Idle No More leads to learning about First Nations

On Sunday, January 6, an Idle No More round dance was held at Richmond Centre to protest recent federal legislation Bill C-45, which, among other things, removed environmental protections to Canada’s waterways, and changed parts of the Indian Act.

I wanted to speak with someone who was there and got in touch with Derrick O’Keefe. I figured Derrick would be used to these types of questions—Derrick is the full-time editor of rabble.ca, a website many rely on for accurate information about current events and movements that are sweeping the globe. I sat down with him one evening to ask him what it was like to be at Richmond’s Idle No More event, and we got to talking about First Nations heritage in Richmond. I want to emphasize that Derrick does not speak on behalf of Idle No More or its organizers.

Derrick describes Idle No More as “a very organic, grassroots movement that is a long overdue expression of Indigenous peoples’ marginalization in Canada.”

Derrick believes it has come to a fore now since the government passed Bill C-45 without consultation. He explained that the government has unwittingly “united different components of the Indigenous population of Canada and just forced people into action. I think Idle No More has become such a phenomenon so quickly because activists have new ways of spreading their message.”

I asked Derrick how he found himself at Richmond Centre for Idle No More. “I saw on Twitter that a flash mob was happening at Richmond Centre. I thought, ‘Oh wow, cool!’ I had never been so excited to go to the mall before. I ran over there. It was very exciting. People were singing, dancing, and drumming in a round dance. There were a lot of curious onlookers, and people taking pictures. Most people just wanted to know what was going on.”

Although Derrick has a longstanding interest in First Nations issues, he described how Idle No More presented an unexpected opportunity to learn about First Nations in Richmond.

“I ran into friends and people I know. One of the spokespeople for Musqueam, Cecilia Point, was there. I knew there had been Indigenous people in Richmond before the Steves and other settler families. I knew there was an Indigenous fishing village here, but it turns out it was Cecilia Point’s family, her great-grandfather, who lived there. They took the name Point because they lived on Garry Point. They lived on the point. That blew me away, because I knew Cecilia, and I had always gone to Garry Point, because my grandparents lived right there. I felt stupid that I hadn’t heard that story of her family before. Having grown up in Richmond and not hearing the story of the people who lived here originally, I thought that was wild. It’s symbolic of the denial of our actual history.”

While the idea of a protest at Richmond Centre may seem unusual to most of us, Derrick, a long-time social activist, claimed Idle No More wasn’t the first. “I was joking that this might be the first protest at the mall. But then I remembered in 1997 there was a protest going on at Richmond Centre against the APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] summit that happened at UBC 15 years ago. But it was a small protest of people yelling and being, you know, just a typical protest. The cool thing about Idle no More and the round dance is it’s a cultural expression. Most people enjoyed that there was drumming and dancing going on at the mall. They stopped to watch. So it’s not really a protest, it’s more an expression of Indigenous culture that’s always been there, but been out of sight.  I think it’s a fabulous idea to do this at the mall, where everyone is. “

Derrick expressed how Idle No More is about relationships between all Canadians. “There is a denial of our actual history. The best thing about Idle No More is that it started the conversation. In the end, I hope a more honest view of Canada’s history will come of it. I’m optimistic. I think Idle No More has started something that has to be seen as a victory.”

Erin Hanson was born and raised in Steveston and is a fourth-generation Richmondite. Her column appears monthly.

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