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Native Sun News: Idle No More movement shifts to US tribes

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Oglala Lakota activist Debra White Plume was among Idle No More demonstrators in Pueblo, Colorado on Jan. 1. Photo courtesy of Matrina Arellano

Canada’s Idle No More movement shifts to U.S. tribes
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

PICKSTOWN — A “Gathering to Protect the Sacred” from the Tar Sands and Keystone XL, which is scheduled here in the Ihanktonwan, or Yankton homelands, Jan. 23-25, provides a prime example of how the Idle No More (INM) treaty rights and environmental movement in Canada is resonating across Indian country in the United States and worldwide.

“This is equivalent to Canada's Idle No More - Chief Spence issue,” said Missoula, Montana movement backer Elrae Dawn, a native of Fort Totten on the Spirit Lake Santee Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota. “We have our own environmental issue here in America in the form of the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline,” she said in promoting the upcoming Pickstown event via social media on the Internet.

Idle No More demonstrations have been breaking out across the continent and abroad since Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation community in Canada’s Ontario Province lent her support to the movement by going on a hunger strike Dec. 10, during the National Day of Action called to celebrate the end of the first month of protest.

The mobilization began Nov. 10 as a response to the efforts Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and his Conservative Party undertook last year to pass what is known as omnibus legislation repealing protections afforded to First Nations and natural resources.

Detonated during an event in Saskatchewan prepared by Indian rights advocates Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld, Idle No More has gone viral, largely due to publicity shared on the new moccasin telegraph provided by social media forums such as Facebook and blogs on the worldwide web.

Demonstrators from coast to coast have availed themselves of the recently popularized flash-mob format of protest, consisting of nearly spontaneous gatherings at shopping malls, where hand drums, singers and circle dancing frequently are used to express resistance.

In Rapid City at a flash-mob event on Dec. 22, elders and babies were among those who formed a circle of Lakota dancers and singers with four hand drums, hoisting an Idle No More banner at the Rushmore Mall.

Canadian INM actions have taken place not only in First Nations such as Aamjiwnaang, but in the urban centers of Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, among others.

“The movement has even gone beyond borders, starting up demonstrations in the United States, but also in Europe and even in Cairo, Egypt recently,” The Opposition blog contributor Jesse Zimmerman wrote in “A Settler’s Guide to Idle No More” on Jan 3.

“Many of us descended from settlers may scratch our heads. We have seen aboriginal movement before. Never have we seen something so large-scale and concerted as Idle No More,” he said. “I think it more likely than not that we are going to be seeing much, much more of it in the year(s) ahead. It is planned to be enormous and completely unprecedented,” he added.

Over the weekend of Jan. 5-6, protestors took to the international boundary crossings between Canada and the United States, slowing down traffic to raise their points, as Spence’s health grew increasingly delicate in her fourth week of a fish-broth and lemon-water diet.

Eugene and Medford, Oregon; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona; Shiprock and Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Pueblo, Colorado, were just some of the places where INM actions had already taken place over the time since Spence’s demand for a meeting with Harper to discuss the omnibus Bill C-45 with her and the officially recognized umbrella Assembly of First Nations.

Emil Bell of Canoe Lake First Nation and Raymond Robinson of Cross Lake First Nation are among others who have been fasting, as well. Their followers warn that passage of the omnibus implementation bill this year would have dire consequences for the environment, health and human rights. C-45’s amendments to the Indian Act would facilitate the surrender of indigenous reserves. They would lift a requirement for all members of First Nations to be involved in referendums about land proposals.

Funding of changes sought for the Navigable Waters Protection Act would give industry leave to use 99 percent of lakes and rivers. Slated changes to the Fisheries Act would remove critical environmental safeguards, and natural resource exploitation would not be subject to significant review processes, dissidents argue.

The entire set of proposals stems from a political climate of increased government restrictions on access to environmental information in Canada.

“Seeing this happen to our First Nations brothers and sisters makes us think this might happen to us in the future here in the states,” Santa Fe, New Mexico INM organizer Irene Edwards said. “There is something happening every day here in the U.S. related to Idol No More and I just wanted to let everyone know that we fully support the efforts of the First Nations,” she wrote in a letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette published Dec. 26.

In drawing attention to the South Dakota aspect of the unrest, Dawn said, “Whether it's in Canada or U.S., we will be facing a big battle with it. I continue to pray for Chief Spence and Idle No More. And for us Americans, we have to keep the pressure on (President Barack) Obama and the other politicians who will be making decisions about the pipeline.”

The invitation to the Pickstown event is a call to, “Honor all indigenous First Nations, tribes, allies, and the enduring unity of the Great Sioux Nation and to commemorate the 150th Anniversary and to reaffirm the Ihanktonwan Oyate of the Oceti Sakowin 1863 Peace Treaty between the Ihanktonwan, Ponca, Pawnee Nations, and witnessed by the United States Government,” it says.

The Oglala Lakota non-profit organization Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) has publicized the forum’s intent to “notify President Obama and the U.S. Government that the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be a further grave abrogation of the Jan. 23, 1863 Treaty and possibly other related treaties and would have very regrettable consequences.”

Its founder Debra White Plume, a pipeline opponent, took part in the Colorado Idle No More action, which was held Jan. 1.

The Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council released a declaration on Dec. 21 stating that it is “vehemently opposed to the construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline project on any aboriginal or treaty lands”.

Cree First Nations member and Hawaii resident, singer-songwriter Buffy Ste. Marie, went on record in support of Idle No More, calling on Harper to accede to hunger strikers’ demands. “Prime Minister Harper, please see this opportunity to represent, on behalf of all Canadians, the fact that we can make things better now,” she pleaded in a video spot.

“There are many, many reserves, not just Chief Spence’s reserve, in identical situations of poverty and need. What a brilliant thing for the world to be doing and for Canada to lead in making things better for people in need,” she concluded.

(Talli Nauman, Health and Environment Editor for Native Sun News at

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