September 28, 2020

PHOTO BY LINDSAY TESSIER - Aboriginal Services manager Myeengun Henry, Conestoga student Stephanie Tschirhart and Metis elder Jan Sherman spoke to a group of first-year students about the Idle No More Movement on Jan. 18

BY LINDSAY TESSIER

Idle No More.

It’s a phrase that’s been popping up in newspapers, around water coolers and on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet some Canadians still don’t know what it’s all about.

Myeengun Henry wants to change that.

Henry, manager of Aboriginal Services at Conestoga College, met with a group of first-year journalism print students to talk about the growing Idle No More movement and dispel some of the common misconceptions surrounding it.

“That’s why Idle No More is here,” said Henry. “To address some of these concerns with people because racism and stereotypes and anger against a segment of the population starts to increase when you don’t understand the issues.

“I think it’s at that stage where people need to know what it is all about, the issues at stake and how they affect everyone, not just aboriginal people.”

Metis elder Jan Sherman and Conestoga police foundations student Stephanie Tschirhart also shared their experiences with the class.

The grassroots movement Idle No More is rapidly gaining indigenous and non-indigenous support across the country. Yet some Canadians are still scratching their heads wondering what it’s all about.

The movement began in late October, when four women in Saskatchewan began a conversation through email about Bill C-45, which had just been introduced in Ottawa. Sylvia McAdams, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon were concerned the bill eroded indigenous rights and put federally protected waterways at risk.

However, Idle No More is not simply a protest against Bill C-45. The movement wants to start a conversation among Canadians about aboriginal issues in general.

They started organizing “teach-ins” in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert to bring awareness to these issues.

To help spread the word they turned to Facebook and Twitter, using the slogan Idle No More as a rallying cry.

That conversation went viral as people around the world used social media to express their solidarity with Idle No More.

The movement gained wider attention in late November and early December with what were called flash mob round dances at shopping malls. More events began popping up across Canada. The movement has now received support from people around the world.

Round-dance flash mobs performed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, to name just a few American cities. Video messages of support (solidarity) have been uploaded to YouTube from around the globe, including Brazil, New Zealand, Mexico and France.

Henry spoke about the challenges facing First Nations people and communities and the effects of Bill C-45 on indigenous people and the environment.

He also praised the young native people who are spearheading the Idle No More movement, using social media to get the message out to people across the country.

Young people such as Conestoga’s Stephanie Tschirhart.

Tschirhart said it can be a bit of a struggle trying to grapple with all of the issues being raised.

“I was raised predominantly in a Caucasian family, so I never really knew my native roots until I started learning when I was about 15 years old.”

Tschirhart started going to the Aboriginal Services centre at the college where she said she’s been learning many things about her culture and history. But it was Idle No More that pushed her to become more involved.

“It sparked something in me,” she said. “I don’t know what or where or how it came about but it just made me very interested to learn more and more and more.”

She said many classmates who know that she is aboriginal approach her and ask her questions about Idle No More but she doesn’t always have answers for them.

“So it’s nice for me to know that other people are interested to learn about it as well but I need to learn and I need to be educated so that I can help educate people.”

Jan Sherman, a Metis Elder, described Idle No More as being about “peacefulness and friendliness and coming together.”

She said she found the outpouring of support from non-indigenous Canadians at a recent rally in Guelph encouraging.

“We had between 375 and 500 people there,” she said. “But I will tell you that probably 70 per cent of those people were not aboriginal and they were there with big clear voices saying enough is enough.

“It’s time for things to change and we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with you because we know it’s not just about you. It’s about all of us.”

Aboriginal Services is planning a teach-in event to show solidarity with the Idle No More movement on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Myeengun hopes to address the many questions that students and faculty have.