Image courtesy Steven Judd

The Idle No More Movement for Dummies (or, 'What The Heck Are All These Indians Acting All Indian-Ey About?')

Gyasi Ross
1/16/13

 

INTRODUCTION

Lately, Native people have taken to the streets malls in demonstrations of Public Indian-ness (“PI”) that surpasses the sheer volume of activism of even Alcatraz and the Longest Walk. There’s a heapum big amount of PI going on right now! Many people, non-Native and Native alike, are wondering what the heck is going with their local Native population and how this so-called #IdleNoMore Movement managed to get the usually muffled Natives restless enough to be Indian in public. I mean, like Chris Rock said, he hasn’t ever even met two Indians at the same time. He’s seen “polar bears riding a tricycle” but he’s “never seen an Indian family just chillin’ out at Red Lobster.”

Yet, now people can’t seem to get away from us. 

And that’s cool—but isn’t that what pow-wows and November is for? People (non-Native and Native alike) can only take so much PI, right? Is that what the Idle No More Movement is—an extended Native American Heritage Month, where non-Natives have to act like they’re fascinated by Native culture?

In a word, no. It is much more. Please consider this a fairly exhaustive explanation of the Idle No More Movement, what it is not and what it is. If for some reason you cannot read the next 1000 or so brilliant words, I can be summed up thusly: the Idle No More Movement is not a new movement. Instead, it is the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492. It is not the Occupy Movement, although there are some similarities. It is not only about Canada and it is not only about Native people. Finally, and probably most importantly, it (and we) are not going away anytime soon. So get used to it (and us).   

#IDLENOMORE MOVEMENT: WHAT IT IS ABOUT

"The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the blood of our ancestors."

Chief Plenty Coups, Apsaalooke

 

“…you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live.”

Tasunke Witko (Crazy Horse), Oglala Lakota

 

As the above quotes display, the Indigenous Resistance to the raping and pillaging of the Earth is not new. Likewise, Indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect the mothers of our Nations—the women—are not new either. The Idle No More Movement is simply the latest chapter in that resistance. 

It’s About: PROTECTING THE EARTH. Idle No More is an inherently grassroots and localized movement, informed by the founders, but with local flair. 

Photo art by Steven Paul Judd

First and foremost, the Idle No More Movement is about protecting the Earth for all people from the carnivorous and capitalistic spirit that wants to exploit and extract every last bit of resources from the land. Therefore, anybody who cares about this Earth should be interested in the Idle No More Movement. The engineers were Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon. It was a response to Canada’s Bill C-45, which overhauled the Navigable Waters Protection Act and removed protections for many waters that go through First Nations. Changing the Act literally moves the emphasis of the protection—it morphs from protecting the waterways to protecting the navigation on those waterways. Now, instead of 30-some thousand lakes being protected under the old Act, only 97 lakes will be protected. As Canadian Parliament Member Kirsty Duncan eloquently states, “The days when Canadians take an endless abundance of fresh water for granted are numbered…”

These mobilized Native people wanted to ensure that children two, three and twelve generations from now would have clean water. The children who will benefit from the Native mobilization are not just Native children—it’s for all children. Lakes and rivers tend to be either clean or dirty for Native and non-Native children alike. 

It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The Idle No More Movement simply wants kids of all colors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water. It’s also not a “Canada” or “United States” thing. Multinational corporations do not care about borders and neither should we. Despite legislation to intended to prevent pollution, corporations pollute freely with almost complete impunity and our children are the ones who suffer. We likewise should not care about borders—we are mobilizing on both sides because we understand that what we do affects one another. 

We will continue to aggressively organize and be Idle No More about the attempts to destroy our sacred lands, whether its Keystone XL Pipeline or Tar Sands Mining in Canada. We will be Idle No More on SSA Marine’s attempts to create a deep-water shipping terminal for water and air poisoning dirty coal in the Lummi waters near Puget Sound, WA or any disrespect to our lands. 

