Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum), a cofounder of the international movement Idle No More, recently spoke at the Spring World Issues Forum held at Western Washington University. Prior to her lecture, Sylvia held a special presentation at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) in Lummi to discuss her work to date and to share her mission of promoting Indigenous self-determination and knowledge.
Sylvia is a citizen of the Cree Nation who holds a Juris Doctorate (LL.B) from the University of Saskatchewan and a Bachelor’s of Human Justice (B.H.J) from the University of Regina. She is a recipient of the Carol Geller Human Rights Award, Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers Award, Social Justice Award, 2014 Global Citizen Award, and has received several eagle feathers from Indigenous communities. She remains active in the global grassroots Indigenous led resistance called “Idle No More”.*
Because colonization has dramatically caused the heartbreaking loss of Indigenous languages, customs, and inherent systems, Sylvia uses the oral tradition of her people to share with her fellow Indigenous peoples her dream to revitalize Indigenous nationhood. It is Sylvia’s dream, shared by many, that freedom, liberation, and self-determination will lead Indigenous peoples away from the pain of genocide and colonialism.
Following her truly riveting presentation, she sat down with Tulalip News staff to discuss several issues that are of importance to not just citizens of Tulalip, but all Native peoples.
During your presentation you mentioned as Indigenous peoples we shouldn’t identify as ‘environmentalist’ or ‘activist’, but instead view ourselves as defenders of our homeland. Why is that?
“When you begin to identify as an environmentalist or activist there’s a fear that arises because those terms can be associated with economic terrorists. The fear is rooted in the belief that environmentalism and activism affect the economy. That’s part of it, the other part is activism and environmentalism infers that there is no inherent connection to the land; you just show up and protest. However, when it comes to Indigenous people doing this kind of work, their connection, attention, and investment to the land is much different. Our history is written on the land, our ancestors are buried here, that land is our home. So we are defending and protecting our home. Being defenders of our homeland shifts the thinking, as it should, because our connection with the land is unique.”
Viewing ourselves as defenders of our homeland should also unite us as Native and Indigenous people with a set of common goals, right?
“Absolutely. When you are born you are born not only as a human being, you are born into lands. When we go home we have a very clear set of lands that we are born into and we have a responsibility and obligation to protect those lands. That’s what I continue to do every day and that’s why I tell people, ‘when you know your lands you will know your relatives.’ I’m not just talking about the human relatives, I’m talking about the land, the plants, and all the animals, the flyers, the crawlers and the swimmers. Those are all our relatives and right now they have no agency to defend and protect themselves. That’s where we need to step up because the forces that threaten our land and humanity are very identifiable right now. Those forces are the extractive corporations that are going into our lands, almost in a frenzy, to take the very things we need to sustain us.”
Some of the forces that continue to threaten Native culture and Indigenous identity are more covert than others. You mentioned the term ‘ethnocide’ earlier. Can you explain that?
“We speak about genocide, but people forget about ethnocide. Ethnocide is the death of the way of being of people; the things that we need to carry us on as a people. Ethnocide is the taking of our trees, the taking of our water, and the taking of our plants. What then do we have to carry our ceremonies on? The ceremonies are pivotal and integral in who we are as a people. If you could not have trees to make your canoes, what then? If there are no trees then there are no forests to harvest from. If the waters and oceans are poisoned and you can no longer perform your ceremonies, then what happens to your songs and the language? How does your culture live on? You lose who you are as a people. That’s ethnocide.”
The idea of disenrollment based upon blood quantum is gaining traction amongst many tribes. It’s based on a system of thought not of our own, but passed down from colonization. What are your thoughts on disenrollment?
“It’s so unfortunate because it seems we’re always in the realm of inadequacy. We’re always inadequate; its either we have too much culture or not enough culture. We’re always in that measure of inadequacy. Ultimately, we can turn to our ancestors to see we never throw away our relatives. We never throw them away, even the ones we have come to adopt. It’s against our culture and against our natural laws as Indigenous peoples. At the end of the day, if you can demonstrate and show to me where your lands and your relatives are, then doesn’t that speak for itself? Every child, every original peoples’ child is born into lands. They have an inherent right to protect and defend those lands. No human can take that away from them.
If you are dis-enrolling children, then you are taking away their inherent obligation and jurisdiction into the lands they are born into. No human being has that right. It’s against our laws to do that. For every Indigenous child born it’s the duty of the parents to make sure that child is connected into the land, so that when they grow up they will defend and protect their relatives who don’t have agency to defend themselves.”
What astounds you most when you look back at all you’ve experienced and achieved over the past few years with Idle No More?
