Silent No More: A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement

admin February 1, 2013 22 Comments
Silent No More:  A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement

On the January 28th, 2012, the National Day of Action for IdleNoMore, the Sikh Activist Network organized a Langar Seva for demonstrators at Nathan Phillip Square.  Below are images from this Seva followed by an article by written by Santbir Singh, which reflect the reasons and motivations for the Sikh Activist Networks Solidarity.

Silent No More:  A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement

Written By: Santbir Singh

I try to imagine the government coming to my house one morning and taking my five year old daughter and eight year old son away to a boarding school hundreds of kilometres away. I try to imagine that at this school, my children’s hair will be cut, their dastars and kakkars will be removed and they will be forcibly baptized as Christians. I try to imagine that they will be beaten for speaking Panjabi, reading Bani or trying to maintain their religious and cultural traditions. I try to imagine that even their basic health needs will not be looked after and they may well die from treatable infections and diseases. And then, I must admit, I am not able to imagine the rest; I can not bear to imagine them being abused, assaulted, beaten and raped.

That is what occurred in this country for one hundred years as the Canadian government, along with government sanctioned church groups, kidnapped First Nations children from their homes and took them to residential schools where unspeakable horrors were committed on them. Of course the history of colonization in the Americas does not begin with the Residential School system but is in fact a legacy going back centuries. It is estimated that 90 to 95% of all indigenous people living in the Americas were killed by smallpox within the first century after European first contact in the late 1400’s. It is difficult to fathom death at that scale. Those that remained had their land stolen and were forced onto reservations to live as non-citizens in their own lands.

As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British. Yet we have completely failed to acknowledge that in Canada we have succeeded due to the colonial oppression of other nations. This land where we build our homes and businesses was the land of nations that lived here for tens of thousands of years. Yes, one hundred and seventy years ago the British annexed Panjab and ended Khalsa Raj. But the British did not exile us from our own villages and towns. The British did not take our land and build new cities. The British did not migrate to Panjab and force us to live on inadequate reserves.

We face discrimination in Canada and suffer from chronic underfunding in order to address challenging issues like domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug use. However, we are not without means. We have Sikh representatives at every level of government across the country and have been financially successful as a community. We owe a debt to this country and to its true heritage; not the Canada evolved from French and British colonies but to a land that was the sovereign territory of nations that sustainably farmed, fished and hunted here since before the dawn of history.

It has become an integral part of how we define ourselves, this message that “Sikhs believe in equality” but speaking those words is easy; living this in truth is much more difficult. We need to demonstrate our commitment to the revolutionary message of Guru Nanak Sahib, that every human being contains equally an aspect of the divine and that we are all truly worthy of having our basic human needs and rights protected and defended. In fact, this impulse to speak against the oppressor in defense of the rights of the other stems from the Gurus themselves. It was Guru Nanak Sahib himself who faced down the first Mughal Emperor Babur after his invading forces had committed horrendous massacres. Though Guru Nanak Sahib stood alone, he did not hesitate to speak against those who had perpetrated the crimes he witnessed.

One of the most treasured episodes in Sikh history is the Shaheedi of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib. In November of 1675, Guru jee gave his life in the streets of Delhi. He did not die for Sikh rights but instead he gave his head as an act of political disobedience against the Mughal Empire’s forced conversion of Hindus. That a leader of a religion would die to to defend the rights of another religion is almost unbelievable and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s example still stands uniquely in all of human history. It is our Ninth Guru’s example that Sikhs strive to emulate when we defend the rights of those who are different from us.

But it is more than just defending the rights of the other. The Guru asks us to stand with those who are been marginalized, those who society considers low and unworthy. As Guru Nanak Sahib reveals in Asa ki Vaar, he himself identifies as one of those who others call low:

ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਕਾ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੋਰਿ ਉਤਮ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਦਾਇਦੇ ॥

Ha▫o dẖādẖī kā nīcẖ jāṯ hor uṯam jāṯ saḏā▫iḏe. (SGGS 468).

That is the challenge put forth to us by the Guru, that we must place ourselves in the position of those who have no power in our societies, those who have been cast off and dehumanized.

Idle No More is a response not only to the legacy of colonialism but the continuing colonialism that First Nations people are being subjected to. First Nations simply want the their rights as a sovereign people respected. They want justice for the crimes of the past and the basic human dignity that all people are entitled to. They want control of their resources and the right to educate and govern themselves as they see fit. Does this sound familiar? It’s exactly what Sikhs have been struggling for in India for the last several decades. From the Anandpur Sahib Resolution to the demand for justice for victims of massacres, human rights abuses and pogroms to Panjab’s ongoing struggle with government enabled substance and alcohol abuse, the parallels between Idle No More and contemporary Sikh struggles is striking.

