By Jonah Brunet
The smell of burning sage fills the room while more than 50 form a circle and pass around a half-shell of incense, inhaling the smoke as a Cree elder says a prayer.
“We are witnessing the re-emergence of people-power,” said Cree activist Clayton Thomas-Muller. “We’ve seen all these fires burning across the country, very hot, and very bright.”
Thomas-Muller was the main speaker at Ryerson’s Idle No More Teach-In, a lecture on the native rights and environmental movement held in Oakham House’s Thomas Lounge last Thursday.
The lecture focused on Idle No More’s environmental aspirations, particularly its opposition to the Alberta tar sands for their effect on the Canadian wilderness, as well as native communities located nearby.
Idle No More sprang up in opposition to the Federal government’s Bill C-45, which relaxes protection on Canadian waterways and makes it easier for corporations to lease native land.
“What Idle No More is teaching Canadians is that First Nations standing up, fighting for our land, fighting for our people – it’s not just for us,” he said.
At its core, the Idle No More movement is about getting rid of racism towards aboriginal peoples in Canada, Thomas-Muller said.
“Your responsibility is to call this shit out when you see it,” he told the Ryerson crowd.
Others who spoke up during the event wanted to know more about Idle No More’s obstacles. Hayden King, an Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation and assistant professor in the department of politics at Ryerson, raised the issue of division within the aboriginal community.
“The point here is that while we share a lot of important traits, there is also much that differentiates us,” King wrote in a column in The Globe and Mail in January.. “This fact, or the fact that there are 60-odd unique indigenous nations in Canada (scattered across 600 communities) is lost on Canadian punditry, media and most of the public generally.”
“We can’t look at Idle No More as the one voice,” Thomas-Muller said.
The teach-in followed a rally earlier in the week for the movement, and is one in a series of events raising awareness. The next such event is an aboriginal women’s symposium on March 10 at the Ryerson Student Centre.
Although it was a Ryerson event, held by both the Ryerson Student Union and the Ryerson Aboriginal Student Service, the teach-in attracted students from the University of Toronto and York University.
York international development student Soula Gountouvas asked Thomas-Muller at the end of the lecture what a student like her could do to support the native rights movement.
“Spread the word,” he said.