“The amazing courage of grass-roots people when they set their minds to things. That’s what blows me away. The courage and determination of so many individuals who unite and come together for a common goal is what drives Idle No More. On a global scale, we got a message from the Amazon, from the original peoples there, and they told us they were trying to stop the development of a dam. While defending their homeland they were opposed by paramilitary brought in to keep them away from the dam site. On one occasion they were standing there with their spears and bow and arrows chanting ‘Idle No More!’ while the paramilitary pointed their guns at them. They told us Idle No More was their battle cry.
So when I start to feel discouraged or overwhelmed I remind myself of these stories to remember I’m not alone. I have to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves and continue this work. If I don’t, then what am I going to tell my grandchildren when they ask me, ‘what did you do to protect and defend our culture and homeland?’ I want to be able to tell them I did everything that I could. That’s why I’m here.”
Idle No More encourages all Native and Indigenous peoples to stand in solidarity with our First Nations brothers and sisters and allies for Treaty Rights, water and land rights, and environmental protection on the sacred land of our ancestors. Decolonization is a vital part of Idle No More, as it is necessary to decolonize ourselves and our way of thinking to keep our Native culture going strong. As our elders have taught us, “what we do today is not for us, but for our children and our children’s children.”
Last month, members of the Idle No More movement held a “Native Women Rising” rally at the Don Armeni Park in West Seattle. Activists joined in a circle for drumming and singing, and reminded those listening about the importance of the Alaskan wilderness soon to be drilled by Shell Oil’s drilling rig, called the Polar Pioneer. The hashtag #ShellNO was born as the Native led protests garnered local and national news attention.
But who was responsible for coordinating the rally and bringing together activists, both Native and non-Native, to stand together in protest of Shell Oil Company? That would be Sweetwater Nannauck, Director of Idle No More Washington. Sweetwater was kind enough to be interviewed by Tulalip News in order to help spread the message of being Idle No More to the Tulalip community.
“I am Sweetwater Nannauck from the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes of southeast Alaska. I am the Director of Idle No More Washington and I’m here in Seattle standing up for our people in Alaska. I’m here today joined by Native and Indigenous peoples from all different tribal nations, who came to stand united in a spiritual and cultural way. We are bringing our prayers and calling our ancestors for help as we try to bring a peaceful resolution to stopping the arctic oil drilling.”
What is the impact when the Indigenous peoples of Canada, Alaska, and the Coast Salish peoples collaborate together?
“Well, I’d say it speaks to all of our ancestors, as our people have traveled down here from Alaska and mixed cross-culturally. I have stories of our people coming down here for trade, so really we’re following in the footsteps of our ancestors by coming together and showing we can stand united for our people and our future generations.”
What is the meaning behind having an Idle No More rally titled Native Women Rising?
“I was raised traditionally in Alaska, my grandparents had an arranged marriage, and we only ate our traditional foods. We had a matriarchal society which made my grandmothers strong women, so what I find in doing this work is we come along a lot of patriarchy. In western society, the way protests and activist movements are coordinated and received is usually male dominated. I want people to know, especially our Native and Indigenous peoples that for us our women have power, our women are the life givers, our women were out there on the water singing our songs of strength and healing, and we have that ability in us. What many Indigenous cultures have said and prophesized is when the world gets out of balance our women will step up and bring back that balance. That’s what all the women who take part in Idle No More are here to do, bring balance to our world.”
What advice do you have for any Native person who wants to become involved with Idle No More?
“I advise that they find other likeminded people and become active. What I’ve found since Idle No More started in 2012, we here in Washington have become much more active. I’ve organized over fifty events since 2012, and I’ll be focused on working with our Native youth in Washington throughout the summer. There are many ways to be active, such as sharing our voice and our message through music, through spoken word, through our culture, and through our ceremonies and prayers.”
How do you plan to get Native youth to become active participants in Idle No More?
“I’ll be working with Nataanii Means (Lakota), son of Russell Means, who is an amazing hip-hop artist and we’ll be teaching workshops with Native youth that include video making, spoken work, and how to be active in a cultural and spiritual way. We realize because of colonization and historical trauma that we can’t realistically expect the youth to step up and do this kind of work without addressing their concerns that we face and teach them how to heal from our historical trauma.”
What are your thoughts as they relate to oil drilling in the arctic and how that impacts our culture?
“My first thoughts are directed at its name, the Polar Pioneer, and to the other two arctic oil drillers who have similar names, the Noble Discoverer and the Arctic Challenger. To me these represent the colonization that is coming back to our shores again and it’s really time for our people to unite because this impacts all of us. The climate change effects, we’re in a draught presently, our waters are being contaminated, the air is dirty, our animals on land and in the sea are dying. This really is important for every single person who is walking on this planet. We feel Mother Earth’s pain.”
Some argue that oil drilling is a necessary evil to sustain the modern day way of living. What is your response to that kind of thinking?
“It’s not a perfect system, it never will be, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt. We need to stand together and fight for our lands, otherwise they are going to take everything away from us because of that greed. Fifty years from now, we want our children and their children to say that their ancestors stepped up and fought for what they believed in, just as today we can say about our ancestors.”