But these protesters are not just fighting for themselves, they are fighting for all of our rights. They are fighting against the government’s omnibus bill and its erosion of environmental protection. They are fighting for all of our futures.

Today we face many problems as a community. We face internal divisions and external threats. But that has always been the case throughout Sikh history. Things have never been easy for our people. But we are capable of greatness when we are united. And when do we unite? When we struggle for justice, freedom and equality. Idle No More is a growing movement. It is the voice of a people demanding their rights. We need not care about political expediency. Sikh history is clear: the Sikh response to marginalized people fighting for rights has always been simple. We stand with you. Against all odds, we stand for you.

For more information on Idle No More:

Official website:

Santbir Singh is a Project Associate with the Sikh Research Institute. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and two children.

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  1. Really?? February 1, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    Let’s be clear on something. Many lands in history have been colonized and reformed over history. Canada is no exception. Treaties were signed and deals were made but if you look at the original treaties, they have been grossly inflated over the years giving the natives beneficial rights over non-aboriginals. Its obvious that anyone of Sikh decent would not be part of the original settlers and would be a fairly recent immigrant to this country. So does that mean that we should be imposing special rights over any new settlers today? My family has been in Canada since the 1800s….perhaps every Sikh family should be paying me to be here? Does that sound right? Then why is it right for the Natives to do it but I would be called racist? I immeidately thought of minority groups when the INM movement started making noise because it sets a horrible precedent for new Canadians that are settling here.

  2. rhiannon edge February 1, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    A small fact for “Really?”. The Canada West Foundation confirmed in 2003 that funding for Aboriginal people making the transition from rural to urban areas was “less than five cents for every dollar spent on immigration settlement and transition. (Hanselmann 2003:5). now, suppose you and me had a competition to do the best we could in a certain amount of time with a the help of funding. Now lets say i get a dollar each day, while you get 4 cents. at the end of the week i will have been given a special amount of 7 dollars and you would have….21 cents. what do you think stands to prosper??????? who do you think you are? and where are you getting your facts???? i find your knowledge of Canadian Trieaties to be very lacking yet your casual refrence to something being “grossly inflated” falls short in the face of economic evidence that anyone can access today. Get your facts straight and stop pushing stereotypic lies. It does nothing to help Canada.

  3. Really?? February 1, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Rhiannon….you are right. More money should be put in the transition from rural to urban for aboriginals however once you do that it will be said that you are taking away their culture and right to live in reserves. I have read almost every treaty (a few times now). They are not hard to read so please spare me with your comment on lacking knowledge. Quote from Tom Flannagan…”Contemporary jurisprudence, however, has broadened the understanding of treaties beyond the obvious meaning of the written text. A recent law-journal article summarizes some of the main developments, with concise quotations from leading decisions:
    “It is well accepted by the courts that treaties and statutes relating to Aboriginal peoples “should be given a fair, large and liberal construction
    in favour of the Indians”. Does that sound fair and equal to the rest of Canadians and those wishing to settle here?

    What economic knowledge do you want me to present? Attiwapiskt squandering the $100million they received of which 80% is unaccounted for? Are you going to tell me that is a stereotypical lie?

  4. granny February 6, 2013 at 1:43 am

    As a Canadian ally of Indigenous Peoples, the support from the Sikh community is most welcome, and the perspective of your similar struggles quite enlightening. I encourage you to continue organizing and educating.

    Most Canadians respect the rights and struggles of Indigenous Peoples, but our governments are controlled by corporate greed and power.

    People like ‘Really??’ and Tom Flanagan parrot the corporate colonial masters and don’t grasp anything beyond the obviou$. They don’t speak for us.

  5. Really?? February 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Granny…most of the people do support native causes because we are Canadian and believe everyone should be treated equally. However, if you look at the polls….the vast majority of Canadians do NOT support Idle No More. I’m not making this up…the polls are out there. The movement is intrenched in greed and corruption of the cheifs. It is severely flawed by Theresa Spence who has squandered her bands money and used the movement to hide behind. There are serious problems and this movement is not even coming close to touching it. My original point here regarding the sikh community is not to ignite a debate about natives but to ask if the sikh community is truly behind a movement that is designed to further segregate one race from the rest? I understand that the Sikhs have endured a long, dark history however the Sikh movement to Canada was for a new beginning. A movement that gave the Sikh people a chance to be equal among all other Canadians. I’m not asking you to agree with me but I am asking if you think its right that one race is seeking entitlement just becasue of their skin colour. That’s not the Canada that I envision for me or for future immigrants to this land. No tiers to this system….equality for all.

