While most people were watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday, Idle No More supporters and anti-nuke activists conducted the first railway blockade in the City of Toronto’s history, something many deemed impossible. Instead of lying around stoned and bloated on nachos, I went to check out the blockade and threw myself into Idle No More: an internationally growing, Native-led environmental movement.
The blockade focused on a uranium fuel processing facility owned by General Electric-Hitachi, the designer of the infamous Fukushima reactor (that particular reactor unfortunately shares an “evil twin” in Nebraska and 22 others throughout the United States that use the same technology as the ill-fated Fukushima reactor). When asked about Toronto’s inconspicuous grey GE-Hitachi building, most residents of the area that I spoke to thought the facility made air conditioners. As NOW reported, the building could emit toxic uranium powder: “uranium dioxide powder can potentially become airborne in fugitive emissions from windows, doors and cracks and other areas not fully sealed.”
Hoping to not breathe in any poisonous uranium dust, I started the day at a run-down Coffee Time donut shop that acted as command central for the blockade organizers. The Coffee Time serves the low-income and disability housing towers right next door to the uranium plant, it’s also a great place to get cheap and illegal native smokes. So that was nice.
The group then rolled up to the plant where police had sealed off all footpaths through the fence to the rail line. Speeches were made in the parking lot about the processing of uranium oxide dust into nuclear fuel pellets happening just meters away.
As the rally advanced through Toronto’s west-end, traditional native round dances were held for five-minutes apiece in main intersections. Just as it looked as though the day was coming to a big anticlimactic bunt, after doubling back towards their starting point, they evaded the cops and blocked off the rail.
The blockade lasted for about three hours, during which time the police sealed off the area, barring even the CBC from covering the event. Police formed a flank in front of the oncoming locomotive that had to stop and reverse. While being stared down by the fuzz, the blockaders presented police with tobacco as a peace offering, in exchange for leaving the scene without arrest.
The next day, news of the railway blockade made headlines in Japan, Iran, and Sri Lanka. This international coverage was a victory for organizers who claim they targeted not only G.E-Hitachi’s Toronto operations, but also the nuclear industry as a whole. The nuclear material is trucked in and out of the facility, so it may have been kind of pointless to blockade a rail line that doesn’t effect the plant’s daily operations, aside from giving GE’s public relations department a rather nasty case of the Mondays on top of a Super Bowl hangover.
Idle No More was conceived by a small group of native and non native Saskatchewan women who decided to end their silence in the wake of the right wing Harper government’s budget bill C-45, which they claim is a “direct attack on first nations lands and the bodies of water we all share” while others claim it’s a First Nations termination plan. Bill C-45 is an “omnibus” budget bill including an odd plethora of non-budgetary items on its arguably fascistic menu. Exactly how prison sentencing, native relations, and hazardous material disposal could possibly be relevant towards fiscal planning seems a bit of a stretch by any imagination.
In another bold case of shitting the bed, the Canadian government recently signed a trade deal with China securing the export of raw tar-sands bitumen while limiting what domestic environmental measures can be taken. They also approved China’s largest foreign takeover after they bought one of Canada’s oil companies, Nexen. These moves have led some alternative press outlets to say that Canada is now “China’s gas pump.”
The popular understanding of Idle No More is that it’s a protest movement to protect Native rights, and the majority of coverage in the Canadian mainstream media has focused on that angle, but in reality it’s also an internationally recognized, environmental movement. Idle No More is the first of its kind to call the Canadian government on its shit.