‘There’s anger with the status quo’
Tim Fontaine, a reporter with APTN’s Halifax bureau, was born and raised in Winnipeg and spent a number of years living in Ottawa before moving to the east coast. He has been covering the Idle No Movement since its early days, and offers his perspective on the movement itself and where it may go from here.
Wawatay News (WWT): To go back to the beginning, in December when Idle No More first got going, what were your thoughts on how much momentum it might have?
Tim Fontaine (TF): Personally, I was sort of cynical about it. I didn’t know where it was going to go, or how far it was going to go. I thought well, it’s another one of those flash in the pans. I think it was a few weeks after that, when it wasn’t slowing down over Christmas, that was when I really knew something very large is going on.
WWT: I remember having the same thought, after Christmas, after New Years came, and it was still going, maybe something big is happening…
TF: I think the Aboriginal media, even they didn’t know. But we covered it and we stuck with it, and then the mainstream media sort of picked up on it. Suddenly it had become a big story, but it had been there for quite awhile. And then it just kept growing and growing. Certainly I didn’t expect it to get to the size it is now. And the scale, and sort of going international. I don’t know what indication it is when something goes international like that, but to see the name and the word Idle No More being mentioned in other countries is pretty amazing because it doesn’t happen all that often.
WWT: You covered some of the big rallies in Ottawa. What was the sense on the ground there, and what was it like to be there as a reporter?
TF: You got a sense of the scale of this movement when you saw literally thousands of people walking down Wellington to the Prime Minister’s office. You realized, something big is happening here. It was anger and frustration at a system that wasn’t working anymore. And I don’t mean just the government. I’m talking about First Nations governments, the AFN, about all these things, there was frustration about the way life is for First Nations. That was the sense I got from it, and that was what made it different as well.
A lot of the times there is anger directed at one thing. C-45 is the easiest target. C-45 was an indication of what people perceive as the government’s stance on First Nations. We’re going to make changes and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that wasn’t just what the anger was directed at. There was anger over everything, over every aspect of First Nations life. That’s when I realized that this movement isn’t just about politics, it isn’t just about legislation or anger with the government. It’s anger with the status quo, anger at what’s happening in our communities, what’s happening in our towns, our communities and our families. It is about changing everything. And I think all media is having a hard time with that, because we want the simplest possible explanation. Say in one line what it is you guys are mad about. That was what I heard somebody say. And it can’t be done like that. I think that’s the most frustrating thing for reporters covering it, is to have to realize there isn’t just one thing, there’s no one leader, no one spokesperson, it’s a movement coming from within communities. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see.
WWT: After having been in Ottawa and then going back to Halifax, do you get the sense there’s a similar thought process about Idle No More, a similar vision that ties it across the country?
TF: No, I don’t think so. I know that the situation in Micmac communities is very different than what is happening in Manitoba. Just in terms of economic development, the relationship with chiefs, all of that is very different. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, I think we saw elected officials purposely excluded from Idle No More. You’re seeing a divide there, there’s a lot of labeling going on. He or she is an Indian Act chief, and we’re the people and this is a people’s movement. That’s still being worked out. I don’t see that sort of division happening on the east coast. In the very beginning they invited the chiefs not to lead the movement here but to stand with the people. A lot of chiefs responded to that. So when you go to Idle No More movements here you’ll see the chiefs standing with the people. And some of the aims of Idle No More in this area, it’s a lot more about bringing both Canadians and First Nations together to look at an unjust system. It’s not so much that we’re mad at Canada as a whole, at least on the east coast.
WWT: The number of rallies has tapered off over the past month. Do you think the energy of Idle No More has peaked?
TF: I don’t know. We at APTN were discussing that as well and trying to figure out if that’s what it was. And I don’t think so. It’s almost like a moment of reflection. People feel that this movement has to evolve, that there has to be a next step. I think that’s what is going on right now. There’s a bit of reflection, and a bit of looking back and saying how do we move this forward? I think that’s what they’re trying to figure out here.
I hate saying Idle No More as a whole, because I don’t think it’s a whole. It’s not one large movement. Its one banner that they can all carry, but in each region I think it’s very specific for what’s going on there. Speaking for what I’ve seen here, I think that’s what’s happening but it could be far different in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan.
WWT: As a reporter, what are you guys looking for in terms of next steps?
TF: Well we’re also doing a bit of reflecting ourselves, and thinking how do we cover these things now? We can’t have the same story of a rally every night. As reporters we’re looking for the next step, what are some goals and other things? People want change. Reporters want change too, because we don’t want to keep telling the same stories. I think we’re looking for how they’re going to advance this movement. I think we’re going to be hearing that pretty soon. Personally I don’t think it’s going to go all in the same direction. I think each region, each nation is going to start figuring out ok, this is what we want. And I think that’s probably what should happen, because we’re not one people.
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