First Nations groups mobilizing for “Sovereignty Summer” – Idle No More


As spring draws to a close, aboriginal groups are gearing up for a very busy few months in what’s been dubbed “Sovereignty Summer” by organizers and activists.

And they’re hoping to cause a hassle for the Conservative government.

Organizers from Idle No More and Defenders of the Land, a network of indigenous communities aiming to protect environmental and aboriginal rights, have banded together for the joint Sovereignty Summer campaign.

Since announcing the new alliance in March, they’ve been leading in-person and online training sessions to teach other activists effective ways to organize, providing what they say is an anchor to groups across the country who are interested in “escalating actions” and “putting into the national discourse the core concerns of First Nations peoples with the Harper government.”

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a Sovereignty Summer campaigner, says the movement’s ultimate goal is to get the federal government to sit down with aboriginal leaders – to talk, negotiate and consult with them.

It seems pretty simple.

But the feds and aboriginals have met in the past – notably, back in January Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with First Nations leaders after the Idle No More rallies and Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, as well as at the Crown-First Nations gathering in January of 2012 – but critics say those meetings brought little change.

Thomas-Muller says the federal government has been fudging its obligations to aboriginal people and that some of the most recognized aboriginal institutions are no longer effective.

“Our political institutions, like the Assembly of First Nations, have become very – due to the nature of their arms-length funding dependency – have become ineffective at pushing the envelope,” he told iPolitics.

So, he notes, Sovereignty Summer organizers are going to do what they can to change the channel on the relationship between the federal government and aboriginal people.

“The only thing that this Prime Minister listens to is economics,” Thomas-Muller said. ”And so what we will see over the summer will be communities stopping business as usual, and really take a look at ways and strategies and tactics to do that.”

He added, “(We’re) aiming to look at basically putting up walls, putting up barriers to Canada being able to continue as business as usual.”

He says that once the new season actually kicks off – this Friday June 21, which is also National Aboriginal Day – so too will Sovereignty Summer.

Thomas-Muller notes there’s a big event planned for Queen’s Park in Toronto on Friday – a “convergence” of the Toronto activist community – to get things started and says there will be action all throughout the summer, with something “quite significant” in early July – “that I’m not at liberty to share at this point.”

It’s been many months since the Idle No More movement – sparked by frustration over the federal government’s C-45 omnibus budget bill and spurred on by social media – made waves nationally and internationally with rallies and affirmations of aboriginal identity.

Since its initial uprising near the end of 2012, the movement’s momentum has subsided.

Andrea Landry, an aboriginal advocate who works with the National Association of Friendship Centres and the United Nations, says that while Idle No More momentum has faded – at least over the past few months – frustration’s been growing in aboriginal communities.

Much of this frustration is over recent legislation passed by the federal government – she notes the navigable waters protection act and matrimonial real property legislation – and a lack of talks between government and aboriginal groups and leaders.

Landry says she’s worried about the potential response this summer to what she says are the government’s “empty words and empty promises.” She says she’s heard rumblings of blockades, which could easily lead to violence.

“I’m really hoping it doesn’t have to come down to that,” she said.

“Summertime is a time of ceremony,” she added. “And I’m hoping that will aid in the process of keeping (things) as peaceful as possible.”

© 2013 iPolitics Inc.

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