Snooping Idle No More

 When Native protestors were talking last year, Canadian intelligence agency was paying close attention

Photo: Blair Gable

Photo: Blair Gable

Justin Ling, MACLEANS’s

Sitting in her teepee on Ottawa’s Victoria Island in December 2012, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence was officially starting her hunger strike, breathing fire into the Idle No More movement and setting off a chain reaction that would eventually force Ottawa into talks on the nature of Canada’s relationship with First Nations. Meanwhile, five blocks away as the crow flies, the federal government’s security and emergency nervous system was ramping up its efforts to keep tabs on the movement. Just how extensive, and often ham-handed, the surveillance was is only now coming to light with the release of thousands of new documents.

The little-known Government Operations Centre ran that surveillance program from Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue West. Half of the program included public “situational awareness reports” on the protests. But the government also prepared secret “restricted distribution addendums” that were forwarded to CSIS, the RCMP and the Defence Ministry’s Canadian Joint Operations Command. They included exclusive information on proposed economic disruptions, such as bridge and rail blockades. One classified report released Jan. 2 noted the joint American-Canadian-operated Blue Water Bridge “would not tolerate any bridge closures/slowdowns.”

CSIS’s involvement is revealed in other ways. On Jan. 17, representatives from Aboriginal Affairs, the RCMP and the spy agency’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) met to discuss the “potential for escalation” for the movement. The centre, created in 2004 and housed within CSIS, does threat assessments for domestic and foreign terror attacks. According to a CSIS spokesperson, ITAC was only involved due to a threat against Idle No More itself. “ITAC does not monitor Idle No More, as they do not meet the definition of terrorism from the Criminal Code of Canada,” the spokesperson says. Meeting notes suggest officials feared that outside groups were attempting to infiltrate Idle No More. “Non-Aboriginal movements [are] starting to move in,” the notes stated, including “anarchists” and the “black bloc.” CSIS would not comment on the specifics of their concerns.

Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay—which includes Spence’s Attawapiskat reserve—is not surprised at the resources Ottawa poured into its response to the protest. “The message was always that these manifestations of outpouring of First Nations were something that needed to be managed, something to contain and possibly a threat,” he says. He accepts there may have been more radical elements in the movement. “Of course there are other left-wing groups that might join, but there was never any sense, as far as I can see, of menace or threat.”

Emails to and from Aboriginal Affairs staffers cite social media and “open-source reporting” as main sources of information—something Pamela Palmater, a political science professor at Ryerson University and a First Nations activist heavily involved in Idle No More, saw first-hand. She’d suspected government staffers were watching her social-media profiles. “They’re easy to pick out on Facebook,” she says. They’d add her as a friend and offer counterpoints to her posts that bore a striking resemblance to departmental talking points. “Who is it they’re watching? They’re watching people like me, who have no criminal record, doing nothing violent.”

Palmater says that at one talk she gave about Idle No More, she jokingly said that if any government staffers were in the audience, they were obliged to come forward. By the end, three staffers from Aboriginal Affairs and Justice had lined up to out themselves.

At one point, a group of developers created an Idle No More app that allowed activists to share information and plan protests, flash mobs and round dances. Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Michael Wernick contacted his communications director to see if the office could surreptitiously piggyback on the app to get its own message across. “Is it in any way feasible to get our backgrounders into the flow of this app without the appearance of [government] ringers calling into an open-line show?” he asks in one document.

Whether the government actually followed through is not clear. However Steven Bryant, who co-created the app, says, “We definitely did wonder when we had some of our signups.” He says a slew of the addresses came from downtown Ottawa, and he suspected that government staff were using his app.

Media lines from the department stress that the federal government does not operate as Big Brother to First Nations: “[Aboriginal Affairs] does not perform any type of ‘surveillance’ of any individuals, groups, or communities,” says one communiqué. Palmater scoffs at that, citing the case of Cindy Blackstock, a First Nations child rights advocate who was under surveillance by the government’s own admission. With Idle No More, it’s snooping, not spying; still, “I don’t think they should be treating us like domestic terrorists,” says Palmater.

Chaos on the Clearwater River: Second night of tar sands megaload blockades

nez-perceSource: Earth First! Newswire

After a three-hour blockade involving upwards of 150-200 people from the Nez Perce Nation, Idle No More, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide, activists once again dedicated themselves last night to stopping megaload shipments through Idaho.

Omega Morgan, the company responsible for the transport of the 200-ton megaload, has been warned by the Forest Service that the shipment is unauthorized, and the Nez Perce tribe is seeking an injunction. However, Omega Morgan is trying to sneak the megaload through against the law, so direct action must be taken.

The Nez Perce put out a call yesterday for activists to join them in renewed efforts to stop the tar sands equipment from moving through Highway 12. More than 50 protestors came out. They were met by a force of 40-50 police officers in a fleet of cars.

Police gave protesters 15 minutes to speak out as they blocked the roadway, before being forced to move to the shoulder. Some young activists decided to maintain the presence of the blockade by heaving boulders and large rocks into the streets, which held traffic up further.

Several Nez Perce tribe-members were arrested, adding to the 19 arrested on Monday night (including the entire executive committee).

