What The Heck Are All These Indians Acting All Indian About, Ey?
By Gyasi Ross, Attorney/Activist/Author, Blackfeet Nation,
Lately, Native people have taken to the streets malls in demonstrations of Public Indian-ness (“PI”) that surpasses the sheer volume of activism of even Alcatraz and the Longest Walk. There’s a heapum big amount of PI going on right now! Many people, non-Native and Native alike, are wondering what the heck is going with their local Native population and how this so-called #IdleNoMore Movement managed to get the usually muffled Natives restless enough to be Indian in public. I mean, like Chris Rock said, he hasn’t ever even met two Indians at the same time. He’s seen “polar bears riding a tricycle” but he’s “never seen an Indian family just chillin’ out at Red Lobster.”
Yet, now people can’t seem to get away from us.
And that’s cool—but isn’t that what pow-wows and November is for? People (non-Native and Native alike) can only take so much PI, right? Is that what the #IdleNoMore Movement is—an extended Native American Heritage Month, where non-Natives have to act like they’re fascinated by Native culture?
In a word, no. It is much more. Please consider this a fairly exhaustive explanation of the #IdleNoMore Movement, what it is not and what it is. If for some reason you cannot read the next 1000 or so brilliant words, I can be summed up thusly: the #IdleNoMore Movement is not a new movement. Instead, it is the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492. It is not the Occupy Movement, although there are some similarities. It is not only about Canada and it isnot only about Native people. Finally, and probably most importantly, it (and we) are not going away anytime soon. So get used to it (and us).
#IDLENOMORE Movement: What it is about
"The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the blood of our ancestors."
Chief Plenty Coups, Apsaalooke
“…you have come here; you are taking my land from me; you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live.”
Tasunke Witko (Crazy Horse), Oglala Lakota
As the above quotes display, the Indigenous Resistance to the raping and pillaging of the Earth is not new. Likewise, Indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect the mothers of our Nations—the women—are not new either. The #IdleNoMore Movement is simply the latest chapter in that resistance.
It’s About: PROTECTING THE EARTH. First and foremost, the #IdleNoMore Movement is about protecting the Earth for all people from the carnivorous and capitalistic spirit that wants to exploit and extract every last bit of resources from the land. Therefore, anybody that cares about this Earth should be interested in the #IdleNoMore Movement. The engineers were Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon. It was a response to Canada’s Bill C-45, which overhauled the Navigable Waters Protection Act and removed protections for many waters that go through First Nations. Changing the Act literally moves the emphasis of the protection—it morphs from protecting the waterways to protecting the navigation on those waterways. Now, instead of 30-some thousand lakes being protected under the old Act, only 97 lakes will be protected. As Canadian Parliament Member Kirsty Duncan eloquently states, “The days when Canadians take an endless abundance of fresh water for granted are numbered…”
These mobilized Native people wanted to ensure that children two, three and twelve generations from now would have clean water. The children that will benefit from the Native mobilization are not just Native children it’s for all children. Lakes and rivers tend to be either clean or dirty for Native and non-Native children alike.
It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The #IdleNoMore Movement simply wants kids of allcolors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water. It’s also not a “Canada” or “United States” thing. Multinational corporations do not care about borders and neither should we. Despite legislation to intended to prevent pollution, corporation pollute freely with almost complete impunity and our children are the ones that suffer. We likewise should not care about borders—we are mobilizing on both sides because we understand that we do affects one another.
We will continue to aggressively organize and be #IdleNoMore about the attempts to destroy our sacred lands, whether its Keystone XL Pipeline or Tar Sands Mining in Canada. We will be #IdleNoMore on SSA Marine’s attempts to create a deep-water shipping terminal for water and air poisoning dirty coal in the Lummi waters near Pugent Sound, WA or any disrespect to our lands.
We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re #IdleNoMore !
It’s About: PROTECTING WOMEN. Similar to the sustained, capitalistic effort to exploit and pillage the Earth, the carnivorous, capitalistic nature has also exploited and abused women since the founding of both America & Canada. That is something else that Indigenous people have vowed to be #IdleNoMore. America’s first marriage and property laws, or ‘coverture,’ stipulated that married women did not have separate legal existences from their husbands. Indeed, a married woman was a dependent and could not generally own her own property or control her own earnings. “…once she married she became a legal nonentity. Her husband not only assumed her legal privileges and duties but certain rights to her property as well.” Women, Family, and Community in Colonial America: Two Perspectives, Linda E. Speth, Alison Duncan Hirsch, Pg. 8.