There are many tribes and tribal members in the U.S. and Canada who yield great monetary profits from following in western type thinking. They’ve built tribal enterprises that are based on their casinos and because of this they refuse to take an active role in anything that could tarnish their image or result in lost profits. What is your message to them?
“It’s hard because I understand the root cause of it is colonization. An elder once told me that the colonized have become colonizers, we are part of that system, but we can easily remove ourselves from it. The western term is ‘decolonization’, but it’s really reclaiming ourselves, reclaiming who we are, our culture, reclaiming our ways of doing things, going out on the water, being proud and knowing who we are. That’s where our strength lies, our culture is our medicine and it is healing for us. I invite any and all Native peoples to join us and sing our songs and say our people’s prayers, so that we are standing together because when we stand together, united, we have real power.”
For more information on how to join the Idle No More movement and to follow their events, please LIKE their Facebook page ‘Idle No More Washington’ or visit www.idlenoremore.ca
King Khan, rock & roll’s spiritual leader by way of Montreal, is returning to Off Broadway with psychedelic soul outfit the Shrines on Saturday, June 15, to promote the group’s latest, Idle No More. The album takes its name from a 2012 Native American movement to unite tribes for the betterment of their people and the environment. Khan’s interest in the campaign is personal.
“My heart really goes out to indigenous people,” he says. “[Growing up] in Montreal, when my father used to kick me out of the house I would seek refuge at my Mohawk friend’s house on the reservation. One of my best friends, who recently passed away, was another Mohawk on the reservation. It’s really horrible what has happened and keeps happening to the indigenous people. I hope that things change.”
Although Khan is best known for his wild stage shows and gleefully irreverent songwriting, this latest effort contains plenty of introspective moments as well. The album’s closer, “Of Madness I Dream,” seems drawn from an especially deep well.
“I read this line by Keith Richards once where he said that he didn’t really write songs, but he received them,” Khan explains. “I think that — especially in that song, when I was trying to figure out vocals for it — it was almost like I got kind of dizzy, and this thing just poured out of me. I feel like I received something from another place. That song especially sums up what’s wrong with the world, and how sometimes the simplest things can describe a complicated problem.”
The inclusion of socially conscious messages in what might otherwise be thought of as party music follows the tradition of one of his heroes, soul singer the Mighty Hannibal, who Khan says could “balance making fun music for dancing and freaking out while also making these really deep songs to inform the public to stay away from drugs, or to stay away from the American government.”
Social justice is a theme in another of Khan’s projects — a soundtrack to director Prichard Smith’s The Invaders, a documentary about the social work of the Black Panthers in Memphis. Khan says it will feature original compositions and music “picked from the spectrum of rhythm & blues and free jazz and, basically, great black-power music.”
“For me, a lot of inspiration comes from the music of the civil rights movement. It’s gonna change the perception of a lot of things, this documentary,” Khan explains. “It finally gives justice to all of the people who were blamed for all of the violence that weren’t responsible for it. It also shows a side of Martin Luther King that was hidden for a long time — when he asked the militants to work with him for the Poor People’s Campaign. I’m really honored to be a part of this film.”
Khan will be in St. Louis twice this year, reappearing with the King Khan & BBQ Show and the Black Lips on September 15 at the Ready Room. This lineup is especially exciting for his fans; it suggests the possibility of a performance by the Almighty Defenders, the gospel-punk supergroup composed of both bands.
That tour precedes the release of the King Khan & BBQ Show’s newest album, which will be out early next year on In the Red Records. “I think it’s one of the best records we’ve ever done,” Khan says. “We’re changing our name. We’ve been called King Khan & BBQ Show for a long time, and, to be honest, people always get it wrong. People don’t understand that Mark Sultan is half the band. Mark wasn’t getting the proper justice for being his own entity and a great singer and songwriter. We want to be called the Bad News Boys.”
King Khan considers Mark Sultan to be family, and, like most families, the two have had their share of troubles, including a temporary breakup. Shortly before the split in 2009, they were detained by the law on their way to a show in St. Louis which they infamously were forced to cancel.
As Khan explains, “The only reason we got in trouble was such a stupid formality. I mean, yes, you’re not supposed to carry psychedelic mushrooms around there. It’s just a rule of thumb that I stupidly did not adhere to. But I’ve never been scared in America — thank the gods that nothing bad has happened to us there. I think that, in a certain way, if you follow the right path, you’re protected. You know, a lot of people might not believe that, but if your intentions are good, then there is some kind of protection out there.”
“Sometimes, of course, the storm comes and destroys certain things,” he says with a pause. “But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
The grassroots Idle No More movement was already planning a national day of action across Canada for January 28 to teach people about the First Nations Education Act, which most Indigenous Peoples oppose. Now the organizers are exhorting everyone to dress for the occasion—in a “Got Land? Thank an Indian” t-shirt or sweatshirt.
