, 2013

Photo by Liz Lott Photography

by Donna Sinclair

Day One: Sunday

I went with friends to an Idle No More planning meeting at Nipissing First Nation, near North Bay, Ontario.  It felt good to be welcomed as a non-indigenous person.

One of the youth organizers described his visit with Chief Theresa Spence during her fast. He was clearly moved by the brief encounter.  “I would put her up there with my grandmother, and my mother.”

Many elders were also at the planning meeting. They spoke in support of Idle No More, from their hearts.

Liaison officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and officers from both North Bay and the Anishinabek police outlined their plans to keep everyone safe during the demonstrations. The relationship between police and First Nations in this province has come a long way. It gives me hope that all our relationships can become healthy and whole.

Day Two: Monday  

Today (at the suggestion of Idle No More) I wrote a letter to the Governor General, The Honourable David Johnston, stating my belief that a respectful meeting with Chief Spence is his responsibility as the representative of the Queen in Canada. For one thing, the duty to consult with First Nations, as outlined in section 35 of the Constitution, is being violated by our government.  I believe Mr. Johnston is compelled to raise this matter with the Prime Minister.

I printed a hard copy and put it in the mail. But then I considered that Chief Spence grows physically weaker every day.  So I sent an email too, because that’s quicker.

Day Three: Tuesday

Jim and I participated in a peaceful slow-down of traffic on Highway 17 (the King’s Highway, as one elder referred to it). It was only -3C, and I had double-layered and worn my warmest parka, but the day was grey and I was cold.  I found myself smiling like a crazy woman, though. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the joy surrounding me, so many people (including several who, like us, are not aboriginal) so full of determination.

Or maybe it was the pleasure of holding up a sign showing “Bill C-45” with a big slash through it. (C-45 is the omnibus budget bill that – among many other things – guts environmental regulations.) Or maybe it was the briefly-delayed motorists honking and waving cheerfully as they drove away.

Maybe I was smiling because of the warm bannock someone brought around. Or because I had a chance to stand in solidarity, a chance to say that inadequate funding for indigenous education and other broken promises do not take place in my name.

Day Four: Wednesday

Glorious sunny day. A large group from the Nipissing and Dokis First Nations, with many non-indigenous supporters, held a round dance at the corner of Highway 17 and Highway 11. First we marched up Algonquin Avenue, carrying flags and banners, chatting, cheering. When the marchers chanted, “We are Indian, we are proud,” I was politely silent.  When we got to the highway, I held hands in the circle and shuffled awkwardly along to the drumbeat. White woman dancing! And smiling.  So many children, so many elders, so much joy.

Before I retired as a journalist I didn’t take part in marches. I ran along beside them, taking photos, collaring people to interview. I loved that; and now I can do this. Maybe this, too, is why I am smiling. I can show my anger at the way our government disregards the health of Creation. I can show my deep desire to stand together with all who love Mother Earth.

Day Five: Thursday

Jim has made an appointment for us to talk to our Member of Parliament about why it is important to listen to what Idle No More is saying.  Jim is gathering material and writing a careful letter explaining our position. We are both reading everything we can, online and in the newspapers, and watching television and listening to the radio.  There is wide variation in the coverage.  There is a lot of analysis out there, and also a lot of people talking past each other, speaking English in mutually incomprehensible ways.

Day Six: Friday

Many of the people we walked with this week boarded buses today for Ottawa, to support First Nations leaders in their meeting with the government. The Prime Minister agreed to meet, but just for a half-hour at the beginning and a short time at the end. There is, in fact, chaos. He changes his mind and agrees to meet all afternoon, but only with some chiefs. Many First Nations refuse to participate because of this, and because the Governor General is not in the room.

It appears the Prime Minister does not understand how important the Queen (and the Queen’s representative in Canada) is to the First Nations.  The Governor General symbolizes those treaties that were signed many years ago with the British Crown, the ones that some Canadians appear to feel are outdated and inconvenient and can be simply swept aside. This is why Theresa Spence embarked on a sacred fast.

Really. Canada has a small population and the second-largest land mass of any country on earth. Our borders are rather indefensible. Do we really want to say that treaties and agreements don’t matter?

I too am fasting today. Perhaps that is what makes me so grumpy.  The church coalition KAIROS, which I admire greatly, suggested a one-day fast to support Chief Spence’s efforts.  I have never fasted before.  I am not good at this. I spend most of the day on the couch in front of the fire, reading the most compelling novel I can find, taking my mind off breakfast. And lunch.

From time to time I think of Chief Spence. As I write this (on January 11) she has passed the 30-day mark in her fast. She still hopes that two important men will consent to meet at the same time, in the same room, with First Nations leaders, and talk.

I am humbled. And I pray for her, and for our country.


to be continued

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom (2011).

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Ethics, Peace, Peace, Justice, and Equality, World


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