And that was for privileged white women. Obviously Native women, Black women and any women of any other color that were unfortunate enough to live in the United States, it was much worse.
That pattern of condescension and indeed hatred for women has continued until the present. From the case Bradley v. State which affirmed a man’s “right” to “moderately” beat his wife to the Indian Health Service’s pattern of forced tubal ligations of Native women, the United States has shown a consistent trajectory of hatred and destruction for Native women.
Congress’s recent failure to pass the Violence Against Women Act—specifically because Republicans did not want tribal law enforcement to be able to prosecute non-Native sexual deviants—is a continuation of that exploitation of our women. Similar to the “clean water” discussion, above, the protections afforded by the Violence Against Women Act protected women of all colors—not just Native women. Conversely, Congress’s failure to act on the Violence Against Women Act hurts allwomen. Strong Native women leaders like Deborah Parker and others are advocating for safety and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for all women, not just a few.
It’s not a Native thing.
It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should have to worry about getting raped” thing.
It’s a “NO women, of ANY color, should get beaten and battered” thing.
Those who are transfixed by race, again, are missing the point.
And we will continue to organize and be #IdleNoMore about this attack on the women within our communities, as well as all communities. That is not new and it’s also not just about Native people.
We’re not going anywhere, we’re not going to be silent, we’re #IdleNoMore !
It’s Not an OCCUPY MOVEMENT. The Occupy Movement was powerful and necessary—yet the foundation was frankly not strong enough to sustain. Occupy was about a slowed-down economy and a lot of folks that were, unfortunately, out of work from that slow down. As the economy began to improve in 2012 and also, significantly, the weather got colder, the Occupy Movement got noticeably weaker. Now, it is a hollow shell of itself, with many of the middle-class supporters returning to middle-class jobs.
The Primary Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Native economies are NOT getting any better. Many of our communities, there is 70% PLUS unemployment—more than a simple “boom and bust” economic upturn can fix. There are structural problems that will prevent a quick-fix, and therefore most Indigenous #IdleNoMore will not have an economic incentive to stop their activism.
The Second Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—We’re Native… Hello? You’re not going to scare us off with the cold weather. My friends have literally texted me pictures of sisters and brothers in Alberta and Saskatchewan standing outside with #IdleNoMore signs in -35 degree weather; I have spoken at events where it is freezing and brothers and sisters are outside in t-shirts.
If we’re mobilizing 2,000, 2,500 people at an event in the freezing cold in January, just imagine how that number is going to multiply when it’s 65, 70 degrees outside.
The Final Reason #IdleNoMore is Not Occupy—Occupy was snapshot response to a 3 year economic downturn. #IdleNoMore is a continuedresponse to more than 500 years of destroying the Earth and exploiting women. Our foundation literally has centuries on which our resistance is built.
Finally, it’s not Occupy because we are surrounding our advocacy around the specific substantive areas that were discussed earlier—protecting the environment and protecting Native women via the Violence Against Women Act. Yes, like Occupy, this is grassroots—the people are fluid and definitely can change. Indeed, the specific subjects that we choose to organize around certainly could change in the future—whatever we need to be #IdleNoMore about. Still, for now fighting against gratuitous exploitation of our lands and fighting against violence against women are areas where good organization can make a difference.
This has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. Native people did begin this movement—energized by Chief Spence’s sacrifice and sparked by the Four Founders’ initiative. Yet, this is anybody’s movement that wants to stand up for the Earth and women and also make a positive change in the community. That means that non-Natives are certainly welcome. We neednon-Natives involved to save this Earth, to give our children and grandchildren the same quality of life that we have enjoyed. It’s about clean water. It’s about clean air. It’s about safety for all women. It’s about making a positive change in our communities. Critics seem to be so caught up on race; yet even racists want their children to have clean water just like non-racists. Right? Well, we want racists (and NON-racists, of course) to have kids with clean water too. Oh, and we don’t want them to get raped or beaten either.
Not too unreasonable, is it?
Here’s a little music and video to close this piece. It’s a project that we (Rock Paper Jet Productions, LLC) did with rapper and producer Brother Ali. Coincidentally, it doesn’t mention race—it mentions wanting to make the world slightly better. And when it comes down to it, that all that the #IdleNoMore Movement is about.
“I want to pass this planet to my son
A little better than it was when they handed it to me…”
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