We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re Idle No More !

It’s About: PROTECTING WOMEN.  Similar to the sustained, capitalistic effort to exploit and pillage the Earth, the carnivorous, capitalistic nature has also exploited and abused women since the founding of both America & Canada. That is something else about which Indigenous people have vowed to be Idle No More. America’s first marriage and property laws, or ‘coverture,’ stipulated that married women did not have separate legal existences from their husbands. Indeed, a married woman was a dependent and could not generally own her own property or control her own earnings.  “…once she married she became a legal nonentity. Her husband not only assumed her legal privileges and duties but certain rights to her property as well.” (Women, Family, and Community in Colonial America: Two Perspectives, Linda E. Speth, Alison Duncan Hirsch, Pg. 8.) 

And that was for privileged white women. Obviously for Native women, Black women and any women of any other color who were unfortunate enough to live in the United States, it was much worse.

Deborah Parker speaking about Violence Against Women Act at Seattle Idle No More rally. Image courtesy Alex Garland Photography

That pattern of condescension and indeed hatred for women has continued until the present. From the case Bradley v. State which affirmed a man’s “right” to “moderately” beat his wife to the Indian Health Service’s pattern of forced tubal ligations of Native women, the United States has shown a consistent trajectory of hatred and destruction for Native women. 

Congress’s recent failure to pass the Violence Against Women Act—specifically because Republicans did not want tribal law enforcement to be able to prosecute non-Native sexual deviants—is a continuation of that exploitation of our  women.  Similar to the “clean water” discussion, above, the protections afforded by the Violence Against Women Act protected women of all colors—not just Native women.  Conversely, Congress’s failure to act on the Violence Against Women Act hurts all women. Strong Native women leaders like Deborah Parker and others are advocating for safety and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for all women, not just a few. 

It’s not a Native thing. 

It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should have to worry about getting raped” thing. 

It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should get beaten and battered” thing. 

Those who are transfixed by race, again, are missing the point.  

And we will continue to organize and be Idle No More about this attack on the women within our communities, as well as all communities. That is not new and it’s also not just about Native people. 

We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re #IdleNoMore !

It’s Not an OCCUPY MOVEMENT.  The Occupy Movement was powerful and necessary—yet the foundation was frankly not strong enough to sustain.  Occupy was about a slowed-down economy and a lot of folks who were, unfortunately, out of work from that slowdown. As the economy began to improve in 2012 and also, significantly, the weather got colder, the Occupy Movement got noticeably weaker.  As the economy got stronger, the sheer amounts at the Occupy events got smaller.  Now, it looms very strong in everyone’s psyche, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not; Occupy emboldened the Idle No More Movement, just like Syria, Egypt and Libya emboldened the Idle No More Movement.  Absolutely.  Still, Idle No More is NOT Occupy for these reasons: 

The Primary Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Native economies are NOT getting any better. In many of our communities, there is 70% PLUS unemployment—more than a simple “boom and bust” economic upturn can fix. There are structural problems that will prevent a quick-fix, and therefore most Indigenous Idle No More will not have an economic incentive to stop their activism.

#2 Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—We’re Native… Hello? You’re not going to scare us off with the cold weather.  My friends have literally texted me pictures of sisters and brothers in Alberta and Saskatchewan standing outside with #IdleNoMore signs in -35 degree weather; I have spoken at events where it is freezing and brothers and sisters are outside in t-shirts. 

If we’re mobilizing 2,000, 2,500 people at an event in the freezing cold in January, just imagine how that number is going to multiply when it’s 65, 70 degrees outside.

#3 Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Occupy was snapshot response to a 3 year economic downturn.  #IdleNoMore is a continued response to more than 500 years of destroying the Earth and exploiting women. The foundation on which we're building is literally centuries of resistance. 

