Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What is a social movement?

What is a social movement is not a simple question. It still does not have a solid definition yet and probably never will because the point of a social movement is to change the status quo of thinking.

A social movement is often confused with protests. A visual explanation is:

This is a protest that took place in Toronto.
Occupy Denver-Native American Glenn Morris, AIM-Colorado
A photo of a the leader of American Indian Movement(AIM, a group that we will talk about in a later post) addressing Occupy Denver
Both of these photos are; in fact, protests under the same social movement. Looking at the photos you can even see that protests, that may share many of the same basic ideas and movements, can be highly varied in their costumes(what they wear while protesting) and their slogans/signs.
Basically what I am saying is that social movement is the umbrella that covers a wide style and size of protests(Young-Leslie)

In the NSM(Native Sovereignty movement) case, the social movement is about about Native rights, particularly the right to self-govern. Meanwhile, protests are the events that people do to increase awareness of their cause.

Allow me to pause for a moment to cover a few terms that I just used. First of all, what is meant by Native in this context. This is another looks-simple-but-is-not question.
First of all, the government declares "Indian Status" as "being registered under the Indian Act is referred to as a Registered Indian"( 
<<As a quick aside, many of the government documents use the term Indian to describe what we now refer to as Natives or aboriginals. >>
So what is the criteria for registering under the Indian Act?
Here is the criteria found on this government site:

  1. "You were entitled to registration prior to the changing of the Indian Act on April 17, 1985
  2. You lost your Indian Status as a result of your marriage to a non-Indian man (s. 12(1)(b)), including enfranchisement upon your marriage to a non-Indian man (s. 109(2));
  3. Your mother and father's mother did not have status under the Indian Act, before their marriage and you lost your status at the age of 21 (s.12 (1)(a)(iv) – referred to commonly as the double-mother rule);
  4. Your registration was successfully protested on the grounds that your father did not have status under the Indian Act, however your mother had status;
  5. You lost your registration because you or your parents applied to give up registration and First Nation membership through the process known as "enfranchisement"; or
  6. You are a child of persons listed in 1 to 5 above"
So the government has very set ideas of what makes you a Status Native but there is also Non-Status Native which is often defined as people who identify themselves as Indians but who are not entitled to registration on the Indian Register pursuant to the Indian Act" (AADNC definition)

When one look at these two definitions, one can see that there could be point of contention: Status is defined by a the Canadian government so an individual's level of inclusion in a group is defined by a governing power rather than themselves. Especially when there is individuals of this group that feel their identity should not be controlled by this faction, reasons are beginning to become apparent for why there would be protest about their right to sovereignty including their right to define themselves.

Yelvington has the idea that ethnicity is defined by the other:
 'Ethnicity is an aspect of social relationship between 
agents who consider themselves as being culturally 
distinctive from members of other groups with 
whom they have a minimum of regular interaction. 
It can thus also be defined as a social identity based 
on a contrast to others, characterised by 
metaphoric or fictive kinship' (Yelvington, 1991: 
This means that the ethnic grouping of Native had to be defined by having non-Natives(Young-Leslie). This also brings up the fact that the term Native takes many varied groups of peoples, all of whom have varied traditions and cultures from the others, and lumping them all together. Oddly enough, I would argue that without this lumping ethnic term the Native sovereignty movement would not be able to exist. The term Native allowed groups that would not have defined themselves as allies to band together against a 'common enemy' (often the government or anti-native right groups). I will talk more about how this alliance created the movement in my next blog.

In my next blog, I will discuss the definition of sovereignty and history of this movement and the factors behind it.

Works Cited:
AADNC. Electronic source.

Dr. Young-Leslie, Heather. Lecture slides. March 5th "Ethnicity".
Dr. Young-Leslie, Heather. Lecture slides. January 23rd "Social Movements".
Yelvington Kevin A. 
  1991 Ethnicity as Practice? A Comment on Bentley. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 33(1):158-168
Aborignial affairs and Northern Development Canada. Electronic source.

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