Grassroots anti-pipeline groups and Idle No More say “Enbridge no more! Shut down the tar sands!”

sarnia_kala_anniversaryjpgSource: Intercontinental Cry, July 27, 2013

Today, members of Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP) along with supporters of the Idle No More movement and environmental groups gathered in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley at Lasalle Line where Enbridge’s Line 9 comes above ground across the road from the border of the Aamjiwnaang reserve. Community members and grassroots activists briefly blocked the Lasalle Line road with a mock oil spill, calling attention to the risks posed by the Line 9 Reversal Project and to commemorate the 3 year anniversary of the Line 6 spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The demonstration on Lasalle Line is at the spot where Line 9 comes above ground and there is a small Enbridge facility right on the edge of Aamjiwnaang. At this site, Aamjiwnaang community members will conduct a land protection ceremony.

The Line 9 Reversal Project is Enbridge’s plan to ship tar sands oil east for export through a nearly 40 year old pipeline for which experts not employed by oil companies agree that it is a matter of when, not if, this line will spill.

Today’s demonstrators call attention to the broader destruction caused by the tar sands and not just the local risks posed by the Line 9 reversal Project. “All pipeline spills are overlooked by the media all the time,” says Vanessa Gray, a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation and a founding member of ASAP. “The problem is not how we transport the product, it’s the product itself and the oil companies we should question. The Tar Sands is the most destructive project exploiting First Nation’s territories on Turtle Island today and the future generations of all peoples are depending on the actions we take to defend the air, water, and land we need.” said Gray.

Today’s demonstration was called to commemorate the three year anniversary of the spill on Enbridge’s Line 6 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which started spilling on July 25, 2010, and was the largest inland oil spill in US history. Communities around that spill site continue to deal with devastating local environmental and health impacts. However, the message coming from Chloe Gleichman of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands was similar to Gray’s, in that she too was interested in focussing on broader, rather than local impacts.

“The community and climate devastation caused by tar sands transcends fabricated boundaries drawn by governments and authorities in collusion with companies like Enbridge,” said Gleichman. “Tar sands development is industrial genocide to indigenous cultures, ecosystems, and anyone who stands in the way of infrastructure expansion. We must resist Enbridge because no community should become collateral damage in the endless and reckless pursuit of profit,” she said.

Clayton Thomas Muller, National Campaigner for Idle No More’s Sovereignty Summer (#SovSummer) campaign, says that, “a movement is rising up from coast to coast to coast against the Canadian Tar Sands and will continue to grow incrementally until we take back our democracy from the hands of corporations like Enbridge who would see all our streets, rivers, lakes and coastal areas destroyed by tar sands pipeline spills.” Thomas-Muller continues, “We will not stop until the six core demands of Idle No More & Defenders of the Land’s campaign, #SovSummer, including the right of communities to say NO are respected by the Harper Government.”

Idle No More delivers Sovereignty Summer message for Canada Day – This is stolen Native land.

idle-no-more-delivers-sovereignty-summer-message-for-canada-day-this-is-stolen-native-land-300x200-1Activists with No More Silence and Idle No More unveil surprise banner at Canada Day celebration in Toronto, call attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Source: Climate Connections, July 1, 2013

At this evening’s Canada celebration at Mel Lastman Square, a group of activists as part of Idle No More’s Sovereignty Summer campaign, scaled the main stage at Toronto’s official Canada Celebration and ‘dropped’ a banner reading, “Oh Canada, your home on Stolen Native Land.”

Also, members and supporters of the group No More Silence were on hand at Mel Lastman’s Square handing out educational flyer’s about Idle No More and also No More Silence’s campaign to call attention to the tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Silvia McAdams, a spokesperson for Idle No More says, “there is a deep interconnection between the ongoing extractive industries based economy of Canada and the violence that industry represents against our most sacred mother earth and this country’s ongoing failures to address and resolve the murdered and missing First Nations  women’s  and girls’ crisis. Sovereignty Summer calls for an immediate national Inquiry led by grassroots Indigenous women to develop a national action plan.”

Also on hand were activists dressed up as a promotional team from RBC, handing out flyers for a fictional “Colonialism Dividend” for Canada Day. “The point of this is to call attention to the source of Canadian wealth: Native land and resources,” says Audrey Huntely of No More Silence. “While the stereotype of the drunken lazy Indian living on hand outs persists it is in fact Native land and resources that make up the riches of this country – projects like the tar sands financed by banks such as RBC generate huge profits for a few while destroying the land and communities in their path. Hand in hand with this destruction go skyrocketing rates of violence against women. In fact Native women are five to seven times more likely to be murdered than other women,” Huntley says.

Sovereignty Summer is the new campaign of the Idle No More movement and the Defenders of the Land Network, intended as an education and action-based campaign focused on Indigenous Rights and in defense of Mother Earth. Building on the momentum and enthusiasm of the Idle No More Winter and Spring towards a strategic and effective next stage of this movement.

Occupy and Idle No More could team up to block pipelines going east

By John Ivison, National Post, June 27,2013

The failure of Canadian oil and gas producers to get world prices for their product costs the country $28-billion a year, according to the last budget, reducing federal government revenues by $4-billion. No wonder Ottawa has been so keen to push projects that would help get natural resources to Asian and European markets.