Idle No More has scooped up 13-year-old Tenelle Starr, the eighth-grade student from Star Blanket First Nation who persuaded school officials to let her wear a hoodie with the words “Got Land?” on the front and “Thank an Indian” on the back.
Since that day, the shirt’s maker in Canada, Jeff Menard, has been swamped with orders. But now he might want to add another phone line. Idle No More is calling on everyone across Canada to don the slogan, which Menard sells on t-shirts and bibs in all sizes, in addition to hooded and non-hooded sweatshirts.
Menard has set up a website, Thank An Indian, to field and fulfill orders. The shirts, bibs and other items that he said are forthcoming are also showcased on his Facebook page of the same name. A portion of the proceeds will go to help the homeless.
Those wishing to buy the slogan south of the 49th Parallel can order at its U.S. source. The White Earth Land Recovery Project, part of the Native Harvest product line that is run by Ojibwe activist and author Winona LaDuke, has sold hoodies and t-shirts bearing the slogan for years. Menard has said he got the idea after seeing friends from the U.S. wearing similar shirts.
The message and the lesson have taken on new urgency as racist comments proliferated on Tenelle’s Facebook page to such a degree that it had to be taken down. But that has only solidified the teen’s determination to make a difference and to educate Canadians, which she said was her intial goal in wearing the shirt to school.
She received support, too, from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta, which invited her to the Neil Young concert in support of its efforts to quell development in the oil sands of the province. She attended the Saturday January 18 performance as an honorary guest, according to Idle No More’s website. Young is doing a series of concerts to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan’s legal fight against industrial activity in the sands.
Tenelle “is now calling, along with the Idle No More movement, for people everywhere to don the shirt as an act of truth-telling and protest,” Idle No More said in a statement on January 17. “Now and up to a January 28 Day of Action, Tenelle and Idle No More and Defenders of the Land are encouraging people across the country to make the shirt and wear them to their schools, workplaces, or neighborhoods to spark conversations about Canada’s true record on Indigenous rights.”
CBC News reported that Tenelle’s Facebook page was shut down at the suggestion of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which briefly investigated some intensely negative and racist comments that were posted on the girl’s page after the school ruling.
“It was racist remarks with attempts to shadow it in opinion, but they were pretty forceful, pretty racist,” Sheldon Poitras, a member of the band council for the Star Blanket First Nation, and a friend of the family, said to CBC News. “The family was concerned about Tenelle’s safety.”
The family deactivated Tenelle’s Facebook account “on advice from RCMP,” CBC News reported, and the RCMP confirmed that it was investigating.
The message is a quip laden with historical accuracy that refers to the 1874 document known as Treaty 4, which Star Blanket First Nation is part of, in which 13 signatory nations of Saulteaux and Cree deeded the land to the settlers of what would become modern-day Canada.
Nevertheless, many continue to view the message as racist. Idle No More aims to debunk that notion as well as clarify the historical record. Tenelle has participated in Idle No More rallies with her mother as well, the group said.
“Everyone can wear the shirt,” said Tenelle in the Idle No More statement. “I think of it as a teaching tool that can help bring awareness to our treaty and land rights. The truth about Canada’s bad treatment of First Nations may make some people uncomfortable, but understanding it is the only way Canada will change and start respecting First Nations.”
Although Menard said that support has been streaming in from chiefs and others throughout Canada for both him and Tenelle, there has been negative feedback that shows there’s still a lot of misinformation to be dispelled, he told ICTMN.
“I’ve been getting hate messages, Tenelle has been getting hate messages,” Menard said in a phone interview on January 21, but reiterated that the slogan merely reflects historical fact. “If anybody learns their history they see that the Indians were here first.”
The organizers of a flash mob round dance to celebrate the second winter of Idle No More at the Mall of America on New Year’s Eve have been threatened with arrest.
On Christmas Eve, Idle No More Duluth founder Reyna Crow received a letter from Mall of America officials.
“It has come to our attention that your group is planning a political protest at Mall of America in connection with Idle No More, a tribal group opposed to recent Canadian legislation,” reads the Mall of America’s letter, which was delivered to Crow by courier.
“Any attempt by your group to conduct a protest is a violation of MOA policies and will subject your group to removal from MOA property, and potential arrest by tthe City of Bloomington police department,” the letter read. “Although your group attempted a gathering last year on MOA property, a similar attempt will not be tolerated and we will utilize additional actions to prohibit any such gathering, including trespassing the organizers of the protest.”
Among other egregious effects, “The Idle No More group caused disruption to our customers, tenants and employees, and resulted in a significant commitment of time and resources by our security and management teams,” the letter continued. “Mall of America is a private commercial retail center, and we prohibit all forms of protest, demonstration and public debate, including political activity aimed at organizing political or social groups.”
