Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Idle No More - It Matters on Christmas

Idle No More - ONE Heartbeat - Edmonton

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely heard of Idle No More. Or, at the very least, heard or seen those words in some context. If you have to ask the question, Idle No More is a movement originating with Canada's Indigenous peoples. It began as a reaction to the passing of Bill C-45 (also known as the "Omnibus Bill") which unilaterally affects Treaty agreements concerning protected water without the Harper government having had any consultations with First Nations.

Idle No More Flash Mob Round Dance at WEM

However, in the rallies and flash mobs that have been springing up all over the country and beyond, Idle No More has gained momentum that is relevant for all Canadians. This isn't just about Aboriginal rights, and it isn't just about Bill C-45 in and of itself. It is about the government being allowed to have a sweeping hand and changing laws without consultation, in effect taking away our democratic rights as a society. In that regard, what affects one group affects us all. One of the central issues to Idle No More is protected water - water is sacred to First Nations, but it is important to all of us. Without water, we cannot survive. As well, Idle No More is relevant to non-Aboriginals because all of us who were born here or are immigrants owe the existence of our country to those who settled the land long before we were here.

Idle No More

When the first Idle No More march and rally took place in Edmonton on December 10, around 2000 people showed up at Churchill Square. The energy was incredible. Unfortunately, an apparent media blackout did not show the rest of the city (and country) just how intense the burgeoning movement was. There was little to no media coverage at all. However, Idle No More in many ways is a social media revolution - people's photos, tweets, Facebook updates, videos on YouTube, and other efforts has made Idle No More go viral and international.

The video above, which I shot at West Edmonton Mall on December 18, was of one of the first round dance flash mobs held in shopping malls across Canada. Within days it already had tens of thousands of viewers and the views continue to grow. People are commenting on it from all over the world. This is something that traditional media simply cannot accomplish.

Idle No More

You may be wondering why I am writing this on Christmas Day. Well, as many of us enjoy a big dinner and sweet treats, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is in her fifteenth day of a hunger strike. She wants to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss treaty issues and to negotiate better living conditions for many of the nation's Indigenous population. Senator Patrick Brazeau attempted to meet with her yesterday - showing up unannounced on Christmas Eve after slagging her on national television last week, saying she was not "setting a good example" for Aboriginal youth. If being willing to die for your beliefs is not being a good example, I want to know what is.

Solidarity is now coming in from the United States and around the world. Idle No More is a movement whose time has come. Seeing all of these beautiful Aboriginal people standing up for the land that is rightfully theirs is awesome and inspirational. More and more "migrants" and "settlers" are joining in - after all, this is really about human rights and the environment at its core.

Idle No More - ONE Heartbeat - Edmonton

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may the new year bring revolution.

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Decade of Memories - Peace Activism with ECAWAR

Pan-Canadian Day of Action

On December 1, the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR) celebrated a decade of peace activism in the city. The organization got together in December of 2002 when a number of people who were already involved in anti-war activities in Edmonton decided to join forces to plan protests about the war in Iraq - particularly urging the Canadian government not to get involved. As a result, the two largest peace protests in Edmonton's history took place in February and March of 2003, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets.

Ten years later, ECAWAR is still marching for peace, organizing rallies, hosting teach-ins, and teaming up with other organizations for emergency actions. Our anniversary event was filled with memories, reflections, and plans for the future.

I became involved with ECAWAR in September of 2005 when I showed up at a peace rally with a camera and started taking pictures. A slideshow of my photos ran continually projected on a large screen. It took me an entire afternoon to cull the collection down to around 200 photos.

A couple of years after I became involved with ECAWAR, I began writing and performing political protest songs. I played a set of three of my best-known songs at the anniversary - it was great to play them inside on a stage; a real change from usually performing them outside in all weather!

One of my favourite parts of the event was when people were invited to share their memories of ECAWAR. The event was already running over and I felt I spent enough time on the stage, so I decided against getting up there and sharing a memory or two. My first one is, of course, my first peace rally. I showed up with my camera and then asked one of the organizers if I could take pictures. I was happy that Peggy Morton said yes. We have since worked together to organize many peace events that I have captured on film.

Perhaps my favourite memory is from the peace march on March 17, 2007. Before we headed down Whyte Avenue from Corbett Hall, we decided to join in a movement taking place around that time of forming a human peace sign. Andrew Fraser, another avid photographer and ECAWAR member who now lives in Toronto, and I were the assigned photographers. In order to get the photo, we had to climb up seven flights of stairs to the top of the parkade. Then, we had to lean over the concrete wall and angle our cameras down to ensure the entire peace symbol got into the picture. I was totally winded from running up seven flights of stairs, and in addition, I am terrified of heights. So, needless to say, this was not an easy task. Plus, we had to try to steer everyone from up there, without megaphones.

After the mission was accomplished, we raced down the stairs to join the march, which had started without us. I had asked Peggy to please not have everyone start marching until we were down, but I guess you can't stop a couple hundred enthusiastic peaceniks. So, winded again from running down the stairs, I had to take my position alongside the group and start running to keep up, as I often have to do when I am photographing and filming.

"How do you feel?" I was asked shortly after I descended, by someone who knows just how queasy heights make me.

"I'm only slightly nauseous!" I yelled, loud enough for everyone around me to hear - and share in a laugh.

Okay, so maybe you had to be there. But take a look at the photo at the top of this post. The ends certainly justified the scary means.

I am totally looking forward to more peace activities with ECAWAR in the coming future.