Part of the solution is to build new pipelines, but the news on that front has been decidedly mixed. The Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C., looks as dead as a Norwegian blue parrot. The regulatory process is still ongoing, but negative public sentiment in B.C. makes it look a long shot.

The Keystone pipeline between Alberta and the Gulf Coast hangs in the balance, at the mercy of Barack Obama’s new climate change action plan. The President said Tuesday the project will only be given the go-ahead if it does not “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution. Quite what that means remains a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Like Churchill’s famous quote about Russia, the key to that riddle may be America’s national interest. The Harper government argues this would be best served by North American energy security, where Canadian crude replaces equally high carbon imports from Venezuela and Nigeria. It’s not yet clear whether the President is convinced.

Such is the uncertain future of both projects that great store has been placed in nascent plans by both Enbridge and Trans Canada Corp. to transport crude eastward to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick, from where it could be exported. (Enbridge is proposing to reverse an existing oil pipeline between Sarnia and Montreal. Line 9A from Sarnia to Westover, near Hamilton, has been granted regulatory approval; public hearings on Line 9B to Montreal will begin this fall. Trans Canada is proposing to convert existing natural gas pipelines for oil transportation between Alberta and tank terminals in Quebec City and Saint John, N.B.).

Politicians of all stripes have shown unusual solidarity in support of moving oilsands crude eastward. The good news for the pipeline companies is that there has not been concerted opposition from environmental and native groups to their proposals – until now.

Last Thursday, a group of environmental protestors took over a pumping station north of Hamilton. The action, dubbed Swamp Line 9, was aimed at blocking plans by Enbridge to reverse Line 9’s flow pipeline, which would allow it to eventually pump up to 300,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from the oilsands.

Early Wednesday, police raided the Enbridge pumping station and arrested 20 people.

But that is unlikely to be the end of the matter. The protest was supported by numerous environmental groups, Idle No More and the Occupy movement. This is the activist equivalent of a camel – the veritable horse designed by committee. Each group has its own agenda – the environmental NGOs want to make Energy East a proxy war for the oilsands and bottleneck production on the Prairies; Idle No More threatens more non-violent protests as part of its Sovereignty Summer, unless Ottawa recognizes the rights of native groups to say no to development on their traditional lands (among other demands); while Occupy calls for a “total restructuring of the political and economic system” no less.

Line 9 has been carrying conventional crude from east to west for 20 years without incident, but this protest has been sparked by claims that diluted bitumen from the oilsands is more acidic and corrosive, and thus more likely to spill
Line 9 has been carrying conventional crude from east to west for 20 years without incident, but this protest has been sparked by claims that diluted bitumen from the oilsands is more acidic and corrosive, and thus more likely to spill.

With uncanny timing, the protest culminated just as the U.S. National Research Council released its findings on the transportation of diluted bitumen, concluding that claims by such groups as Friends of the Earth are false. “Diluted bitumen has no greater likelihood of accidental pipeline release than other crude,” the report said.

However, as native environmental activist Clayton Thomas Muller pointed out, Enbridge’s track record on leaks has done the protesters a big favour. It was an Enbridge pipeline that spilled 3.3 million litres of oil in Michigan and the company reported another leak in northern Alberta last weekend.

“Their narrative is unraveling with every spill,” he said.

The Sovereignty Summer is still in its infancy – rallies in sympathy with the Swamp Line 9 protest across the country were sparsely attended Tuesday. But if unrest becomes more coordinated, this could be the start of a long, hot summer.

Line 9 runs through the traditional lands of the Six Nations of the Grand River in southwestern Ontario. As the Six Nations proved in the Caledonia land dispute, they are a far bigger impediment to development they consider unwelcome than a rag-tag band of environmentalists.

While the sea may refuse no river, the quest for Canadian crude to reach tidewater is proving a good deal more problematic.

Sovereignty Summer to ‘increase tension’ over rights during summer of action

Members of the Haisla First Nation march in Kitimat, B.C. as part of a rally in support of the Idle No More movement in 2012. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland

Members of the Haisla First Nation march in Kitimat, B.C. as part of a rally in support of the Idle No More movement in 2012. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland

Michael Woods,

Indigenous rights activists are aiming to “increase tension” this summer to oppose the Harper government’s agenda, which they say ignores aboriginal rights and weakens environmental protections.

Friday, National Aboriginal Day, marks the launch of the so-called “Sovereignty Summer” in which the grassroots indigenous Idle No More movement says it will band together with other activist groups to plan “non-violent direct action” across the country.

“The point is to increase tension,” said Sheelah McLean, one of Idle No More’s four co-founders. “To raise awareness and increase tension between people who are wanting to assert their rights and people who are unjustly forgetting about the rights of indigenous peoples.”

At play are many of the same issues that helped galvanize the indigenous movement in December and January when protests reached their peak: matters such as implementing historic treaty rights, the federal government’s changes to environmental protections, and consultation with aboriginals regarding resource development on their traditional lands.

“The one thing that’s going to stop this resource hyper-extraction is the rights of indigenous Canadians, and Canadians have to stand behind them,” McLean said. “Pressure on the government is essential.”