Finally, it’s not Occupy because we are surrounding our advocacy around the specific substantive areas that were discussed earlier—protecting the environment and protecting Native women via the Violence Against Women Act. Yes, like Occupy, this is grassroots—the people are fluid and definitely can change. Indeed, the specific subjects that we choose to organize around certainly could change in the future—whatever we need to be Idle No More about. Still, for now fighting against gratuitous exploitation of our lands and fighting against violence against women are areas where good organization can make a difference.

CONCLUSION

This has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. Native people did begin this movement—energized by Chief Spence’s sacrifice and sparked by the Four Founders’ initiative.  Yet this movement belongs to anybodywho wants to stand up for the Earth and women and also make a positive change in the community. That means that non-Natives are certainly welcome. We need non-Natives involved to save this Earth, to give our children and grandchildren the same quality of life that we have enjoyed. It’s about clean water. It’s about clean air. It’s about safety for all women. It’s about making a positive change in our communities. Critics seem to be so caught up on race; yet even racists want their children to have clean water just like non-racists.  Right?  Well, we want racists (and NON-racists, of course) to have kids with clean water too. Oh, and we don’t want them to get raped or beaten either. 

Not too unreasonable, is it?

Here’s a little music and video to close this piece. It’s a project that we (Rock Paper Jet Productions, LLC) did with rapper and producer Brother Ali. Coincidentally, it doesn’t mention race—it mentions wanting to make the world slightly better. And when it comes down to it, that what the Idle No More Movement is about.

“I want to pass this planet to my son

A little better than it was when they handed it to me…”

Peace.

 

Gyasi Ross

Blackfeet Nation

Activist/Attorney/Author

Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

www.cutbankcreekpress.com

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thankyou so much for your wonderful informative piece. I am now understanding the movement more and will most certainly be supporting every step of the way.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
this is the way things are,a wise chief said we are only borrowing this earth from our children.our gov. has voted down women having certain rights for many yrs.many killings of women are killed because they left their man.they have been raped and tortured,look at the stupidity the gop showed women who had been raped,the insensitivity of a tramatit experiance.as for clean air and water,that is about nothing but corp. money.,corps. the officials have personal intrestments in. the people can't just sit by,and say this is a racial thing,our eviroment and our resourses are everything,

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
The Manzitti Family of Reisterstown, Md. are Non-Indigenous Allies & Supporters of Idle No More...Honor The Earth...Honor The Treaties...Honor One Another...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
The Manzitti Family of Reisterstown, Md. are Non-Indigenous Allies & Supporters of Idle No More...Honor The Earth...Honor The Treaties...Honor One Another...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
The author of this article completely excluded what is the main reasons for INM. Protecting the environment is great but many in the general public seem to think that's the main reason. It is not. There were 8 amendments to the Indian Act in Bill C-45. Seven of them use the term "absolute surrender" ie. the surrender of all title, lands, and rights to the Canadian government. Bill C-45 is about Termination and Assimilation. I'm disappointed that the author didn't mention that aspect at all. Has the Author even read Bill C-45?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
thank you for this - i'm definitely part of the dummy group but look forward to learning more on this issue. they are one in the same of quite a few of us non-natives!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I certainly do believe in the Idle No More movement and the Occupy movement. It has been long in coming and I do not mind at all that Natives want their treaties and rights observed. In fact, it is far overdue. I have great concerns over the plight of Mother Earth and the future generations as well. I think that Prince Charles is the one you should petition since he has the same concerns and the Crown òwns us`. The Governor General has the right to eject a Prime Minister and force an election if enough people rally for it. As a white person also born to this great Country, I am afraid that there is going to be a revolution or civil war. The Crown will crtainly not want to relinquish power or land and in fact are looking for support from other Canadians in order to enforce laws and arrest First Nation peoples. I see a posible genecide occur and with Harper`s ties to China I am afraid that he is trying to do what China is doing to Tibet. I will die to help your cause because race has nothing to do about right and laws sometimes have nothing to do with justice.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Please be very clear. There. Is no pan-Indianism going on here. Please read more deeply. In Canada, although the media continue to tow the federal line, because the feds say they only have fiducuary responsibilitie for people who signed Treatie and are Registered Indians, by focusing only on First Nations on reserves, there 50 percent of Metis, first and Inuit who live in severe poverty in all of our large and small cities. Where ever we live as Indigenous people worldwide, we suffer not only for humans but for the land and the water and the spirit of Mother Earth

