Like a heartbeat pushed to exertion. That’s what it sounded like. That moment after a long run where your breathing slows and from the quiet emerges your heartbeat pounding in your ears. The air seemed to breathe. The Sun out in all its glory gave warmth to the sky. The voices, intertwined with each other and empowered by numbers, followed the sunbeams into the blue. Thanks went to the Creator. Welcome to all and everything spread in every direction: east to the Creator, south to meet ourselves, west to meet family, friends and neighbors, and north to meet the elders’ wisdom.
Strangers and friends clutched each other’s hands, willingly reaching out when the dance began.
Some had seen round dancing in videos across the social media streams; some had no idea what to do. The initial hesitation vanished as a trail of linked hands began to form. We’d all learn together.
With cheerful organizers stepping forward to share the moves, the circle of participants began to shift clockwise. I had an elder man to my left and a young woman to my right. Any of the normal social apprehension of clasping a stranger’s hand simply wasn’t there. A bit clumsy at first, I looked down the line of people. So many different faces peered back, grins dancing below their eyes.
The Idle No More movement was presenting itself to the youth of the campus. Now it was up to them to choose to join the circle, watch or ignore it.
Despite the lively spirit of the dance the event was organized to raise awareness of a very serious matter–Bill C-45. Depending on interpretation, different people have very different views of the bill. Just take a look at the comments in response to an article written by CBC News and comments from members of parliament. The Idle No More movement started with four women in Saskatchewan- Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean and Jessica Gordon- and spread across Canada and then outward into the world. Using social media to spread the word the movement wanted to speak out about the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, C-45. Of particular concern were changes to
1) the Navigable Waters Protection Act that reduced the number of protected waterways in Canada.
2) The Indian Act that meant First Nations communities could lease designated reserve land if majority voted in favor at a meeting designated for that purpose–no matter how many people show up.
3) The Environmental Assessment Act where the approval process is getting shorter and faster.
On a separate note, but certainly a stimulator for the movement, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, of the reserve that had to announce a state of emergency due to its lack of proper housing and necessities (such as clean water and electricity), announced a hunger strike. Until Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston agreed to meet her and discuss treaty issues, she would only consume fish broth, vitamins and tea. On January 11th her demand was met and she spoke with Mr. Harper and later Mr. Johnston.
This is just a really simple overview of a complex series of events, so be sure to look for your self. Read your trusted newspaper’s perspective. Then read the opposition. Read from Idle No More sources. Then read government sources. Each perspective will be biased, there’s no helping it. That’s why it’s up to you to balance your reading.
The reason why I mention the Idle No More movement in a cultural blog is because First Nations culture is key to the movement’s unique features and the mindset that started it and continues to fuel it.
Putting the Occupy Movement and the Idle No More Movement side by side they have similarities. They are both massive. They rely largely on social media. They spread across the world with pockets of protest sparking up everywhere. Every participant had a different problem but the movement at large tried to narrow it down. Each movement is trying to tackle a number of big social issues.
The differences pop up in the nature of each group’s focus and how they proceeded to show their discontent. Occupy, in the spirit of the capitalist culture of ownership, chose to ask people to settled into public places and speak out about changes. Marches and tent cities ensued. By and large it used spaces and control of those spaces to show civil disobedience. Alongside issues of sanitation, after all the places that were occupied weren’t meant to be used that way, the Occupy movement was criticized for being disorganized and unwieldy.
Idle No More on the other hand, though also about control and peaceful disruption, added a flair to its civil disobedience that only it could do. It infused the cultures of its many distinct nations into marches and occupancies to
1) raise awareness that there are distinct nations
2) show they respect each other and collectively respect everyone else
3) speak out in a peaceful but loud way.
So rather than images of the usual marches, videos of flash mob round dances are flashing across Youtube. Though it is arguably more focused than the Occupy movement, Idle No More has it’s own problems. Other than the initial lack of attention and the ongoing criticism, Idle No More has the issue of being so unique it’s being explored for the wrong reasons. During a talk with another participant at the event, he pointed out to me that the media are so focused on breaking down the time, place and process of protest that they are not talking about the real issue– bill C-45.
The event I attended in the Secwepemc territory on Thompson Rivers University’s campus is not the first in the city. This one was planned so students could show solidarity with the movement.
The individuals who had organized the event, Jolene Michel, Nicole Kahoose, Rhoda Tom, Shania West and Michelle Ikwumonu, had asked the Secwepemc nation for permission to host the event. It included anyone who wanted to join in. Elders were invited to attend and speak to the drawn crowd. Before everyone arrived a blanket was laid down as an altar with water, candles, tobacco, sage and sweet grass set upon it. Some placed their drums there to be cleansed.
Some waited for an elder travelling from person to person carefully wafting smoke from burning sage in an abalone shell around each individual with an eagle feather. For the First Nations, as one speaker put it, the land is their church. It wasn’t hard to take in that perspective as each speaker thanked the universe, relatives, trees, water, children and elders.
Between speeches the participants loosened their legs and spirits in the round dance. Circling an inner circle of drummers and singers each song spoke of something different. Some were songs of protest, some were fun, and one was to honour the women in attendance, Chief Theresa Spence and women across the planet. That was my favourite moment. Called the Women’s Warrior Song it is very significant to the movement. Not only does the movement have many women at the forefront, it is also driven by the mistreatment of First Nations women. Many First Nations women have gone missing with little response from the police. In B.C. a stretch of highway called the Highway of Tears is a particularly notorious area for First Nations women to disappear.
There are many things that participants of the movement hope to change. The appearance of protesters and dances is only to raise awareness. As one speaker said, “when we leave here we are not finished. It continues.”