Idle No More grew in reaction to Conservative omnibus legislation that, opponents say, infringed on indigenous rights and weakened environmental protections. It helped lead to a meeting in January between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders, but many aboriginal leaders and activists have lamented a lack of progress since then.

Now, Idle No More has joined with Defenders of the Land, a group of indigenous activists formed in 2008. McLean said it was a natural fit: much of Idle No More activity has taken place in urban areas, but Defenders of the Land works mostly in remote areas.

Organizers say “non-violent direct action” will cover a wide spectrum, and individual communities will decide what it means. But it could include banner drops, camping, rallies, round dances – and even blockades. Whatever the methods, McLean says tension will continue to escalate if the government ignores aboriginal issues.

“The government is counting on settler Canadians not understanding these issues,” McLean said. “What we’re hoping is to focus on these issues by any means possible to educate people on why they need to stand behind indigenous communities to protect the land.”

Andrea Richer, spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, said the government is “always prepared to work with those First Nations, and other partners, who want to achieve results.”

“Canadians have a right to peaceful protest, but much more can be accomplished by working together,” Richer said. “While we may not always agree on the way forward, we do agree that it is critical we demonstrate concrete movement on some of the key issues like education, skills and training and economic development.”

Sovereignty Summer national campaigner Clayton Thomas-Muller said there will be “major actions” in mid-July and early August, but declined to provide details. He said the end of the summer would feature “mass mobilization” in urban centres across the country.

Protests will highlight various land-based struggles: Thomas-Muller said there are “dozens and dozens that are potential powder kegs” including proposed pipeline paths, disputes with provincial governments, and proposed hydroelectric and uranium mining expansions.

The groups have listed six demands which include repealing provisions of Bill C-45, the government’s omnibus budget bill that made changes to the Navigable Waters Act; recognition of Aboriginal title and rights; respecting indigenous rights to free, prior and informed consent on matters that may affect them; honouring historic treaties; and launching a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

“Our goal is to … bring this government to a place where they have no choice but to act,” Thomas-Muller said. “What we’re talking about is stopping the ability of Canada to operate as business as usual until the government addresses these six core things.

“It’s ‘go’ time. These are life and death situations, and there needs to be real political will taken to respond to them.”

Friday’s National Aboriginal Day features events across the country that will celebrate aboriginal history and culture. Opposition leader Tom Mulcair, for example, will join a march in solidarity with First Nations starting on Victoria Island near Parliament Hill, the site of Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence’s January protest liquid diet, and ending in a speech on the Hill.

Unlikely Alliances: Treaty conflicts and environmental cooperation between Native American and rural White communities


Idle No More and Building Bridges Through Native Sovereignty


By Zoltan Grossman as seen on Unsettling America

“The natural resources we all depend upon must be protected for future generations….to bring us to a place where there is a quality of life, and where Indians and non-Indians are to understand one another and work together.”  — Billy Frank, Jr. (Nisqually)

In the 2010s, new “unlikely alliances” of Native peoples and their rural white neighbors are standing strong against fossil fuel and mining projects. In the Great Plains, grassroots coalitions of Native peoples and white ranchers and farmers (including the aptly named “Cowboy and Indian Alliance”) are blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline and coal mining. In the Pacific Northwest, Native nations are using their treaties against plans for coal and oil terminals, partly because shipping and burning fossil fuels threatens their treaty fishery. In the Great Lakes, Bad River Ojibwe are leading the fight to stop metallic mining, drawing on past anti-mining alliances of Ojibwe and white fishers. In the Maritimes, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet are confronting shale gas fracking, joined by non-Native neighbors.

The Idle No More movement similarly connects First Nations’ sovereignty to the protection of the Earth for all people—Native and non-Native alike. Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam states, “Indigenous sovereignty is all about protecting the land, the water, the animals, and all the environment we share.” Gyasi Ross observes that Idle No More “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…. It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a ‘protect the Earth’ thing.”

A debate around Idle No More discusses how the movement can reach the non-Native public. In any alliance, the same question always arises at the intersection of unity and autonomy. Should the so-called “minority” partners in the alliance set aside their own distinct issues in order to build bridges to the “majority” over common-ground concerns, such as protecting the Earth? Should Native leadership, for example, not as strongly assert treaty rights and tribal sovereignty to avoid alienating potential allies among their white neighbors? Conventional wisdom says that we should all “get along” for the greater good, and that different peoples should only talk about “universalist” similarities that unite them, not “particularist” differences that separate them.

In my both my activism and academic studies, I’ve often wrestled with this question, and spoken with many Native and non-Native activists and scholars who also deal with it. Based on their stories and experiences, I’ve concluded that the conventional wisdom is largely bullshit. Emphasizing unity over diversity can actually be harmful to building deep, lasting alliances between Native and non-Native communities. History shows the opposite to be true: the stronger that Native peoples assert their nationhood, the stronger their alliances with non-Indian neighbors.