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Hello!!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you for this definition, which emboldens and assures me that we make the right choice in putting all our available energies into the river of INM. I would only assert one point of information: the economy in general is only getting better for the 1%. For the rest of us - and for white middle-class american workers as well - the cost of living keeps rising while wages drop or remain stagnant. Homelessness and suicide are on the rise among the 99%. The privitization of the commons continues all around the world, supercharging the extractive "race to the bottom" which drives the ongoing destruction of the planet, resulting in soaring profits for the transnational (so-called) "elite" and their government puppets. For these reasons, and for the reasons you stated so well above, we stand with Idle No More. Love, Rage and Solidarity. - The Earth Actions Group of Occupy Las Vegas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Very well informative!!! The general public have no clue. The major society don't have time to see what is hurting them, because the monetary system won't let them, too many mortgages, car payments, credit cards to keep up with. That is how the Revenue and expenditure works. We don't live this way, we look at the Land, Water and Animals in a more Sacred way, God Created us not Canada.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Chief Spence has made no sacrifice. She is a corrupt politician with a corrupt council. She should be arrested for the mismanagement of her people's money. Don't get me wrong, I do feel for the people who are suffering without adequate housing, but in the case of Chief Spence, the blame lies completely on her shoulders. If she can't account for the way the housing money was spent, then she should be arrested for theft. If she was white, there would be a major inquiry and heads would roll. As long as the people in each Indian nation allow their leaders to mismanage the money sent to them, there will always be poverty, drug addiction, and all the other problems associated with the reserves.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you for this brilliant article - I have understood the basic idea behind Idle No More but this gave me clarity and the ability to succinctly explain it to others. Thank you for taking the lead for all of us!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I understand and believe. I am not American Indian although there is no doubt some Taino or Caribe in me. If I can help I will

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I understand and believe. I am not American Indian although there is no doubt some Taino or Caribe in me. If I can help I will

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
TL;DR -- a response to Canada’s Bill C-45, which overhauled the Navigable Waters Protection Act and removed protections for many waters that go through First Nations. Changing the Act literally moves the emphasis of the protection—it morphs from protecting the waterways to protecting the navigation on those waterways. Now, instead of 30-some thousand lakes being protected under the old Act, only 97 lakes will be protected.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Anii from Ontario! That is awesome, and i'm sharing it to my wall right now.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
In my women's studies class, we never had a chapter on blocking roads and major rail lines. I must have slept in that day. What you write here is stoic and honorable, only it doesn't mesh with what I see as the reality of "Idle more cars" sorry, Idle no more.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I have bit bit of Camanche in me and I live in Oklahoma with its "rich" native history. But I am also of Hungarian (Magyar) descent. If I apply the goals of Idle No More to that part of my hertitage I would be protesting some country in Asia who forced to Magyars off the land. Of course we eventually settled in present day Hungary. Should the people we displaced there be protesting us? Back to North America, many of the tribes have taken (either by force or by migration) areas that where inhabited by other tribes. Shouldn't those tribes be protesting against the tribes that took thier lands?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
So grateful want to say thank you to everyone that is a part of this movement for your courage and in trying to make a better future for all of us

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
May all creative forces of the universe be with you all. Thank you for courage beyond courage. I am with you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
You do realize you aren'y gaining the support of the public. You are just making them angry with you. If we're late for work because you illegally close a road why would we want to support you. we're laughing at you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is fabulous!! THANK YOU for these 'brilliant' words, which I wil share with my fellow non-natives in the hope that information will help them wake up! THIS non-native is fully WITH YOU. Much love, brother.

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