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Full interview: In conversation with Tanya Kappo

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Tanya Kappo is a University of Manitoba law graduate, currently articling in Alberta and living in Edmonton. At 41, she is the mother of three children, a son, 18, in his first year of engineering at her alma mater and two daughters, 16 and 9, at home. She's in Winnipeg today to give a talk about Idle No More at the university's law faculty.

Kappo is an activist for peaceful change to improve living conditions for First Nations people and Canadian understanding of indigenous people. Her father was Harold Cardinal, the Cree leader who authored the Red Paper in response to the 1969 White Paper.

A friend of Sylvia McAdam, one of the four women who founded Idle No More, Kappo was the first to use the hashtag #IdleNoMore on Twitter, live-streaming a broadcast from an Alberta First Nation Dec. 2, a day before First Nations chiefs marched on Parliament Hill and a week before the National Day of Action and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence started a fast that ended Thursday.

Idle No More is a grassroots movement and her comments here are not official; they are her own.

 

Q: What is Idle No More? What’s the goal of Idle No More?

A: The impetus was and still is the legislation facing First Nations, primarily Bill C-45 -- it’s the biggest one and the one that’s the most urgent. It was closest to being passed when we started. And it was about land and water. That made it a priority.

(These are amendments to remove hundreds of lakes and rivers from federal environmental protection and changes to open up leases of lands under the Indian Act.)

The fact remains even if reserve lands are leased, they might as well be surrendered. As far as I understand it, the land is left as is, any consequences that arise from the lease and the use of that property becomes the responsibility of the community. So really, how useable would it still be once a lease expires?

Q: In the last couple of weeks, the Canadian public is also waking up and it’s not pretty. What do you make of the backlash?

A: I think as a First Nations person, I’ve always been aware of it. You grow up being aware of it. It never goes away. To see it, is not surprising but it’s still very painful and its still very disappointing.

There are issues we need to talk about. This includes the relationship, not just our relationship as First Nations people with Canada but our relationship with Canadians and with ourselves inside our communities.

To me, the legislation is just a symptom of the relationship between Canada and First Nations. And that is: ‘We’re going to do what’s best for you. And we’re going to phrase like that, even though it’s going to be what’s best for us...' That’s how its always been, everything the government has undertaken. It’s always been on their own terms.

So when people start to ask a question that seems valid, like 'Why aren’t you doing anything about the conditions on your reserves?' it seems naive. You don’t take into account the resistance First Nations people constantly face in terms of government.

My involvement in Idle No more is about accountability. It’s about me being accountable for myself, my future and my home. This is what I’m doing and complaining to me (that) I’m not doing it right? Well, this is the very thing again. It goes back to the relationship and the communication: What you think isn’t right doesn’t mean that’s it. Maybe what we’re doing is the right thing for us.

Q: So how do you get people to listen?

A: Look at the people from our communities. Look at them come out. You talk about us being lazy and not wanting to do anything about our lives? That’s never been the case. The fact that all these people are coming out, in weather of -30C, how can you say that we don’t want change?

Q: We’ve gone from flash mob round dances to blockades, which has ticked people off to no end. How do you distinguish Idle No More from angrier demonstrations?

A: The whole idea of it being a grassroots movement, are some underlying principles and so long as people continue to engage in a way relevant to their circumstances. It’s not a protest in terms of blockading. It’s demonstrations in terms of going out to show support to do messaging to stand in solidarity with common cause and that being protection of the lands and waters.

Maybe this has something to do with Idle No More turning into a women’s issue without it meaning to. Its a very profound, it really is about love, a deep sense of humanity and the need to protect the land.

Once you start seeing the more angrier displays and demonstrations, the blockading, Canadians should stop and wonder: "Why are these people so frustrated they would do this?" Instead of starting to blame and stereotype and dehumanize, let’s understand, once and for all, what causes these people to do this.

It’s the same sort of desperation, I imagine, that (led) Chief Spence to start a hunger strike. We’re sick and tired of the young people in our communities having no reason to live. Killing themselves. Or young girls, 15 years old, having babies and their mom is happy because now that means their daughter won’t be suicidal for a while.

Canadians don’t seem to want to look at these kinds of things. People who are so frustrated and angry as they face these realities day in, day out and nothing changes. They’re at their wit's end with a blockade.

All a blockade does is inconvenience people. It doesn’t affect them in a life-and-death way. But when these people stop their blockade and leave the lines, they still go back to their life-and-death existence.

That’s (the difference with) Idle no More. It’s not about anger. It about trying to approach it from a place of love.

As more Canadians come onside I like to think -- and maybe this is naive -- but I think that will be a neutralizing factor. For First Nations people, maybe they’ll see that as a positive sign, something they haven’t seen before, support and some kind of understanding from Canadians who also want to change as much as they do. Maybe that will neutralize the more angrier protests.

Q: Could any of this have happened without social media?

A: It has happened in the past without social media, without fax machines, without regular access to telephones. The difference with social media is it happened that much quicker. It explains the rapid emergence of Idle No More, not just as a First Nations movement but as a Canadian movement, even as a global movement.

Q: I’d like to believe racial stereotyping comes from a vocal minority. How do you get the silent majority on side?

A: It’s one thing to have trolls making comments on media websites. But then it comes out in very real ways like it did in Thunder Bay, with the First Nations woman.

(In that case, which is being investigated as a hate crime, a woman told police she was brutally sexually assaulted, strangled and left for dead in late December by two men who used racist epithets and denounced "treaty rights.")

 

This draws in the issue of missing and murdered women. It could have been a murder. And the relationship between the police and First Nations community in Thunder Bay isn’t the greatest to begin with. My friend and I worked hard to make sure the First Nations leadership in Thunder Bay were aware of the situation and could do what they can to ensure proper process is following on the investigation and to make sure precautions are taken within the First Nations community in Thunder Bay -- they’ve been one of the more active participants in Idle No More.

When I see (backlash) come through in real physical ways like this, it shocks me. These are the things I think about, it goes back again to the relationship. It goes back again to the relationship, to some very real issue of security, that I face, that my daughters face, every time we walk out the door for no reason other than we’re brown women.

It’s not about Bill C-45 when it comes to that, but everything about Bill C-45 speaks to that, the bad conditions on the reserve and everything else, the stereotypes that continue to keep us down.

Idle No More coming from a place of love really challenges that. We’re not those people you keep saying we are. Yes, those are social conditions we face. Yes, those are realities we live. But that’s not who we are. It’s never who we chose to be."

Q: What are the next steps?

A. For me, continuing the dialogue with Canadians to make a difference for each other. Bill C-45 is one area where we have mutual concerns, mutual interests. It’s been the rallying point, in terms of starting the dialogue between regular First Nations people and regular Canadians that didn’t exist before, at any time.

The kind of interest I’m getting from Canadians and groups that ask me to come and talk about Idle No More -- that is going to be a trend. I think the trend is going to broaden and make it a Canadian issue.

Canadians are becoming more and more aware of their environment and the value of it, as opposed to the quick economic benefit of it.

Q: Could this happen in any other country, that a movement would be born in the dead of winter? Why couldn’t this have happened in July?

A: I do think about that as I’m freezing outside at some events. You adapt to the weather, which is how indigenous people survived for thousands of years. You live with it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 A11

History

Updated on Friday, January 25, 2013 at 1:32 PM CST: Replaces excerpt with full interview.

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