Unlikely Alliances

Since the 1970s, unlikely alliances have joined Native communities with their rural white neighbors (some of whom had been their worst enemies) to protect their common lands and waters. These unique convergences have confronted mines, dams, logging, power lines, nuclear waste, military projects, and other threats. My main education has been as an activist in unlikely alliances in South Dakota and Wisconsin. As a geography grad student I later studied them in other states (such as Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) where they took different paths from treaty conflict to environmental cooperation, and had varying degrees of success.

* In South Dakota in the late 1970s, Lakota communities and white ranchers were often at odds over water rights and the tribal claim to the sacred Black Hills. Yet despite the intense Indian-white conflicts, the two groups came together against coal and uranium mining, which would endanger the groundwater. The Native activists and conservative-looking ranchers formed the Black Hills Alliance (where I began my activism 35 years ago) to halt the mining plans, and later formed the Cowboy and Indian Alliance (or CIA), which has since worked to stop a bombing range, coal trains, and oil pipeline.

* In roughly the same era of the 1960s and ‘70s, a fishing rights conflict had torn apart Washington State. The federal courts recognized treaty rights in 1974, and by the 1980s the tribes began to use treaties as a legal tool to protect and restore fish habitat. The result was State-Tribal “co-management,” recognizing that the tribes have a seat at the table on natural resource issues outside the reservations. The Nisqually Tribe, for instance, is today recognized in its watershed as the lead entity in creating salmon habitat management plans for private farm owners, and state and federal agencies. The watershed is healing because the Tribe is beginning to decolonize its historic lands.

* Another treaty confrontation erupted in northern Wisconsin in the late 1980s, when crowds of white sportsmen gathered to protest Ojibwe treaty rights to spear fish. Even as the racist harassment and violence raged, tribes presented their sovereignty as a legal obstacles to mining plans, and formed alliances such as the Midwest Treaty Network. Instead of continuing to argue over the fish, some white fishing groups began to cooperate with tribes to protect the fish, and won victories against the world’s largest mining companies. After witnessing the fishing war, seeing the 2003 defeat of the Crandon mine gave us some real hope.

In each of these cases, Native peoples and their rural white neighbors found common cause to defend their mutual place, and unexpectedly came together to protect their environment and economy from an outside threat, and a common enemy. They knew that if they continued to fight over resources, there may not be any left to fight over. Some rural whites began to see Native treaties and sovereignty as better protectors of common ground than their own governments. Racial prejudice is still alive and well in these regions, but the organized racist groups are weaker because they have lost many of their followers to these alliances.

Cooperation growing from conflict

It would make logical sense that the greatest cooperation would develop in the areas with the least prior conflict. Yet a recurring irony is that cooperation more easily developed in areas where tribes had most strongly asserted their rights, and the white backlash had been the most intense. Treaty claims in the short run caused conflict, but in the long run educated whites about tribal cultures and legal powers, and strengthened the commitment of both communities to value the resources. A common “sense of place” extended beyond the immediate threat, and redefined their idea of “home” to include their neighbors. As Mole Lake Ojibwe elder Frances Van Zile said, “This is my home; when it’s your home you try to take as good care of it as how can, including all the people in it.”

These alliances challenge the idea that “particularism” (such as Native identity) is always in contradiction to “universalism” (such as environmental protection). The assertion of Indigenous political strength does *not* weaken the idea of joining with non-Natives to defend the land, and can even strengthen it. The stories of these alliances may identify ways to weave together the assertion of differences between cultures with the goal of finding common-ground similarities between them. (I’m perhaps drawn to this hope because of my own Hungarian background, with a Jewish father whose family was decimated by genocide, and a Catholic mother whose family valued its cultural identity, and my attempts to navigate between the fear and celebration of ethnic pride.)

Alliances based on “universalist” similarities tend to fail without respecting “particularist” differences. The idea of “why can’t we all just get along” (like “United We Stand”) is often used to suppress marginalized voices, asking them to sideline their demands. This overemphasis on unity makes alliances more vulnerable, since authorities may try to divide them by meeting the demands of the (relatively advantaged) white members. A few alliances (such as against low-level military flights) floundered because the white “allies” declared victory and went home, and did not keep up the fight to also win the demands of their Native neighbors. “Unity” is not enough when it is a unity of unequal partners; Native leadership needs to always be involved in the decision-making process.

But successful alliances can go beyond temporary “alliances of convenience” to building lasting connections. In Washington State, local tribal/non-tribal cooperation to restore salmon habitat provides a template for collaboration in response to climate change. The Tulalip Tribes, for example, are cooperating with dairy farmers to keep cattle waste out of the Snohomish watershed’s salmon streams, by converting it into biogas energy. Farmers who had battled tribes now benefit from tribal sustainable practices. The anthology we recently edited at The Evergreen State College, “Asserting Native Resilience”, tells some of these stories of local and regional collaboration for resilience.

Idle-No-MoreIdle No More and “Occupy”

With the rise of the Idle No More and Occupy movements, we have an unprecedented opportunity to grow this cooperation beyond local and regional levels, to national and global scales. Whether Occupy or Idle No More still draw huge crowds is beside the point, because they both have popularized powerful ideas that were not widely discussed even three years ago. The Occupy movement (despite its unfortunately inappropriate name) questions the concentration of wealth under capitalism, the economic system that has also occupied and exploited Native nations. Although a few protest camps (like in Albuquerque), changed their name to “(un)Occupy” to make this point, other camps rarely extended the discussion beyond class inequalities.

