How Idle No More Became A Movement

Above: Idle No More, First Nation Chief Theresa Spence

Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon

The Idle No More founders started with a social media campaign and built a protest movement of thousands

“We were idle,” says Sylvia McAdam, “and we all decided we weren’t going to be idle anymore.” McAdam was chatting with Nina Wilson, Sheelah McLean and Jessica Gordon on Facebook last fall when they came to that decision. The impetus? Bill C-45, the 457- page federal omnibus budget bill that changes rules about, among other things, the leasing of reserve lands by First Nations communities, environmental assessment processes and the protection of waterways. That day, the four Saskatchewan women decided they’d had enough. Soon, with the help of others, they’d created the Idle No More Facebook page and Twitter hashtag.

Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon began the Idle No More movement last year. (Photo: M.Pet Productions)

Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon began the Idle No More movement last year. (Photo: M.Pet Productions)

Activists — and social media users — across the country quickly embraced Idle No More’s call to action, staging protests, rallies and teach-ins. Although Bill C-45 became law in mid-December 2012, the movement only intensified, drawing international attention after Theresa Spence, the chief of Attawapiskat First Nation, started a six-week hunger strike.

McAdam and the other Idle No More founders were not the first to speak out about the issues affecting First Nations, of course, but this was something different. What had begun as a protest against government legislation quickly transformed into a national movement that used the Internet to rally supporters of all stripes behind a call to reframe Canada’s relationship with Aboriginal Peoples.

“Something amazing is happening,” McAdam says. “People are going back to their communities and saying, ‘I’m idle no more.’”