Thursday, May 30, 2013

Many California Tribes and Nations Represented at Capitol for Statewide Idle No More Rally

On January 26, a statewide rally was held on the north steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento in solidarity with Idle No More demonstrations held worldwide to coincide with the Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28. Organizers in California hoped the rally would be a time to, "network, educate, and unite as one people." The day featured speakers, California Indian dancers and singers, Aztec/Mexica dancers, and an opening blessings from the local Miwok Nation. A sacred altar placed before the steps of the capitol building was continually maintained by women throughout the rally. Additionally, Sylvia McAdam, one of the four female founders of Idle No More, spoke to the Californian group over a cell phone from Londondescribing Idle No More to the crowd as, "the creative resistance of our people."

"We are defending all of our land and all of our water, because our Mother Earth needs that protection and defending," Sylvia McAdams said. 

McAdams pointed out how the environments of Canada and the United States were connected, as is the job of defending them. 

"Our work is not done, because once the waters are contaminated here in my people's territory it will effect the waters of your people where you are because we all share the same water," she said. 

"I hope that we will continue this until our Indigenous sovereignty is respected and utilized every day, because that is what is going to protect our lands and our waters." 

The connection between the health of the planet and respecting Indigenous sovereignty is at the core of what the Idle No More movement is about. Idle No More was founded last November by four First Nations women after the Canadian government passed Bill C-45, which seriously affected Indigenous land rights. Since that time Idle No More flash mobs, rallies, and other gatherings have quickly spread across the globe. 

Razzle Dazzle, a Miwok elder spoke and gave the first blessing of the event as organizers observed, "we are on their [Miwok] land." 

"I have never seen a movement that has been so unified in my time, and I really enjoy that, because with that said, it makes our prayers really strong," Razzle Dazzle declared, before beginning the blessing. 

Kim DeOcampo

Corina Lego

Miwok Dancers

Miwok Dancers

Miwok Dancers

Speakers at the Sacramento rally included, Corina Lego, Morning Star Gali, Orena Monahan, Lakota Harden, and Melissa Leal. Norman "Wounded Knee" DeOcampo spoke briefly at the start of the day, and Wicahpiluta Candelaria sang Ohlone songs. 

Miwok dancers were featured, as were Aztec/Mexica dancers, and a variety of Sacramento and Bay Area local groups also danced and played, including Sacramento Pow-Wow Dance Group, and the Wokini Indigenous Drum Group, who sang the Woman's Warrior song. 

Individuals held protest signs with hand-written messages such as, "Kill Bill C-45" and "We Support Chief Spence." One sign listed off a variety of Canadian Bills to oppose, including C-45, C-27, C-428, S-2, and S-212, followed by the statement, "Idle No More." Other signs noted individual tribal affiliations, and there were many signs detailing positions on national or local political issues, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands oil extraction. 

After Lakota Harden spoke near the end of the rally, she called on all of the women in attendance to come close to the front. 

"Thank for surviving all of the genocide that has come at us. We're still here, we're still strong, and we're still beautiful," Harden said. 

The day concluded with nearly everyone in attendance holding hands and participating in a final round dance. 

Earlier, Corina Lego, the vice-chair of the Pit River Tribe, was joined by Morning Star Gali, also of the Pit River tribe, to read a tribal resolution which was passed in support of the Indigenous nations in Canada and Idle No More, "The Pit River Tribe supports Idle No More's response to Bill C-45," they announced. 

Lego began her remarks by pointing to the Canadian government's treatment of Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat, who embarked on a hunger strike at the beginning of the Idle No More movement. Spence vowed her strike, which Began in December and lasted for over a month, wouldn't end until, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston agree to sit down and talk about Canada's treaty relationship with First Nations leadership." 

"Chief Theresa Spence has brought Canadian Indian people's concerns to the attention of the world," she said to the Californian group. 

"The eyes of the world watch now to see what the leaders of the Canadian government's actions will be. Ignoring a Chief is disrespectful. Ignoring the concerns of Indigenous people with regards to protection of water and land catches the attention of many people the world over. The common ground, the common concern, on a global level, is the health of our environment...this global concern is not something that can be ignored by any government," Lego said. 

She went on to describe the state of the environment in Canada. 

"Canada is a beautiful land. The rivers should not be running malignant green. Drinking water should not look like mud. Fish should not have huge tumors. Villages should not be suffering rare forms of cancer. Common sense says land, water, air, should not be made polluted, toxic, or left dead for any amount of money. Common sense says the next generation will inherit the consequences of actions done by prior generations. Common sense says money cannot buy back healthy land water and air after it is all gone . Common sense says when Mother Earth suffers or dies so will everyone and everything on Mother Earth. Please do what is right and take care of our environment." 