Idle No More deals with the flip side of the coin: how to make an understanding of colonization relevant to the majority struggling to live day-to-day under capitalism. Leanne Simpson* *sees Idle No More as “an opportunity for the environmental movement, for social-justice groups, and for mainstream Canadians to stand with us…. We have a lot of ideas about how to live gently within our territory in a way where we have separate jurisdictions and separate nations but over a shared territory. I think there’s a responsibility on the part of mainstream community and society to figure out a way of living more sustainably and extracting themselves from extractivist thinking.”

While the Occupy movement has questioned the unequal distribution of wealth in Western capitalism, Idle No More confronts the colonization of land and extraction of the resources that are the basis of that wealth. While thinking about fairly distributing the stuff, think about where the stuff comes from in the first place—as the spoils of empire. Idle No More’s seemingly “particularist” message actually advances the universalist goals of the global anti-capitalist movement. Our solutions should not aim for a more egalitarian society that continues to exploit the Earth, nor a more sustainable society that continues to exploit human beings—the world needs both social equality and ecological resilience. And both movements have common historical roots, because the class system and large-scale natural resources extraction both originated in Europe at roughly the same time.

Colonizing Europe

To witness the decolonization of Native lands is to see a small reversal in the process of European colonization that began centuries ago, within Europe itself. In her classic study *The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution*, Carolyn Merchant documents how Western European elites suppressed the remnants of European indigenous knowledge, as a key element of colonizing villagers’ lands and resources in the 17thcentury. Merchant saw links between the mass executions of women healers (who used ancient herbal knowledge), the draining of wetlands, metallic mining, the restriction of villagers’ hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on lands they had held in common, and the division of the Commons into private plots.

This “enclosure of the Commons” sparked peasant rebellions and Robin Hood-style rebel movements. The Irish resisted English settler colonization, which was a testing ground for methods of control later used in Native America, against clan structures, collective lands, knowledge systems, and spiritual beliefs. In the meantime, the European encounter with more egalitarian Indigenous societies convinced some scholars (such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Lewis Henry Morgan) that class hierarchy was not the natural order, and they in turn influenced many of the social philosophers and rebels of the 19th century.

The elites’ promise of settling stolen Native land became a “safety valve” to defuse working-class unrest in Europe and the East Coast. But even at the height of the Indian Wars, a small minority of settlers sympathized with Native resistance, or opposed the forced removal of their Indigenous neighbors. Some Europeans and Africans attracted to freer Native societies even became kin to Native families. We never read these stories of Native/non-Native cooperation in history books, because they undercut the myth of colonization as an inevitable “Manifest Destiny.” But there were always better paths not followed.

Non-Native Responsibilities

The continued existence of Native nationhood today, as Audra Simpson points out, undermines the claims of settler colonial states to the land. Unlikely alliances can help chip away at the legitimacy of colonial structures, even among the settlers themselves. To stand in solidarity with Indigenous nations is not just to “support Native rights,” but to strike at the very underpinnings of the Western social order, and begin to free Native and non-Native peoples. As Harsha Walia writes, “I have been encouraged to think of human interconnectedness and kinship in building alliances with Indigenous communities… striving toward decolonization and walking together toward transformation requires us to challenge a dehumanizing social organization that perpetuates our isolation from each other and normalizes a lack of responsibility to one another and the Earth.”

By asserting their treaty rights and sovereignty, Indigenous nations are benefiting not only themselves, but also their treaty partners. Since Europeans in North America are more separated in time and place from their indigenous origins, they need to respectfully ally with Native nations to help find their own path to what it means to be a human being living on the Earth–without appropriating Native cultures. It is not the role of non-Natives to dissect Native cultures, but to study Native/non-Native relations, and white attitudes and policies. The responsibility of non-Natives is to help remove the barriers and obstacles to Native sovereignty in their own governments and communities.

Non-Native neighbors can begin to look to Native nations for models to make their own communities more socially just, more ecologically resilient, and more hopeful. As Red Cliff Ojibwe organizer Walt Bresette once told Wisconsin non-Natives fighting a proposed mine, “You can all love this land as much as we do.”


Zoltan Grossman is a Professor of Geography and Native Studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He is a longtime community organizer, and was a co-founder of the Midwest Treaty Network in Wisconsin. His dissertation explored “Unlikely Alliances: Treaty Conflicts and Environmental Cooperation Between Rural Native and White Communities (University of Wisconsin Department of Geography, 2002). He is co-editor (with Alan Parker) of “Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis” (Oregon State University Press, 2012).

Colorado Idle No More Won’t Back Down, Rallies Opposing Keystone XL Pipeline

The crowd at a climate rally in downtown Denver February 17 numbered up to 500 at its height. The rally was in solidarity with a climate event that drew thousands in Washington, D.C. and in at least 15 states and it included a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Carol Berry.

The crowd at a climate rally in downtown Denver February 17 numbered up to 500 at its height. The rally was in solidarity with a climate event that drew thousands in Washington, D.C. and in at least 15 states and it included a protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Photo: Carol Berry.

