Are "Idle No More" protestors complaining too much? Cariboo-Prince George Conservative MP Dick Harris certainly seem to think so, calling the movement a "cash cow" for the aboriginal industry and lacking in gratitude for all of the wonderful things the Conservatives have done for First Nations since taking office.
Could Harris be right? No, it seems to me that he could not be. Idle No More, as its name suggests, is not about demanding more hand-outs, or dragging out the Treaty process forever, or perpetuating the status quo for the financial benefit of lawyers, consultants, or existing band chiefs. It is, in part, a protest precisely against that state of affairs. Deliberately or not, Harris seems to have confused a genuine grassroots movement that has spread like wildfire with a glacier-like Treaty process that has been occupied by special interests. It is not hard to spot the difference, even if you have a government that doesn’t want you to.
Nor can I agree with Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod 's comment that Idle No More's opposition to C-45 is "misguided" because amendments are merely about enabling economic development for bands, not eroding their control over land. In the first place, the amendment that makes it easier to lease reserve land to private interests on the basis of a single majority vote at a meeting (and not with permission of a majoirty of band members as was the case previously) is intensely controversial; much of the literature suggests that band democracy should move towards consensus, not away from it, or that education levels and voting procedures should be improved before moving in the direction of greater alienation or development of land. In the second place, the amendments to the Navigable Waters Act and the Environmental Assessment Act to make it easier to build pipelines and power lines across all but the largest rivers and lakes remove an important source of political leverage for First Nations people and environmentalists, who also recognize that large bodies of water ultimately depend upon many smaller bodies of water for their existence. In the third place, the federal government has historically had both an important role as an environmental counterweight to provincial and corporate interests and as the level of government which has a special fiduciary obligation to First Nations. As a political scientist who studies and teaches about some of these subjects for a living, I have to conclude that these moves are deeply problematic, and merit much more detailed discussion in separate bills with their own separate parliamentary committees and studies. They are fundamentally not about implementing last year's budget!