As far as Idle No More Minnesota’s Facebook Page is concerned, the celebration of the second winter of the movement, which began as a series of teach-ins at the end of 2012, is still on.
“The characterization of the Round Dance as a protest is not only incorrect, it is insulting”, said Crow in a statement on Christmas Day. “If the Idle No More flash mob Round Dance that was held there last year is a ‘protest,’ so are the Christmas carols and the other flash mob events that have been held there.”
Idle No More began at the end of 2012 as a series of teach-ins conducted by four women, and it was low-key until Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike. This brought national and then international attention to the movement, which morphed into a broader attempt to show the world the ways in which so-called indigenous issues are everyone’s issues.
The letter’s characterization of the round dance as a protest was completely wrong, Crow wrote in an editorial in the Duluth News Tribune last January.
“A flash mob is a large group of people who gather, ideally in an instant, to perform a unified action in a public place, often a song or dance. In this case, participants are performing a round dance,” she wrote.
“While it is true that INM has organized around gravely serious causes, … the characterization of the round dances as ‘protests’ is not just incorrect, it’s insulting,” Crow continued. “Not understanding is one thing. Telling a substantial segment of the community that it is unwelcome to make use of the mall—which does seem to gladly function as a sort of public square when it comes to Santa Claus and Christmas trees—to hold a brief and joyous dance with song reflecting traditional Anishinaabeg cultural values—is a message this community should be ashamed of.”
Indeed, the four women who founded Idle No More and first coined the hash tag—Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Nina Wilson—were named by Foreign Policy magazine as among the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2013.
Nearly a year ago, the Indigenous Action Movement coordinated a protest at the Peace Arch on the U.S.-Canada border. “It’s a peaceful, prayerful action … a ceremony with smudging, drumming and singing,” Kat Norris, spokesperson for the group, told ICTMN. “Every time we have to cross a border, it hits our hearts. It only reminds us of what we once had.” The gathering was focused on Indigenous women, but had a strong youth element to it. Video director Dave Wilson set out to capture the spirit of Idle No More’s future: Young people from both countries united by a cultural pride, and a willingness to question the status quo.
Entitled “Idle No More: The Next Generation,” the video was produced by Natives Brodie Lane Stevens (Tulalip) and ICTMN contributor Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet), and uses the song “Letter to My Countrymen” by the Minneapolis-based rapper Brother Ali, who has collaborated with Wilson in the past. The clip was posted to the RockPaper Jet YouTube page on January 9,
Idle No More and Defenders of the Land networks call on Indigenous Peoples and Canadians to support Indigenous Nations currently engaged in protecting their lands and waters against the corporate-sponsored agendas of the federal and provincial governments.
In the past month, the Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake and the Cree of Lubicon Lake Nation have been involved in land protection struggles to defend against invasive extractive natural resource development (natural gas exploration, drilling for oil & natural gas/fracking and clear cut logging) taking place on their territories without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
In each of these land struggles, there are people camping and protecting lands outside in extreme winter weather conditions before the holidays to keep industry activity at bay. Despite weather dipping to -30º C on some days, men, women, children and Elders continue to protect the land to ensure their grandchildren and future generations have something left for their sustenance and livelihood.
We condemn the collusion between the Federal/Provincial governments and corporations who work together to implement economic development plans and activities that disregard the Inherent Aboriginal and Treaty Rights held by Indigenous Peoples.
Sylvia McAdam, an Idle No More organizer stated “we are against shale gas exploration and fracking. We do not support puppet regimes that endorse extractive industry natural resource development on Indigenous lands. We support the FPIC of the Indigenous People’s impacted by extractive resource development on their Indigenous lands.”
Russell Diabo, a member of the Defenders of the Land network, added “the Lubicon Lake Nation protectors are rights holders and are to be commended for their personal sacrifice in camping in the bitter cold to stop unauthorized oil and natural gas development on their traditional lands.”
“The Canadian and provincial government’s current energy and mining policies are designed to destroy the environment. If they are genuinely interested in reshaping Canada’s energy policy in a positive direction they must recognize and affirm Aboriginal and Treaty Rights on the ground,” said Arthur Manuel, a member of the Defenders of the Land network.
What started in Saskatoon one year ago with a small teach-in grew into a global movement whose founders were recently named by Foreign Policy magazine to its top 100 global thinkers list.
The founders — Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean, and Nina Wilson — are on the list with other notables such as NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, Pope Francis, teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
The group’s entry on the list explains how the global movement started when the four women started emailing each other about concerns with proposed federal legislation affecting land management, water management and several other issues related to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. They started a Facebook page called “Idle No More” to coordinate local meetings and events.