Carol Berry, Indian Country Today Media Network

The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, if approved, will be “built through sacred sites, traditional camp grounds and areas full of Native history,” warned a young Native woman whose organization, Idle No More, was one of 30 Colorado groups rallying in Denver February 17 as thousands of activists gathered in the nation’s capital and elsewhere.

Taryn Soncee Waters, 21, Cheyenne/Oglala Lakota/Cherokee, described the danger to Native patrimony to those gathered at a downtown Denver park in balmy weather. Cheyenne Birdshead, 17, Southern Cheyenne/Arapaho, another Idle organizer and speaker, described being arrested “simply for taking part in one of our Native dances.”

Local Idle concerns about damage to Mother Earth and Native culture from the Keystone XL Pipeline meshed with worries about “climate chaos” and other ecological issues raised by various groups at the rally, but the Idle voice was uniquely defiant, learned from generations of those who refused to yield.


People attending the rally in Denver February 17 were asked to wear dark clothing in order to depict an oil spill of the kind described as likely to happen with any pipeline, including the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. (Carol Berry)
People attending the rally in Denver February 17 were asked to wear dark clothing in order to depict an oil spill of the kind described as likely to happen with any pipeline, including the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. (Carol Berry)

To bring the XL Pipeline issues home graphically, black-clad participants in the #Forward on Climate Solidarity March and Rally depicted an “oil spill”—an occurrence inevitable with pipelines, they said—by lying in a large group, a self-styled blob, on a paved area near Denver’s Civic Center Park.

There were speeches, musical numbers, and the opportunity to sign petitions, one of them urging President Barack Obama not to approve the 1,700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline that would move heavy crude oil from vast Alberta tar sands southeastward, eventually reaching U.S. Gulf-area refineries and ports.

At least one speaker voiced the concern that while Obama did not approve the pipeline’s first application, additional environmental compliance and political factors could lead to his approving the second planned route, which may avoid the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills in Nebraska but not the underlying Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of U.S. water.

Marchers at a 30-organization climate crisis rally in Denver headed toward downtown’s Civic Center Park, with Idle No More leaders Cheyenne Birdshead (left) and Taryn Soncee Waters heading up the line. (Carol Berry)
Marchers at a 30-organization climate crisis rally in Denver headed toward downtown’s Civic Center Park, with Idle No More leaders Cheyenne Birdshead (left) and Taryn Soncee Waters heading up the line. (Carol Berry)

Rally organizers quoted NASA scientist James Hansen as saying that “burning oil in the Canadian tar sands [source of the Keystone XL Pipeline’s crude oil] could eventually raise the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere to 600 ppm [parts per million], which he said would be ‘game over’ for a safe climate.”

The, one of the event’s co-sponsors, is named for what many scientists deem the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—350 ppm, organizers said in a press release.

In addition to 350Colorado, rally co-sponsors included Idle, the American Indian Movement of Colorado, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Environment Colorado, Protect Our Colorado, What the Frack?! Arapahoe, Earth Guardians, PLAN-Boulder County, Be the Change, Clean Energy Action, Eco-Justice Ministries, Colorado Move to Amend, Climate Ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, AspenSnowmass, Protect Our Winters, and 14 Colorado Campus Divestment Campaigns.

Although tar sands and climate change protests in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere have produced numbers of celebrity and other arrests, Idle events in the Denver area so far have been arrest-free—except for one in January at a mall in Broomfield, a community north of Denver, where Birdshead was taken into police custody after Round Dancing and where others were also cited for trespassing.

“I myself was arrested simply for taking part in one of our Native dances,” she recalled as she addressed the current rally. “It used to be illegal for our people to do our songs, dances and ceremonies. But we still have them because our ancestors did them even though they faced imprisonment.”

This week the arrestees were to have been charged in court for trespass, but the charges were dropped. Birdshead said they had been willing to go to trial, if necessary, because “doing the right thing isn’t always easy but we do it for the future generations, just like our ancestors did it for us.”

There was no obvious police presence at the Denver rally, although uniformed state parks officials were checking to make sure the Sierra Club-obtained park permit was being used according to regulations—and it was, they said.

Birdshead’s grandmother, 70-plus Virginia Allrunner, Cheyenne, is an inspiring and reliable presence at the Idle events, even though in many ways they’re largely youth-focused: A 12-year-old, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, leader of the Earth Guardians youth group, emceed the current rally and Native emphasis generally has targeted the legacy that will be left for children and grandchildren.

“We will not retreat. We will not stop. We will go forward to protect Mother Earth. We are Idle No More,” the young women chanted together as they concluded their presentation before the hundreds at the Denver rally.



Idle No More Enters a New Phase, Seeks Next Steps

 A flash mob in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: David P. Ball

A flash mob in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: David P. Ball

By David P. Ball, Indian Country Today Media Network

Idle No More’s founders and leaders are determined to keep the movement’s momentum going and to maintain pressure on aboriginal leaders and the federal government to enact concrete change.

As Parliament resumed on January 28, activists in at least 30 cities held a second Idle No More day of action, continuing to set themselves apart from official leadership and the six-week-long, liquids-only fast of Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, which ended on January 24.

