Model and actress Shannon Baker at the Idle No More rally in Los Angeles. Her sign reads 'There is an organized movement against the rights of Canadians and it is called The Harper Government #idlenomore'

Idle No More, Hollywood Style

Rob Schmidt

When Pamela J. Peters and Shawn Imitates-Dog attended a recent Idle No More rally in downtown Los Angeles, they were surprised.

The crowd was small—odd, considering LA County has the largest urban population of Indians. No media representatives were present. And the signs addressed immigration, racism and other issues not directly related to the protests sweeping Canada.

Idle No More’s message was being lost, they realized. Onlookers weren’t sure what the movement was about. Reporters didn’t know how to cover it.

They decided to hold their own rally to raise awareness of Idle No More and what it stands for. At its core, said Peters, the movement is about “the sovereign rights that we as tribal people have. We have rights to protect our water, our air and our land for future generations.”

There was one major obstacle. Many activists were planning to attend a big rally in Sacramento in two weeks. That gave Peters, a Navajo media consultant, and Imitates-Dog, a Lakota HR professional, less than seven days to organize and implement their idea.

Photo courtesy Pamela J. Peters

They immediately began contacting their Native friends and colleagues. They created a Facebook page, alerted media websites and sent e-mail blasts. “It’s like our spirit was just on fire,” said Peters. “We really, really reached out to the community.”

“Thank God for social media,” said Imitates-Dog. “I don’t know how AIM did it back in the ’70s.”

People asked how they could help. The Tataviam Tribe’s creative services volunteered to do artwork for the signs and t-shirts. A Colville woman had the shirts made, with a vendor delivering them the night before the event.

Peters also talked with Idle No More’s founders. “I did the respectful thing,” she said. “I told them what we were doing. They pretty much gave me their blessing.”

Imitates-Dog suggested The Grove, a large shopping complex, as the location. It was outdoors, near Hollywood and next to CBS Studios. He and Peters scouted the site and tried to anticipate problems.

The big day

On January 19, the day of the rally, they arrived at The Grove uncertain what to expect. Only a few dozen people were standing around. Once they heard the drumbeat at one o’clock sharp, though, people appeared from every part of the mall—perhaps 200-300 of them. They had come from all over the region—some from hundreds of miles away—to join in.

Photo courtesy Pamela J. Peters

Many formed a circle and started a round dance. Others hoisted signs, distributed t-shirts and handed out informational brochures. “It’s almost like we had rehearsed a couple different times,” said Imitates-Dog, “because it was just so on cue.”

A contingent of “Hollywood Indians” showed up to lend their star power. Among them were Q’orianka Kilcher, Zahn McClarnon, Shauna and Shannon Baker, Quese IMC, Crystle Lightning and Arigon Starr. They danced and held signs too.

After 10 or so minutes, The Grove’s security politely asked the participants to leave. Having anticipated this, Peters and Imitates-Dog led the group to a park across the street. There they danced, sang and prayed for another hour.

The LAPD was out in force, but for another reason. Sam Pepper, Louis Cole, Sawyer Hartman and Cyr—four young YouTube sensations—were holding a meet-up for their fans. Indians and teenagers eyed each other across the grounds.

“[Cole] came up and we told him what we were doing,” said Peters. “I gave him some literature and one of our banners. And he, in his video blog, gave us a little plug, and said it was a good cause.”

It was a fitting example of how social activism works in LA.

Next steps

Everyone thought the rally was a great success. “It was amazing to see so many non-Natives at The Grove to support the Idle No More movement,” said Shauna Baker, Stellat’en First Nation. “It just goes to show that we are all human and this isn’t just a Native issue. It’s about human rights.”

Photo courtesy Pamela J. Peters

It “was a wonderful chance to present a positive Native American image to the folks living in LA who probably don’t know they’re surrounded by Natives from many different tribes,” added Arigon Starr, Kickapoo.

While they watch events unfold in Canada, LA’s Indians are thinking about what else they can do. For one thing, they hope to talk to the founders about expanding Idle No More into a global movement. INM has the potential to educate the world about indigenous issues.

“We want to do more,” said Peters. “There’s a lot of resources here in Los Angeles. We’re using whatever we can to bring more awareness.”

For more photos from the event, see our previous story, " Scenes from the Idle No More Protest at The Grove in Los Angeles"

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Ruben Aguirre's picture
Ruben Aguirre
Submitted by Ruben Aguirre on
I am TONGVA NDN and approve Idle No More.We are protectors of Mother Earth.I love that all ndn and non ndn people comming together for our human rights.I am in MO.63301.peace to four directions.I need tee shirts IDLE NO MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rodney Zalks's picture
Rodney Zalks
Submitted by Rodney Zalks on
This was a great day and great event. However, I was wondering why people were so quickly to move to the park? It was almost instantaneously. As soon as mall security asked people to leave the organizers were quick to encourage people to go to the park. Wouldnt it have been better to push the time to stay little bit longer before people left to the park? Mall security cant arrest you. I did stay around the mall for a little bit because i did notice half of the group chose to ignore the main organizers plees to leave and they decided to stay longer in a peaceful way to speak to people about the Idle No More message directly and to be sure the message was heard. In addition, since CBS, as you mention, is next door then why didnt the organizers go there after the security shut down the event or even to the street side to become more visible? Then they could have head to the park to close out with a prayer. Just asking. These are questions i have been asking myself because it seems that there is very little challenging the system here to really make a point, and im speaking about in a peaceful context. I fortunately came already informed and ready to support, but there was really no information on Idle No More at the event other than what some people tried to share after the organizers left and then some of the speaking over at the park away from the public crowd at the mall. Im concerned that the message can easily be lost since many folks will not know what Idle No More is when they see the events.