Idle No More: the rise of an indigenous movement

  • January 5, 2013

Land & Liberation

Can you hear that sound deep beneath the malls and streets? It is the voice of our ancestors reminding us that we have the power to heal this planet.

At the end of 2012, the sounds of drumming began to resound in an unexpected place — in an American shopping mall. On Saturday in Minneapolis, the usual scenery of typical consumer life was interrupted for a moment. Uplifting beats and joyful singing rang out as if to break down the walls. It was contagious, inviting passing shoppers one by one into the circle. Welcome to Mother Earth!

At the center of the mall, a large circle emerged. Thousands gathered, chanting and dancing. The message delivered through the moving flash mob was simple, yet profound: no more colonization, attacks on indigenous rights, or violation of protected land and water!

Does this sound familiar? For those who happened to stumble upon it, this round dance flash-mob might have brought back memories of the momentum and sentiment of Occupy. Two years ago, Occupy Wall Street surprised everyone when it arose in Manhattan and then quickly spread around the globe. What had become a myth — the American who fights with an independent mind and revolutionary spirit, pulling up bootstraps to exercise self-determination — seemed to have arisen again.

In the Occupy movement, people came together under the banner of the 99%. By sharing frustrations, hopes and ideas, the occupiers tried to mend the broken circle of We the People. This time around, it is the First Nations standing up to claim their own dignity as indigenous peoples.

This Indigenous Flash Roundy that took place at the Minneapolis mall was organized by the Idle No More group. The movement began on December 4th, when First Nations representatives were prevented from entering the House of Commons in Ottawa to voice their concerns about the proposed Bill C-45.

The bill, which intended to cut Canada’s 2.5 million protected waterways down to a mere 97, was passed soon after that. In response, a series of protests emerged in Canada below the radar of the mainstream media, but with the help of social media the movement expanded into a nationwide campaign, subsequently spreading to the United States and beyond.

Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat tribe has become an icon of the movement. On December 11, Spence launched a hunger strike requesting a face-to-face meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister to discuss the bill. Her action gained international attention. Both natives and non-natives came together in support of her ongoing hunger strike.

When Spence was interviewed on December 21st, she spoke of the countless people suffering the pain of exploitation, defending the idea that people deserve a secure life, not pain. The erosion of their lands and the violation of treaty rights carried out through the legislation is simply an expression of a larger symptom of the systematic land grab and plunder at the hands of Canada’s corporate culture.

This, she noted, is an assault on the Native culture of the First Nations, and a denial of their own sacred way of life and existence. It’s a continuation of what the First Nations have been subjected to for generations — the blunt force of winners-takes-it-all cowboy capitalism.

On Columbus day in 2012, Dennis Banks, a Native American activist and co-founder of the American Indian Movement, spoke of the boarding schools and their ‘de-Indianizing’ programs that were still in place only a couple of decades ago. He shared his experience of how as a child he had been abruptly taken away from his home and put into a boarding school.

Banks was not allowed to communicate with his parents or speak his own language. As he recalled, “it was a terrible experience that the American government was experimenting with. And it was trying to destroy the culture and the person, destroy the Indianness in him.”

Tiokasin Ghosthorse, from the Cheyenne River Lakota also shared how he was robbed of his own culture and language. He recounted how the circle of life was broken and people forgot about the intricate connection between all things living and dead. Ghosthorse noted how his people think of their social exclusion “at the bottom of the totem pole” as an honorable place to be in, because it is closer to the Earth.

On the surface, the Idle No More movement appears as an act of protest saying, “no more!” to a long history of oppression and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples. Yet the live footage of the demonstrations and pictures spreading via YouTube and social media seems to have become more than simply a gesture of resistance.

The indigenous movement sparked in Canada has gone beyond borders and across the ocean to countries like New Zealand and England. It has been gaining strength as a force of healing and regeneration. Idle No More calls for all to join in and participate. Jacob Devaney, founder and director of the Culture Collective, pointed out how the Idle No More movement is becoming a movement for all people:

This non-violent social uprising is viral in the minds and hearts of everyone across the planet determined to bring healing to our troubled communities, our planet, and the corruption that is eroding the highest places of government around the world.

Chief Theresa Spence has now entered the 24th day of her hunger strike. At the end of a recent interview, she remarked that “I’m doing this for the children, not just [the] First Nations children, but for all Canadian children.”

The elder and younger generations are uniting through the wisdom of the ancestors. 11-year-old Ta’ Kaiya Blaney who lives in North Vancouver, spoke at an Idle No More rally on December 29th about the culture of her ancestors being lost, and how all people are interconnected through our shared responsibility to protect the Earth.

Across Canada, efforts by aboriginal groups to block highways continue to grow. Through their drum circles in shopping malls, protest marches, and the echoing chants of “No More”, the movement has finally begun to insert the voice of North America’s indigenous peoples into the mainstream discourse of corporate America.

The spontaneous drum circles have created a wave of surreal pictures on the canvas of the American shopping mall, which has come to symbolize the superficial commercial culture of the New World. The image juxtaposes a normalized consumerist way of life based on the exploitation of land and people, and awakens something that has almost fallen into oblivion in the shadow of Western progress.

What is revealed by this movement is a larger thread of life that was long concealed and taken over by a concrete jungle and the narrow corporate mindset of profit at any cost.

The drum beat and traditional singing that are spreading through malls across North America continue to grow louder, throbbing like our mother’s heartbeat that we all once knew, but that has long since been systematically pushed aside by the crazed frenzy of modern life.

The Idle No More movement is a call to remember. Can you hear that sound deep beneath the Earth, under the malls and streets? It is the voice of our ancestors welcoming us home and reminding us of the power we all have to heal this tormented planet within ourselves.

Nozomi Hayase

Nozomi Hayase is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency and decentralized movements.

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