“Our nationhood can’t just be words in a constitution,” said lawyer Pamela Palmater, Mi’kmaq, chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto and runner-up in last year’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief race. She told Indian Country Today Media Network, “It has to be recognized and implemented and ­respected—and that’s what this movement is about: shifting everything.”

Idle No More wants to keep aboriginal issues on the radar of mainstream Canadians and in the national dialogue while going beyond the flash mobs and rallies with which the movement has become virtually synonymous.

“We have seen the demands emanating from the grassroots sharpening and becoming even more precise,” Glen Coulthard, assistant professor of First Nations Studies and Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), told ICTMN. “Before, it used to be housing conditions, the material conditions on reserves, and the attack on some of the environmental and land concerns with omnibus Bill C-45. Now we’re focusing on the core issue: setting right the relationship between indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

Sylvia McAdam, Cree, one of the four female founders of Idle No More, wants to continue broadening its support. “I keep telling as many people [as I can] that it’s not an indigenous movement, because Bill C-45 affects all of us,” the Big River First Nation member said. “I believe that the voice of Idle No More—the voice of grassroots people—will become clearer and more focused.”

Some fear the movement could lose energy following the January 11 meeting that Atleo and other AFN chiefs had with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others see the 13-point Declaration of Commitment signed by the chiefs, including Spence, on January 24 as an attempt by aboriginal leadership to co-opt the grassroots movement. There are even whispers about a possible coup inside the AFN by those who felt the Harper meeting was a capitulation of sorts.

“There’s going to be political fallout,” Palmater said. “Where progress will be made is in the reunification of leadership with the grassroots people. The kind of core, fundamental breakthrough that we’ve been looking for is that the chiefs would listen to the people and stand by their people.”
But some are wary. McAdam insisted that Idle No More is independent from leadership, even if some chiefs have shown support. “Once leadership takes over, the movement shifts,” she said.

Some recommended taking a more aggressive and independent stand.

“We need to alter our strategies and tactics to present more of a serious challenge on the ground to force the federal government…to respond to us in a serious way,” wrote Mohawk author Taiaiake Alfred, professor of indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, in a blog post. “We need to focus our activism on the root of the problem facing our people collectively: our collective dispossession and misrepresentation as Indigenous Peoples.”

UBC’s Coulthard, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, believes that actions such as flash mobs and blockades are an effective tool in Native struggles—at least until there is a substantive change in the indigenous-Canadian relationship. At the same time, he wants the movement to discuss economic and political ­alternatives as concrete­ solutions to today’s crises.

But Chief Steve Courtoreille, of Mikisew First Nation in Alberta, urges moderation. Courtoreille is one of the leaders taking the Bill C-45 fight into the courts through a treaty rights lawsuit filed with Frog Lake First Nation in January. And while he favors confrontation, he is wary of alienating potential allies.

“It’s time now the country pulls together on this very issue—to make the government of Canada rethink their plan,” he told ICTMN. “I don’t support blockades—I support the Idle No More movement’s peaceful rallies. The more the Canadian people understand what’s going on, I know they’ll come on board.”



HuffPost Social Reading Feist, Broken Social Scene, Blue Rodeo Show Support For Idle No More Movement

Canadian singer Feist performs at the Oya music festival in Oslo, on August 8, 2012.   AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX NORWAY / Stian Lysberg Solum ***NORWAY OUT***        (Photo credit should read Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/GettyImages)

Canadian singer Feist performs at the Oya music festival in Oslo, on August 8, 2012. Photo credit: Solum, Stian Lysberg/AFP/GettyImages

Huffington Post Music, Canada,

A number of Canadian musicians have joined forces to show their support for Idle No More, the movement of First Nations people for “healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities.”

According to the CBC, Feist, Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, Blue Rodeo, former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page and The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie have signed a petition backing the movement. The petition was started by Weakerthans’ singer John K. Samson just before Christmas (Dec. 21) and originally sent it through various contacts.

“The response was immediate and huge, from artists of all disciplines, genres and mediums,” Samson said, adding he got the idea after a conversation with his friend and writer Leanne Simpson, a member of the Alderville First Nation. “It’s fundamental to how we think of ourselves and our identity and what a fair and just society should be. Artists have to be right at the forefront of that, it didn’t surprise me that so many replied with enthusiastic support.”

The statement, dubbed Canadian Artists Statement of Solidarity with Idle No More, reads:

“We recognize that our identity as Canadian artists is coloured by the shameful and continued history of injustice and colonialism, and support the Idle No More movement’s demands that Canadians honour and fulfill Indigenous sovereignty, repair violations against land and water, and live the intent and spirit of our Treaty relationship.”

Samson has also contributed the song “'” from his 2012 Provincial album to a benefit compilation being organized by Holly McNarland, a strong supporter of the movement who has taken to Twitter to get the message out. And argue with those opposed to the movement.

“I bit the bait and got into it about #idlenomore,” she tweeted on Jan. 6 “A racist mind is like a chastity belt but not worth it, throw the F’N key away.”

Other musicians who have signed the petition include Ian Blurton, Christine Fellows, The Sadies, Sarah Harmer and Bif Naked.