More than 300 people gathered at Dalhousie University on Thursday night to “unlearn” stereotypes about First Nations peoples in support of Idle No More.
People filled the Scotiabank auditorium and spilled out into the lobby, eager to hear from Idle No More leaders Marina Young, Rebecca Moore, and Tayla Paul, as well as Halifax MP Megan Leslie, and others.
“Unlearning means to acknowledge that something you thought was true is actually untrue,” said Erin Wunker, coordinator for the Dalhousie’s Canadian Studies Program. She self-identifies as an ancestor of colonial settlers.
“I am part of a population that has always been told that I have always had a right to be here, and that is simply untrue,” continued Wunker. “We have to acknowledge that.”
Idle No More, publicized by coverage of round dances in shopping malls and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, is widely viewed as a movement in opposition to Bill C-45. The bill, called the Jobs and Growth Act, 2012, contains changes to the Indian Act, Navigation Protection Act and Environmental Assessment Act.
Thursday night’s speakers argued the causes of the movement run further into our history than an omnibus bill and the Harper government.
They named colonialism, assimilation by formal education, and a lack of recognition in government as stimuli for the uprising.
Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, director of Dal’s Transition Year Program, spoke to the colonial intentions behind residential schools and federally-funded post-secondary education for First Nations peoples. She quoted the Department of Indian Affairs in 1920, which said, “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian left in the body politic.”
“Colonialism would have killed us, except for our strength and our spiritual foundation,” said Doyle-Bedwell.
“We have to take back our education so it’s not simply a tool of assimilation. Education is not only getting our degrees… (it) is about teaching us to be good Mi’kmaq men and women.”
Speakers focused on settlers’ responsibility to create ally relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
“For example: doing the work to find out how financial relationships between the government and first nations actually work, rather than saying ‘Hey, that new budget, the audit of Attawapiskat, isn’t that damning?’” said Wunker.
Solidarity Halifax’s Sebastian Labelle says Idle No More is a “defiance against the paternal treatment of indigenous peoples.”
He says without non-aboriginal people taking responsibility for our colonial past, “true, honest, and genuine reconciliation” cannot happen.
Aaron Beale, academic and external vice president of the Dalhousie Student Union, says as a Canadian institution Dal has a “colonial legacy, and responsibility to challenge that.”
“Students often learn about history and sociology of racism but don’t have the opportunity to get involved and support something ongoing.”
One of the All Nations drummers, who opened and closed the event, capped the night with a call for engagement in Idle No More.
“The seventh generation prophecy… It was told about this time we’re standing in right now. It was about a time of taking responsibility for this planet that has sustained life since long before we came.”
Despite the heavy topic, the sentiment in the room was familial.
“They asked me to speak about colonialism for 10 minutes,” said Tayla Paul, an Idle No More organizer. “I went home and face-palmed so hard I think my neighbor could hear it.”