Canada | Opinion

Kent Blansett: The Red Power movement continues on

Kent Blansett traces the modern Indian rights movement, including Idle No More in Canada:
The history of the Idle No More movement began in the early 1960s at the juncture of Native Nationalism and Red Power politics. Indigenous peoples on both sides of the border started to embrace a new brand of Intertribalism and coalition politics. This was a progressive populism that strove to unite both First Nations and American Indian peoples into an Intertribal coalition. Such a coalition held both the real and imagined potential to actively support grassroots Native Nationalist causes (fishing rights, land rights, mineral and water rights—just to name a few). Several major organizations (Metis Society, Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, National Indian Brotherhood, Native Alliance for Red Power, National Congress of the American Indian, National Indian Youth Council, and United Native Americans are only some examples) championed Native rights well before the intellectual foundations of the Red Power movement appeared in literature.

Two of the most influential manifestos made their way onto bookshelves toward the end of the 1960s, First Nations Cree author Harold Cardinal’s Unjust Society and Dakota scholar, Vine Deloria’s famed Custer Died for Your Sins equally supplied clarity and definition to this international Native rights movement, widely known as Red Power. Cardinal’s work lent scholastic and popular support towards overturning Prime Minister Trudeau’s White Paper a policy that strove to limit and eradicate First Nation sovereignty. Similarly, Deloria’s famed book provided an ideological anchor for a repeal of termination legislation and supported self-determination (from 1953-1970s over 109 Native Nations had their federal trust status terminated through individual acts of congress).

Throughout the 1960-1970s, various Red Power movements clashed with corporations, police, and military forces on both sides of the border, from the Fish-ins in the American Northwest, to the Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz (1969), to the Kanora Protest (1965), and the 1967 Expo to Wounded Knee (1973) and the march on Ottawa in 1974. Thousands of Indigenous peoples crossed the U.S.-Canadian border in solidarity and support of Red Power. The end results are complicated, but overall the Red Power movement aided in the defeat of the Trudeau’s White Paper and repeal of termination legislation. These coalition politics gathered lawyers, activists, writers, artists, and scholars together that jumpstarted the era of self-determination. Red Power struggled for legislative and governmental reform, land and treaty rights, but one of the movements most imposing of obstacles dealt with the continued corporate and industrial abuse of Native lands and peoples.

Get the Story:
Kent Blansett: Idle No More Lives On: Rifles vs. Songs (Indian Country Today 1/16)

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