“Before long, #IdleNoMore was trending on Twitter, and protests under the same name spread across Canada. Solidarity demonstrations also occurred in the United States, Europe, and Australia,” the entry states. “The protests in particular targeted Canada’s extractive industries, asserting that new pipelines and other projects would destroy land and disrupt ecosystems. One protest delayed exploratory drilling in British Columbia.”
This is the fifth year the magazine has put out the list.
“This (is a) remarkable list of people who, over the past year, have made a measurable difference in politics, business, technology, the arts, the sciences, and more,” the magazine states on its website.
Two Denver-based groups are set to protest against the Washington Redskins refusal to change its name and mascot.
Members of the American Indian Movement and Idle No More in Colorado will call on the football team to change its name at the Broncos-Redskins game on Sunday.
Protestors at Lambeau Field in Green Bay last month. (Associated Press)
Members of the group say that the name is “racist” and “an insult to all indigenous peoples.” They are also telling all Colorado news and sports journalists to banish the so-called ‘R’ word from their reporting; asking that local press such as The Denver Post and NBC’s KUSA to call them “the team from Washington, D.C.”
Both groups say that most American Indians consider the word to have a long racist history in the U.S.
In a news release, the group invited “all people of goodwill” to protest at the football game. Protestors will gather at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. No location or time information has been announced.
On Monday, October 7, 2013, indigenous nations and their allies held 70 actions throughout the world proclaiming their sovereignty. The call to action was issued by Idle No more and Defenders of the Land to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the British Royal Proclamation of 1763, which was the first document in which an imperial nation recognized indigenous sovereignty and their right to self-determination. As we wrote last week, treaties with First Nations are not being honored, and even the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not adequately recognize the sovereignty of indigenous peoples.
In Canada, where the Idle No More movement was founded, an attack is being waged by the Harper government on the rights of the First Nations. A bill referred to as C-45 weakens laws that protect the land and allows transnational corporations to extract resources from First Nations’ lands without their consent. Idle No More was founded on December 10, 2012 (the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), when Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike to protest C-45 on an island across from the Canadian Parliament.
The Idle No More (INM) movement has grown exponentially during the past year to become a worldwide movement. At its core, the INM taps into issues that are essential to all people. INM is a struggle against transnational corporations that collude with governments to allow the exploitation of people and the planet for profit, and it is a struggle for a new economic paradigm. INM is also about facing up to the horrific history of the way that colonizers have abused and disrespected indigenous peoples so that there can be reconciliation and justice and so that the peoples of the world can coexist peacefully. And INM is about the recognition that indigenous peoples are stewards of the Earth and must lead the way to protect the Earth and teach others to do the same.
Throughout the year, there have been teach-ins, round dances, flash mobs and rallies to raise awareness of the ongoing racist and exploitative treatment of indigenous nations as well as the continued decimation of their land to extract resources. There have been long walks, rides and canoe trips to call for healing of the Earth and for the recognition of indigenous sovereignty. And there have been blockades and other nonviolent direct actions to stop further degradation of the planet. INM has already achieved some successes.
Idle No More is an indigenous-led movement, but it is not a movement exclusive to indigenous people. As Clayton Thomas-Muller, an organizer with Defenders of the Land and Idle No More, states, “We understand that the rise of the native rights-based strategic framework as an effective legal strategy supported by a social movement strategic framework is the last best effort not just for Indigenous People but for all Canadians and Americans to protect the commons … from the for-profit agenda of the neoliberal free market strategists that have taken over our governments … and indigenous peoples have been thrust into the forefront of global social movements not just because of our connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth and our traditional ecological knowledge and understanding of how to take care of the Earth as part of that sacred circle of life but also because our ancestors … made sure we had the legal instruments to be able to confront the enemies of today and that is what Idle No More is doing in the US and Canada and across the world where Indigenous People continue to live under occupation and oppression.”
Sovereignty is Fundamental in the Struggle for Global Justice
The United States and Canada are two of the wealthiest nations in the world. Much of this wealth comes from the extraction of resources on land that belongs by treaty to Native Indians. Rather than honoring these treaties, the governments of the US and Canada have a long history, which continues today, of using laws and even manipulating the process of creating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to exterminate indigenous sovereignty.
As the extraction of resources becomes more extreme through processes such as hydro-fracking and tar sands excavation and the serious consequences this has on the health of people and the Earth become more apparent, indigenous nations have realized that their struggle for sovereignty must intensify. The INM movement is one manifestation of this effort.
One of the six core demands of the INM movement is to “Honour the spirit and intent of the historic Treaties. Officially repudiate the racist Doctrine of Discovery and the Doctrine of Terra Nullius, and abandon their use to justify the seizure of Indigenous Nations lands and wealth.” This is a particularly appropriate time to reflect on these doctrines as some in the United States celebrate Columbus Day.
