Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's be idle no more

  • Print

VANCOUVER -- As someone who has worked closely with First Nations, Métis and Inuit for over 40 years, it is dispiriting to see the current media and public reaction to Chief Theresa Spence's fast and the Idle No More movement.

Once again we are headed down the predictable road of dreadful audit results, broad misspending allegations, and economic determinism of all things worth doing. Absolutely, I have worked with aboriginal groups who misspent money, favoured one clan over another and pursued ridiculous economic development projects over fearful cliffs; but I've also worked with communities, political and economic development organizations that fared well and better. So lesson No. 1 is let's all stop generalizing from some instances to all aboriginal people.

Lesson No. 2: Let's try and bring some historic perspective to the issues at hand. The patronizing, colonizing and paternalizing actions of the various levels of government, corporations and religious organizations since contact have created predictable outcomes. They are not unique to Canada.

For five summers, I worked in western Siberia with the Russian Sami, and they have faced the same crap, with the same results. Their response: "Look, we have lived through the 70 bad years of Communism; at least give us 70 years to recover what we lost."

Lesson No. 3: Let's try and view the current state of affairs through what I think of as "Scottish intellectual eyes." The first Scots who emigrated to Canada were products of an interdisciplinary educational heritage. They utilized an interdisciplinary perspective in pioneering the fur trade that enabled them to paddle their own canoes, learn Cree, marry into aboriginal society, initiate trade routes and keep the books of account. They also mastered dealing with their English and French bosses and grand seigneurs who barely made it out of Toronto and Montreal for vacations, let alone work.

A Scot would never critique an entire society from only an economic perspective. Nor should we today. Instead, we should ask why so many remote and isolated aboriginal communities are surrounded by remote and isolated mines, well sites, power-generation systems, pipelines, seaports and refineries that at best offer token employment. We hear way too much of "economic-benefits agreements" and way too little of equity participation, mentoring First Nations' citizens as board members and real beneficial ownership. Economic tokenism doesn't work, especially when it involves resources being extracted by outsiders from treaty lands or tribal homelands.

We should also ask why we are afraid of celebrating indigenous cultures that struggle to keep their languages alive, that maintain traditional environmental knowledge, that have never placed a species at risk, let alone extinction, that champion the harvest of country food and that question conspicuous consumption. Why does the critique of Idle No More rely so heavily on requiring First Nations to relinquish reserves in favour of urban life? Why is the implicit assumption always that First Nations have to buckle under, to "get real," to give up, to assimilate, to embrace modernity (however that is defined this week) and finally to become like the colonizers who came uninvited, in large measure because they had exhausted the resources of their own homelands?

Lesson No. 4: Let's go forward together as Canadians and have the Idle No More constructive argument about our common future framed on fact and premised on a willingness to treat each other as citizens. Let us start with the knowledge that top-down paternalism didn't work. Let us admit that top-down federal welfare policies do not create sustainable local economies. Let us admit that treaty-based resource ownership is better than "economic-benefits agreements" with external owners of resources. Let us try to create publicly traded corporations that have aboriginal resource owners sitting as board members with other investors.

Lesson No. 5: Let us finally admit that the free-market system is not perfect and that it must make room for the sustainable-development paradigm. If the market is allowed to continue to operate as if growth is a given, as if climate change is not a reality, as if resources are infinite, we are collectively doomed. There is no second Earth. We cannot escape to the terra incognita this time around. Our only hope is to embrace the environmental wisdom of those few who still live close to the land, as we all did for several million years before the advent of sedentary agriculture in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys a mere 14,000 years ago.

In this cause let us be Idle No More.


Mike Robinson has lived half his life in Alberta and half in B.C. In Calgary, he worked for eight years in the oilpatch, 14 in academia and eight as a cultural CEO.


-- Troy Media

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 A15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A pelican comes in for a landing Wednesday afternoon on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba - Standup photo- June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google