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Interview with an Organizer: Bruce McComber and Idle No More in Sudbury

by Scott Neigh

This is Bruce McComber at one of the Idle No More actions held in downtown Sudbury in January 2012. (Photo by Bill Bradley.)
This is Bruce McComber at one of the Idle No More actions held in downtown Sudbury in January 2012. (Photo by Bill Bradley.)

In late 2012 and early 2013, the wave of Indigenous protest known as Idle No More has swept through Canada and has reached around the world. Though some high profile spokespeople have emerged, it is the hard work of countless people at the local level who have made this movement a reality. Bruce McComber, a 27 year-old Anishinabek man originally from Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island, has been one of the many people organizing Idle No More actions in Sudbury, Ontario. In late January and early February, McComber was interviewed via email by Sudbury-based Media Co-op writer Scott Neigh.

Neigh: Hi Bruce. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I guess you can start off by introducing yourself and telling me a little bit about the core group of people who have been organizing the Idle No More events in Sudbury.

McComber: My name is Bruce McComber and I identify as Anishinabek or Indigenous. I have spent most of my life in the Sudbury and Manitoulin area. There has been a large core group of organizers for the Idle No More solidarity events in Sudbury -- it would be wrong of me to name any small number of people. I dont even really like being identified as an organizer. I am a supporter of human and environmental rights in general, and Idle appealed to me in this sense, so I did my best to help promote it.

Neigh: Tell me a bit about why this movement is happening and why you're involved. People who know about the movement through the media probably have a sense of Bill C-45 and Chief Spence's hunger strike and so on, but tell me about your take on all of it -- both about the big picture that Idle No More is responding to and about what it all means to your life.

McComber: One of the reasons Idle started was in opposition to Omnibus Bills C-45 and C-38 and has grown to raise a broad range of questions about fundamental aspects of Canadian history and present Canadian society. I have been referring to Idle as a sort of "cultural sensitivity training," especially about Native rights issues (treaties, land rights, etc.) for Canadian society. Despite the lack of complete unity on what Idle No More really means or intends to accomplish, it is addressing a real growing concern among Canadians about erosion of rights, banking/industry/government corruption, and environmental destruction.

Neigh: Give me a quick overview of the actions that have happened so far in Sudbury.

McComber: Well, there has been seven events in Sudbury since the first march, which was on December 21st. They have ranged from marches with round dances in main intersections of Sudbury's downtown core and on the Bridge of Nations, to flashmob round dances at the most frequented mall in the Sudbury area. They have all been positive.  

Neigh: What are you hoping, in a more specific sense, that events like those that have been organized so far in Sudbury can do? What do you think they have done?

McComber: I really hope that Sudbury Idle events can continue to bring awareness to the local area people on Indigenous rights issues overall. Through the increased awareness of Indigenous issues, especially in relation to these omnibus bills, I would hope that Sudburians and northerners understand that the oppressed is not only the Indians -- it is all Canadians. Our present day Prime Minister has stated numerous times that Canada is a benign dictatorship. Noted Scholar Chris Hedges asserts that North American societies are an "inverted totalitarian state" because citizens have the illusion of democracy even though we are living under Harper's benign dictatorship. Over the long term, I would really hope that Sudburians and northerners can grow a culture of resistance to the corporate/banking imperial agenda.

Neigh: What kinds of things have you been hearing as you've talked about Idle No More with other Indigenous people here in Sudbury? What about from non-Indigenous people in the city?

McComber: I can say confidently that 99.9% of Indigenous people in Sudbury support Idle No More. It has really been an uplifting movement for Indigenous people overall to understand their history and how it relates to the present battles we face in not only Canada but, the world. I also hear that we should move on with the resistance to these omnibus bills and other attacks on Indigenous Rights -- which inherently means the responsibly to protect/defend Mother Earth.

Non-Indigenous people in Sudbury have been very receptive to Idle No More, or at least its underlying issues, which are environmental and human rights. Even if Sudburians and northerners are not out at the events, they almost all agree that removing environmental protection from 95+% of Canadians waterways for an out of date/out of touch oil and gas lobby is absurd. We can call it the silent majority. Even in the last U.S. presidential election, more people decided not to vote for either candidate than vote for either banking/corporate funded candidate. Most people have the sense that the elite are corrupt and leading us to a path of destruction. I think most non-Indigenous Canadians are good people and are just waiting for practical solutions to some of the larger problems in society. Everyday I talk to blue collar folks in Sudbury area and I am re-affirmed that Idle must continue.

Neigh: Even given that there is a lot of potential for unity on some of the key underlying issues across the Indigenous/settler divide, what about the vicious racism that we've seen come out in some responses to Idle No More? And the "oh, well, let the Natives clean up their own back yard first" kind of clueless colonial responses that just ignore the centuries-long history of colonization? How do you think the movement should address those barriers to unity?