Columbus used the Doctrine of Conquest to legitimize seizure of land in the Americas. This doctrine “grants invaders legal title to the lands they conquer.” Additionally, the Doctrine of Discovery from the early 1800s allowed colonizers to occupy and claim title to any lands, and their resources, that were not part of the European Christian monarchy. And the Doctrine of Terra Nullius similarly permitted colonizers to occupy and claim land that was not settled according to European standards, such as having an established township.
These doctrines continue today. The Doctrine of Discovery was codified into law by the Supreme Court decision of Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823, which left Native Indians “with the mere ‘right’ to occupy their ancestral lands, subject to U.S. dominion.” And so it is that Native Indians are subjected to policies that continue to allow corporations to extract resources and poison the air, land and water without their consent.
Although the INM movement began in Canada, it has also taken off in the US. And solidarity between Indian Nations in the US and Canada is developing. This summer, the Dakota Nation Unity Ride from Manitoba met up with the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign canoe trip in Woodstock, New York, to travel together to the United Nations in New York City. Two Row Wampum is the oldest treaty in North America between an Indian nation, the Haudenosaunee, and a European nation. This summer marked the 400th anniversary, which they highlighted with an epic canoe trip down the Hudson River.
The Two Row Wampum treaty ”outlines a mutual, three-part commitment to friendship, peace between peoples, and living in parallel forever (as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west).” The Two Row Wampum campaign seeks to uphold the treaty by creating friendship and peace between all peoples and by working together for a sustainable future, as outlined in their campaign goals. They seek recognition of their laws, the right to self-determination, including living in accordance with their culture and laws, and to be leaders in restoration and stewardship of the Earth.
This is a positive step, but the fight for sovereignty continues. Sylvia Mcadam, a founder of Idle No More and a professor and author, teaches that sovereignty includes “land, language and culture.” It is not just land that has been taken from indigenous peoples but also their language and culture through the forced attendance at residential schools and barriers to access their traditional foods. Mcadam states that her involvement in Idle No More began when she returned to her traditional land with her parents to do research for her current book. She was shocked to see how the land had been developed without consent of the people.
Mcadam reminds us that the First Nations are not a lawless people but that theCreator’s Laws are “expressed in everything we do.” Colonizers have a lot to learn from Native Indians – not only about caring for the Earth and living in ways that preserve resources for future generations but also about governance. Native Indians are matriarchal societies that practice deep democracy.
While indigenous people describe themselves as people who follow laws, they have suffered injustice on their lands. Last week, a panel of judges at the International Peoples Tribunal on Leonard Peltier issued an executive summary and preliminary findings following three days of testimony from Native Indians who described abuse inflicted by the US government and FBI agents. The tribunal concluded that US laws must be changed in order for FBI agents to be charged for their crimes of assault and murder on Pine Ridge Indian land in South Dakota and elsewhere. Further, the tribunal said justice is dependent on the immediate release of Leonard Peltier.
Non-indigenous groups are working in solidarity with Idle No More and other indigenous groups. For example, the Two Row Wampum campaign, led by the Onondaga Nation, works with Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation. This collaboration is particularly evident in the environmental movement.
Stewardship of the Land, Air and Water
Central to the Idle No More movement is protection of the land, air and water from corporations that steal resources without any regard for the environmental effects. Indigenous Peoples believe that many harmful substances, such as uranium and oils and gases, were put in the ground because they were meant to stay there. They oppose the extreme methods of extraction being used today.
During the past year, often with leadership from indigenous nations, the environmental movements in the US and Canada (and elsewhere around the world) have escalated their tactics to protect the Earth. Their focus has primarily been on stopping the pipelines that carry bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands and stopping fracking for oil and gas. Throughout the summer, there were numerous direct action campaigns, including Sovereignty Summer and Fearless Summer, which collaborated to blockade roads and equipment to prevent pipeline construction.
We highlight three active campaigns that are being led by indigenous nations: The Red Nation’s efforts against an Enbridge pipeline, the Nez Perce fight to stop Megaloads from carrying humongous pieces of equipment through their lands and the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society, which evicted a fracking company, SWN Resources, from its land.
On February 28, Marty Cobenais from the Indigenous Environmental Network ledthe beginning of an occupation, which included building a sacred fire on top of a pipeline that runs across Red Lake Tribal land in Leonard, Minnesota. The pipeline carries bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands, which is being mined and poisoning the land of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Canada without their consent. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge, and the Red Lake tribal members say that it is illegal. They understood that there was a requirement that if there were a permanent structure over the pipeline it would have to be shut down. Unfortunately, that has not happened, and in fact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously this summer to allow the pipeline to be expanded to carry more tar sands bitumen even though hundreds attended the hearing in opposition to it.
The occupation is ongoing and is being supported by indigenous and non-indigenous environmental organizations. In October 2013, Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls led a weeklong Honour the Earth horseback ride along the route of the pipeline to raise awareness. They are very concerned about spills from the pipeline, which are inevitable. Enbridge has a poor safety record.
