Idle No More

With roots in the Aboriginal community, Idle No More began in November 2012 as a protest against the Harper government’s introduction of Bill C-45.

Approximately 1000 Idle No More protesters in Windsor Ontario on January 16, 2013.
Image:The Canadian Press/Geoff Robins.\r\n
Journey of the Nishiyuu
The Nishiyuu walkers , a group of young people from the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Quebec arrived at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, ending a 1,600-kilometre trek meant to bring attention to aboriginal issues. Ottawa, March 25 2013.

With roots in the Aboriginal community, Idle No More began in November 2012 as a protest against the Harper government’s introduction of Bill C-45. The movement quickly gained supporters from across Canada (and abroad), and grew to encompass environmental concerns and Aboriginal rights more generally.

Foundation of a Movement

Idle No More was formed in November 2012 by four women from Saskatchewan: Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson. An exchange of e-mails between the four women regarding Bill C-45 led to the establishment of a Facebook page, which they named “Idle No More”. The name quickly caught on, and soon represented a widespread movement to both safeguard the environment and respect Aboriginal sovereignty.

Issues and Activism

At the heart of Idle No More was opposition to Bill C-45, which was introduced by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in October 2012. At over 400 pages, the Jobs and Growth Act affected over 60 acts, including the Indian Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act (changed to the Navigation Protection Act), and the Environmental Assessment Act. Idle No More activists argued that the changes made it easier for the government and big business to push through projects (e.g., pipelines) without strict environmental assessment, while simultaneously diminishing the rights and authority of First Nations.

The four founders of Idle No More began by posting their concerns about Bill C-45 on Facebook. Soon, however, the movement took to the streets, and to the malls. In addition to teach-ins and rallies, a number of “flash mobs” participated in round dances in malls across the country, particularly during the Christmas shopping season. For example, on 17 December 2012, a flash mob performed a round dance at the Cornwall Centre in Regina; the following day, a similar dance took place in the West Edmonton Mall. In January, six youths and a guide left the James Bay Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Québec, to begin The Journey of Nishiyuu, a 1600-kilometre trek to Ottawa in support of Idle No More; by the time they arrived on 25 March 2013, the group had swelled to around 400, and they were met by thousands of supporters at Parliament Hill. Idle No More protesters also organized national days of action, and some activists constructed blockades (although at least one of the co-founders expressed concern that any aggressive action would detract from the peaceful nature and message of the movement).

Idle No More and Chief Theresa Spence

The Idle No More movement was also associated with Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, who went on a liquid fast from 11 December 2012 to 24 January 2013 to protest the perceived failure of the federal government to honour treaty rights and obligations. Despite common interests, however, Spence was not a spokesperson for Idle No More, a fact which Sylvia McAdam, one of the movement’s founders, pointed out in an interview in January 2013.


The Idle No More movement attracted supporters from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Canada and internationally, with rallies and round dances held not only in Canada but also in the United States and overseas. According to the Idle No More website, around 50 events took place on 28 January 2013, the Idle No More World Day of Action, including 25 in Canada and 20 in the United States, as well as rallies in London (UK), Paris (France), and Greenland. Media coverage focused the attention of the public on Bill C-45 and on Aboriginal rights and issues more generally, and many commentators suggest that this publicity put significant pressure on the government, leading to a meeting between the prime minister, the national chief, and other members of the Assembly of First Nations on 11 January 2013. However, after the January 2013 meeting, the influence and momentum of Idle No More appeared to wane and media coverage of the movement declined. Overall, though, Idle No More galvanized the Aboriginal community, and stimulated discussion of Bill C-45 and the more general issues of Aboriginal sovereignty and environmental protection within the broader community.