Jan 22, 2013 - Idle No More Caused by Changing Demographics. by Kevin Gonzaga
Title: A Demographic Shift And Historical Realities Combine To Fuel Idle No More.
Idle No More: a grassroots movement circling around First Nations, Inuit, and Metis (FNMI) issues in Canada to a worldwide indigenous rights movement. As I was listening to people introduce themselves at a recent solidarity rally in L.A. I realized there were representatives from indigenous groups from all over Turtle Island (North America) and even some from South America. In addition to this there were many settler allies, such as myself.
This small sign of the global support Idle No More is enjoying left me wondering, “Why has this gone so far? Why now? What has enabled this movement at this point and time in history?”
While there are certainly numerous factors that should be considered, I believe a major component of Idle No More’s success and spreading influence is due to a demographic shift and historical realities that have produced a cohort of indigenous youth that are forming the backbone of the movement. There at least five aspects to this young generation that I think have contributed to this group that has so quickly galvanized and so strongly acted.
First, this is a generation that grew up within the larger framework of an intertribal indigenous culture. While certainly contact, treaties and alliances existed between tribal groups in the past, this generation grew up with intertribal contact and cooperation being the status quo. This has paradoxically been the result of colonialism. It was colonialism that gave the hundreds of tribes a shared common enemy, common experiences of oppression, and even lumped different tribes together on the same reservation. The unintended consequence has been a generation that grew up with intertribal songs sung at pow wows, a generation that grew up with mixed tribal heritages being commonplace, a generation that grew up with an awareness of how similar their experience of colonialism has been with other groups. In short, they grew up with intertribal cooperation being an assumed part of their life.
Second, numerically and proportionately, this is the most educated cohort of Indigenous youth we have seen. While there are still many challenges Indigenous people face in regards to education, and Indigenous education lags behind other demographics, the millennial generation is perhaps the most educated generation in history. While Indigenous ways of knowing have always been strong, and I do not confuse receiving a Western education as automatically becoming “enlightened” or “better” than these traditional ways, the reality is there are more indigenous people alive today with the credentials, know-how, and access to deal with the Western world on its own terms.
Third, this is a generation that has already grown up frustrated and disillusioned with the solutions offered. Centuries ago, when first contact was made, many Indigenous people were apparently optimistic about the intentions of Western Europeans. Centuries later this optimism has been replaced by a history of genocide, broken treaties, injustices, racism, and generally poor relations. The treaties, agreements, commissions and the alphabet soup of government agencies that were set up to help or deal with Indigenous people have failed so many times that they are seen less and less as a viable option for true change within Indian country. The current generation has grown up rather pre-disposed to distrust the governments of Canada and the United States as well as the solutions, systems and leaders put forward by these systems. This disillusionment is also very personal as the statistics of social ills that shock outsiders, statistics the present systems have failed to alleviate, are names and faces to this cohort.
Fourth, this cohort is growing very fast. Roughly half of the FNMI population in Canada is very young. This represents a trajectory of growth for the FNMI population in general that shows no real sign of slowing down. This population boom has swelled the ranks of young Indigenous people with a lot of free time, energy and passion.
Fifth, this generation has grown up in the area of social media and they are very savvy in its use. Social media has increased the connectedness between tribal groups and awareness of past and present issues in Indian Country. This has further facilitated inter-tribal cooperation, allowed for incredibly fast and spontaneous organization of efforts and a quickly flowing exchange of ideas and information.
In short, the backbone of Idle No More is being formed by a well-educated, social media savvy, cooperative cohort of Indigenous youth that are frustrated with the status quo and distrustful of the prescribed system for complaints and reformation set up by the colonial governments of the U.S. and Canada. If leadership from within the youth themselves or from respected elders, chiefs and clan mothers in Indian Country can provide vision and direction for this movement, this most certainly a recipe for a durable and effective grassroots movement.
A similar demographic helped enable the Arab Spring, which changed the face of the Middle East, and I am eagerly awaiting to see how Idle No More will change the face of Turtle Island.