  6. Just a girl February 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Thank you! Love the support from the Sikh community. Love your beautiful heartfelt writing. And people like “Really?” can respond and argue with everyone who thanks you on this post – but the reality is the things you said happened. The treaties are legally binding documents. You cannot pick and chose which laws are followed because you feel like it in this country. The Constitution is not an opt-in document for each citizen to decide what parts they like and what parts they don’t. Canada has a two trillion dollar trust fund of FIRST NATIONS money, it has held in trust for over 100 years and never pays it out. 60% of all Indigenous people in Canada pay taxes, so there are more than half of us to pay for the other half. ONLY 0.2% of all land in CAnada is in First Nations hands. 99.8% is not in First Nations hands. The Treaties guaranteed the SHARING of the land. Not a greedy land grab by Europeans to leave the Indigenous people with nothing – no way to benefit financially from the land while the provinces take 100% of all the money they make from the lands that were signed in treaties to SHARE. SHARE the land. So “Really?” can talk all she/he wants about equality and fairness and never say a thing about fairness of sharing the land, and the rest of us can admire and appreciate the common sense and caring nature of the person who wrote the article.

  7. Really?? February 6, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    See this is what bothers me. Urban legends like the $2 Trillion keep going around the internet and uneducated people like Just a Girl actually believe them. Please check out the the AANDC website which publishes an audit performed in 2009 for the First Nations trust fund ( This audit clearly shows that the fund is at $1.15 billion NOT $2 Trillion. Not much considering the Natives recieve $10 billion per year! Please educate yourself before posting false facts. And while we’re at it….you state the Treaties guaranteed sharing of the land. Have you read the treaties? They clearly state that the Aboriginals would cede and surrender all land other than reserves. They also say you could keep hunting and fishing on the surrendered lands but that doesn’t make them yours. Its somewhat equivalent to me buying land off my neighbor and telling him he can still use it play baseball if he wants. However, he has given up his rights to the land and can’t tell me what to do with it. The other reality is that most natives already are sharing the land as most choose to not live on the reserves. They live among the rest of us Canadians and pay taxes, contribute and understand that equality is important. Natives are fully entited to their treaties as they are legal documents but they have been inflated over the years.

  8. BlueEyedFiona February 7, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Really?? I’d gladly meet you in person, compare educational credentials and buy you some muckaday mushkekee wabu (black medicine water) so that we could sit thoughtfully, face to face, and discuss the history of this country we both love.

    Tossing about anonymous jabs (calling people foolish and uneducated) and recycling the commercially successful words of mental giants from Calgary and elsewhere (men who claim academic prowess but choose not to publish their radical and historically inaccurate thoughts in peer review journals) only stands to prove that THEY have pushed your buttons. The sources you are quoting (governmental docs included) have been crafted to suggest some kind of gross injustice holds people like you down.

    It’s insulting (you should be insulted) to think that there are forces within the power elite who believe they can manipulate you (your anger, frustration and fear of being taken advantage of) to silence the voices of people who have been marginalized for generations. Our wealth (our infrastructure, the stability of our banking system, the seemingly endless supply of raw natural resources we can commoditize) is what has allowed people like you and me to prosper – if you have read the treaties, you must surely note how the men who negotiated on behalf of the Crown made promises that they and the Crown had no intention of honouring. (perhaps all you can admit is that they made deals for vast territories in exchange for very little money – and contained people on the least valuable land). There is no integrity in that… it’s theft. Embarrassment makes it convenient to dismiss the legitimacy of treaties.

    If we (you and I) are to have integrity today we can’t pick and choose which chapters of our history are legitimate. Countless and coordinated attempts to civilize, assimilate and erase indigenous peoples have displaced them from lands that were developed for our benefit. The benefit you now staunchly defend… since you are aware (given the bounty of evidence) that people can indeed be usurped, displaced and marginalized.

    Perhaps you’d prefer a more enlightened possible future, where we don’t rush to extract raw materials and sell them cheaply on international markets, only to be left with deep black holes and dirty water?

    Perhaps you would actually be willing to meet for coffee rather than type up another diatribe behind your sarcastic name? I’m ready if you are. (i’m sure the managers of this blog can help us swap info.)