McComber: The vicious racism toward Natives in Canada has always been there, but Idle has brought Native/Indigenous issues to the broader public consciousness so these types of incidents seem more prevalent. The infamous Anonymous has started a project, Operation Thunderbird, to highlight the victimization of Indigenous women in Canada, exposing all of the unsolved cases of sexual violence and murder of Native women. This is just one form of violence or racism in Canada toward Native people. In a year or two, when stats surface about violence or racism against First Nations people during the Idle period, I am guessing there will be little difference in numbers.

As for the, "Natives need to clean up their own back yard" commment, I would respond that we are trying but we have been and continue to limited by an aparthied-style law, the Indian Act. Which in plain language means that the people who were Indigenous to a colonized land could no longer make governing decisions of their own. For example, under this law Indians in Canada were not allowed to vote until the 1960s and, until the 1950s, Natives couldnt even hire a lawyer to contest developments of cities/buninesses/corporations and the foundation of Canada itself. In addition to these obvious disadvantages to cleaning up our own back yard, Natives have always had minimal resources to fight against the world's richest groups and corporations who are the main stakeholders in Canadian resource development. In terms of economic resources and access to general Western intelligentsia, First Nations versus Canada is like David versus Goliath. This is on top of the humdreds of years of psychological trauma that is a natural part of any group of people who were subject to the displacement and overall treatment Indigenous people have suffered through colonialism. If Indigenous people re-occupied spaces of decision making in Canada, the world would be a much better place and we might actually clean-up all of Canada's back yard.

Idle No More's founders and main spokespeople have addressed the increased racism and the more obvious remarks of ignorance directed at Native people since Idle started. Many of these people, including myself, understood that these misinformed attitudes existed and would surface in response to Idle. These ignorant attitudes surface every time an individual or group try to make social/economic/political change.

Idle No More has used humor to deflect some of the negativity in response to the movement like the hashtags #Ottawapiskat and #Upsettlers. #Ottawapiskat poked fun at the hypocrisy of people wondering about corruption in Attawapiskat, showing the clear and constant corruption in Ottawa that is left unchecked. #Upsettlers is a hashtag which is a combination of "upset" and "settler," and referred to those Canadians who were upset at Idle No More. Responding to ignorance with kindness/facts/information/awareness/humour are the best ways for the movement to address ignorant attitudes and actions.

Neigh: What do see coming up in the next few months in terms of Idle No More, both in Sudbury and more broadly? Any shifts in focus or tactics that you predict, or that you would like to see?

McComber: It is hard for me to answer this question. The communication capacity among Idle founders and activists is good, but I am not too sure what to expect out of Idle in the future in a broader sense. There are a whole variety of different concepts out there. I hope that it can continue to build allies internationally, nationally, and regionally. There seems to be some attempted co-optation of the movement, like the Liberal/ND Parties coming out in support of Idle. I would like to see a shift of focus from the collective Idle voice to out the financial institutions and corporate elite of the world who are connected to a lot of the environmental and human injustice present in Canada today. Dare I say, even prosecute and imprison some of the more overtly corrupt bankers and politicians! Also, joining with the Occupy movement would be beneficial to Idle, I am just not sure how it would or could work.

Neigh: One last question. One obvious way for people to support Idle No More is to go to the actions and events that are organized. But what do you think people can be doing beyond that to support the movement -- in their everyday lives, in their workplaces, and so on?

McComber:  Idle No More supporters can do a lot of things in their everyday lives to show support. Since Idle No More is, in part, about respecting Indigenous sovereignty while protecting land and water then there are a number of ways people can contribute to this on a daily basis. One suggestion for people who support Idle No More is to buy local, eat organic, use less energy, discuss important social/economic/political issues more often. While individuals learn and evolve, so do collective groups. Canadians are among the most egalitarian and educated societies in the world -- if there is a nation-state in the West where peaceful revolution against the central banking and multi-national corporate regimes of the world can happen, it's here.

Neigh: I'm not sure I have that much faith in how egalitarian Canadian society actually is, but I hope you're right about the potential for transformative social change. Thanks so much for talking with me, Bruce!

McComber: I really appreciate the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on these issues with anybody. And FYI, I never said I had a lot of faith that Canada/North America can detangle from the multi-national corporate/central banking empire, just that it could happen in Canada. If it doesnt, and my gut instinct about what the oligarchial social engineers have in mind for future generations is right, the future will be pretty scary. Thanks for your time as well.

Scott Neigh is a writer and an activist based in Sudbury, Ontario. He recently published two books looking at Canadian history through the stories of activists, which you can learn about here and buy here. He blogs regularly on social and political topics.

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The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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