by Janine Manning
I’ll never forget the moment I pressed ‘send’ on the #IdleNoMoreYorkU invite; my finger hovered in the air, reluctant, needing a minute to allow the movement’s importance to force my hand. Had I known then the security hassles the event would attract, my finger probably would have gone limp and a wonderful opportunity, lost.
Idle No More went national on December 10th, shortly after winter break started, making it challenging to organize an event on behalf of the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York given that most people were out of town or ‘out of office’. However, once I pressed send, I gave #IdleNoMoreYorkU to the world, and I felt compelled to nurture it into the force of unity it came to be.
In the weeks leading up to the event I watched the invite list grow from a few dozen to a few thousand, my anxiety and excitement increasing just as rapidly. As challenging as it was to arrange the event during winter break, I managed to get everything accomplished on-line, proving the movement’s social media and technology dependency. I couldn’t help but think ‘these are my smoke signals’ as I typed furiously, an internet warrior, rallying allies, preparing our union; students, professors, children and elders coming together to teach each other and learn from one another.
What I was not prepared for was the overwhelming invitations from the university community to act as an unofficial spokes person for Idle No More, in wondering ‘why me’ I was humbled by the Idle No More mission statement of unity and realized ‘not me…US’. The one question I was asked repeatedly, “Why York U?” And the answer would be the same for any academic institution; because this is where the future leaders and budding citizens are held, the future policy makers and the generation who must to live with the legacy of the current government’s decisions.
Universities tend to operate in vacuums, our courses dated, our off campus interactions limited. Students are offered a false sense of security to explore ideas, opinions and politics as students and academic without the threat of “real world” scrutiny. In bringing Idle No More to York U, we took advantage of that security, two folds; we raised awareness and recruited allies in their comfort zone while dismantling the stigma grassroots movements often face as being isolated and unacademic. Grassroots movements are expected to stay where they start, on the ground, but the success of a grassroots movement is in its ability to impregnate the mainstream, its institutions and to eventually force change from the “top”. Injecting our places of higher learning with current and” real world” politics is essential to any grassroots movement and effective student leaders should heed the challenge to do so where their institutions fail too.
Our round dance attracted approximately 300 people, and the teach-in that followed was standing room only after we filled it with about 140 people despite capacity for 90. Professors brought their students, and our panelists, Professors Robin Cavanagh (Anishnawbe Nation) and Professor Anna Zalik (Settler Ally) of the Faculty of Environmental Studies delivered a balanced presentation about the environmental implications of Bill C45 and the need to unlearn and relearn our collective history to return to the nation to nation relationship that Canada grew from.
The numerous campus radio interviews I delivered and the campus newspaper headliner, “Idle No More Comes to York”, furthered our effort’s reach. Given that these outlets rarely report on issues that do not relate to campus life, without bringing Idle No More to York U, this would have been lost opportunities to spread the words and work of the movement to this community.
Idle No More is a people’s movement and the revolution is no longer a whisper. I found my opportunity to add to the conversation through student governance and in the process learned that there is no room for fear and discomfort when justice is the objective. This is our time and we can keep our movement strong with individual, daily acts of resurgence and resistance.
Janine Manning, whose spirit name is Osh Kwe Ah Nung is a member of the Anishnawbe Nation from Neyaashiinigmiing. She is the current President of the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York and the mother of 3 year old Tarquinius, her inner child’s best friend. Janine graduates this spring from York University with an Honours BA in Environmental Studies and will be starting law school in the fall.