  9. Really?? February 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Meet you? Like Theresa Spence wanted to meet the PM…no wait not good enough. Meet the GG…no wait no good enough. Meet the Queen? I have met you and various people like you and the bottom line is that its never good enough. You have complaints but no solutions. Even when Harper offered an official aplogy for the governments role in the residential schools, the answer back was that’s not good enough. The compensation money that was given was not good enough. Nothing will ever be good enough.

    I have had this conversation countless times and it starts with the treaties then I point out objective facts in the treaties which I get in return was “well that’s not what our ancestors meant”. They come back with urban legends like above and I counter the information but only get conspiracy theories in return. Then, much like you do, they reference the environment because that is the saving grace…right? Well answer this to me….why are there so many pipelines and extractions happening on the reserves? Natives care about the environment no more than the next guy….moreso what they care about is money. But when is it good enough? Its not. They want all the money. Even the lawyer that represents the FN is quoted as saying” Accountability doesn’t solve poverty…money does”. Again I ask…..REALLY?

    You want to look back at history? Ok….Canada (as they knew it) was being invaded by the British from the East and the US from the south. France who were the natives biggest allies gave up their quest for Canada leaving the Natives all on there own. The US decides to invade and together (Brits, French and Natives) defend the land. It was a sharp reality for the native people that it was either settle with the British or die by the Americans. So…would you have prefered the latter of those two options? Natives often romanticize their pasts when it comes to the treaties. Japan signed a treaty after they lost WW2….key word is that they lost. Treaty doesn’t always mean win-win. Similarily, the natives lost the battle and tried to take whatever they could get. Like you said, they got little money and poor land…..that is what happens when you lose the battle. Or is this form of history another government conspircacy? I have no problems owning up to the residential schools and the mistakes that our government made but you own up to the fact that this land was conquered. Not conquered by the sword but conqured by treaty. I trust you won’t admit that but will come back with some other conspiracy theory.

    History is history. The future is ours which is why I ask Native people why they want to keep the treaties? Why they want segregate themselves from the rest of Canada. Why to they want to remain prisoners of the past? I have argued above that the treaties give certain rights but they have also taken away rights from the natives. Until 1960…they couldn’t vote. At this present time, natives on reserves can’t own land. They are dependent on the government to make a living. Why do Natives hold on to the things that chain them? The black slaves in the US fought to be part of the group. As did South Africa. However Natives don’t want to be part of the group nor part of any solution we provide. But again….if we offer a solution and try to help….its not good enough. The funny thing is that the Idle No More has the ear of our country and the Natives have an opportunity to move forward but instead they want to dwell in the past. Take this opportunity to do to something real. If that something real involves being part of Canada…then people will back you.

    So meet you….like I said I have met you and it will never be good enough. You don’t need to meet me and convince me of anything. You need to meet with the Native people and find a solution that will make them happy. Make it good enough for them.

    I apologize to the people on this Sikh forum as I did not intend to spark a debate on Native relations on this site. My orignal post of “Really?” is because I know a number of Sikh people, not a lot but enough to know that not one of them are victims. I have never heard them talk about their ancestors pasts…they only talk about their future and the potential that Canada brings. I’m not asking you to agree with me I’m just asking you to not play the victim role and to objectively seek the truth…not just urban legends like the Idle No More movement wants you to.

  10. BlueEyedFiona February 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    How defeatist. Enjoy.

  11. gino February 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    The above is a link that has 2700 people discussing true equality within Canada we are holding national rallies and gaining steam very fast, we are the other opinion the one that is always silences with over boistorus campaingns. Many Canadains are coming here to voice their opinions in a safe and welcome enviroment to discuss the inequalities in our laws and how we can change them, without being called a racist at every turn, an opinion which is shared by many many people is just that an opinion, not racism, we wish to strengthen hate laws while at the same time eliminate laws that put up legislated race walls throughout the country. We are all O.N.E. One Nation For Equality!

  12. MISS KAUR March 10, 2013 at 9:05 pm
  13. MISS KAUR March 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm


  14. k taylor March 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks.. excellent article and I appreciate what others added too. I’m sitten here thinking how much I love this Earth and all it’s peoples on it.. It is compassion, honesty and integrity that will carry us through the hard times we face right now.. not fear. Many folks don’t understand the dis-ease and violence of poverty or how an entire nation of peoples can be screwed into the cracks of another nation of peoples through the systematic attack, pretense of reconciliation, just to have the agreements and “gifts” withheld or withdrawn or contaminated and then attacked again when the behavior is complained about.. I too stand shoulder to shoulder with Santbir Singh and the Sikh community and Idle No More.. Again, thanks… Kay

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