Spills have occurred already. In 2002, 48,000 gallons spilled near Cass Lake, Minnesota, and continues to pollute the water table. In 2010, more than 800,000 gallons spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and nearly 300,000 gallons remain today. And last year, 50,000 gallons spilled near Grand Marsh, Wisconsin. The pipeline runs through the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan, and so it threatens to contaminate large supplies of fresh water.
A very similar battle is occurring between the Yinka Dene Alliance in British Columbia and Enbridge. There the Yinka Dene is accusing the British Columbia government of violating international law by issuing permits to Enbridge Inc. for drilling and tree removal in their territories along the proposed path for the Northern Gateway pipeline, despite their opposition and the lack of consultation on the proposed pipeline. They made the accusations in a 15-page submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Although the fight against Enbridge and the governments that collude with them have not made much progress, the Nez Perce in Idaho have won a significant victory. Last month a judge ordered the prohibition on the use of 100 miles of roadways through tribal lands to transport huge pieces of equipment, called Megaloads, made by General Electric that are used in extracting Canadian tar sands.
Tribal members filed a court case in August to prevent the Megaloads from crossing their land, something that is already illegal but wasn’t being enforced. They also blockaded the road in August to prevent passage of a Megaload. During the four-day blockade, eight of nine Nez Perce Tribal Council leaders were arrested.
The judge’s decision suspends the passage of Megaloads for now and may be lifted after an impact study is completed. However, another significant aspect of this decision is that the Nez Perce Tribal Council must be involved in future decisions to permit the Megaloads to use roads through their lands.
Another active occupation to protect tribal land is in New Brunswick, where the Elsipogtog have been taking action for months to stop a Houston-based company, SWN Resources, from exploring their land to begin fracking. Tribal members blockaded SWN work trucks throughout the early summer to prevent them from testing the land for potential fracking. In addition to blockading, some of SWN’s equipment was destroyed.
There was a temporary peace beginning in late July, when SWN Resources agreed to leave for the summer. Negotiations at that time included dropping charges against 25 of the 35 people who had been arrested. SWN did say it expected to return in September.
When SWN Resources recently attempted to return, it was met with an eviction notice and another blockade, which included a sacred fire. The Elsipogtog First Nation and Mi’kmaq Warrior Society contend that the land being explored was supposed to be held in trust for them but that the Canadian government has done such a poor job of caring for the land that the tribes are concerned whether the land will be able to support them. Along with the eviction notice, they are claiming sovereignty over the land and their responsibility to care for it.
On October 7, in solidarity with the days of action to proclaim indigenous sovereignty, activists in Houston delivered an eviction notice from the Elsipogtog to the office of SWN Resources. Office staff members refused to accept the letter, so it was left on the receptionist’s desk and copies were faxed directly to the office. The letter requested a response within 48 hours.
At present, the blockade continues. Some of the chiefs met with David Alward, premier of New Brunswick, but the talks have not been satisfactory. Alward would not allow members of the Mi’kmaq Warrior Society to attend the meetings. The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society is calling for solidarity actions October 18, when they expect SWN to serve a court injunction. The blockade has brought together tremendous support from the surrounding community and tribes across Canada.
Moving Toward Peace and a Healthy Planet for Future Generations
Also on October 7, members of Veterans for Peace and their allies held a ceremony in the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in New York City to mark the 12th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan and to oppose all wars. As they did last year, the veterans read the names of those who were killed in wars and laid flowers at the base of the memorial. However, this year, the organizer, Tarak Kauff, began the ceremony by recognizing the 500-year war against First Nations and read the names of Native Indian warriors who were killed.
A shift seems to be happening in public awareness of the ongoing effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples and the importance of indigenous leadership in the struggle to heal and protect the Earth. During the past year, the indigenous-led movement in collaboration with non-indigenous allies has grown, and the tactics being employed to protect the land from extreme energy extraction have escalated.
Just as we must abolish imperialism abroad, we must also end it at home. To accomplish this, we must begin by understanding the ongoing 500-year war against Native Indians, and we must begin to speak about it. The Idle No More and other indigenous-led movements seek a peaceful solution that recognizes the sovereignty of indigenous peoples and their laws so that everyone can live in peace. And they understand that if we are to end the practices that are destroying the Earth, we must learn from those who are stewards of the Earth.
It is time for all of us to be Idle No More. We face common opponents – corporations that profit by exploiting people and the planet and the governments who collude with them. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, currently being negotiated, continues this global exploitation of the planet and people by transnational corporate interests. It is time to end imperialism and the neoliberal economic agenda that perpetuates this destructive behavior.
It is time for solidarity, cooperation, reconciliation and restoration of peaceful human relationships and the land, air and water. It is imperative that we act now so our children and future generations will have the opportunity for healthy lives. The future is literally in our hands.