Lakota Harden

The founders of Idle No More have emphasized from its beginnings that the movement is grassroots based, and individuals should bring the issues important to them to their local communities. 

According to Idle No More, the goal of the movement is, "education and the revitalization of Indigenous peoples through Awareness and Empowerment." 

This has inspired a wide variety of actions by Indigenous groups worldwide, but the movement is united by far more than generalities, and it is not the sum of random acts either. The common thread is that Indigenous groups are coming together and meeting as nations and individuals, and through their participation in Idle No More they are redefining their relationships on their own terms, not on the conventions of colonial rule. They are raising their visibility according to the status of their own tribal situations; some feel they are battling extinction, and some are part of groups that are completely sovereign nations. 

Corina Lego urged that Indigenous people, "work with First Nations on a nation to nation, government to government basis to protect the land and the water." 

Orena Monahan also spoke about the variety of voices coming together, but still sharing the same goals, through Idle No More. 

When she addressed the group in Sacramento she observed that, "We all have different cultures and backgrounds but we are all one and the same, we are caretakers of Mother Earth." 

Monahan, who is of the Quechan tribe, and lives in Winterhaven, California, said, "I've been watching movements like this since I was born." For her, the Idle No More movement means much more than attending a rally. 

"Just standing there with the Idle No More sign, that's not Idle No More. We have to go and we have to speak and we have to teach our children," she said. 

This was part of a much more nuanced point that Monahan was making, about how language, genocide, forced assimilation, and trauma were deeply intertwined for Indigenous people. Monahan, of the Quechan tribe, and from Winterhaven, Ca, spoke with her "Quechan sisters" who were dressed in tribal dress and holding the Quechan flag. 

"There have been many instances in history where the white man has tried to make us forget who we are...they taught us that the language that we spoke, that God couldn't understand it," Monahan said. This was just one example she gave of the extreme extent to which Indigenous people have been forced to assimilate into Western culture. 

"We are being turned into white people, and I keep saying white people, I am not talking about our white brothers and sisters that are here today in support and solidarity with us, but the white people that came to this land and took all that we had, and raped our women, and killed our men, our warriors. Those are the white people that I am talking about, the greedy," she said. 

The resulting perception in society is that, "They think that we are all dead. They think that there are no more Indians." 

Monahan' gave an example that her partner, who is a teacher, overheard when one of the young students commented one day at school that, "I thought we killed all the Indians." 

"They don't know that we're here," Monahan said, "They don't know that there are still native people here and that we come together." 

Monahan felt there was another way to interpret this perception, and noted that the word "Indian" not being used anymore might not be a bad thing, in terms of language and tribal recognition. 

"I say yes, the Indians are dead. We are not Indians anymore. We are Lakota. We are Ohlone. We are Pomo. We are Navajo...We are Mojave...We are Pueblo. We are Cree, and all the other tribes' names I can't pronounce." 

Melissa Leal

Wounded Knee DeOcampo

Orena Monahan

Razzle Dazzle

Melissa Leal, who is of Ohlone and Esalen ancestry, spoke about a similar connection between language, education, and resisting genocide, and how individuals can apply that to the Idle No More movement. 

"One of the most powerful ways that we can be 'Idle No More' is to stand up and say I am here, I exist, my people live on," she said. 

"I come from a people who are said to be extinct. Our language is said to be extinct. We Esalen people were of no real importance to the government, to the missionaries, or to the settlers in the Monterey area. We were a threat and a problem. Because of this we had to disappear to survive. No longer is that the case. We were important, we were doing things. We were important and we still are." 

Leal suggested individuals, "learn your tribal language," and to learn one word a day and use it. 

For Leal, when Indigenous people make statements their existence it is, "even more powerful if we say it in the language that they said was extinct and that they forbid us to speak." 

Idle No More is also a movement where many different forms of Indigenous religious and spiritual beliefs intersect with political philosophy. At the beginning of the Sacramento rally, organizers explained the significance of the altar to the day's events. 

It was explained that when sage, coals, or cedar was burned for the altar, "We ask for a blessing, nothing more, and nothing less. We also create an energy, a port hole, and in that port hole is that love and that light that we are raising, and what are we raising for that today? For our Mother Earth and our bothers and sisters in Canada, our brothers and sisters all over Mother Earth that need this love, and this light, and this peace, and we also bring it to ourselves...Keeping that in mind, when you come up to the sacred can come and get near and breath and receive the blessings, this is very powerful medicine." 

Morning Star Gali described how political movements of the past have not only formed the foundation of Idle No More, but even more importantly, how native peoples' connection to their ancestors, through spiritual practices, are a driving force in the movement. 

"We are standing here today because our ancestors have never been idle," Gali said. "We are standing here today because of these movements. Idle No More is a beautiful movement, and bringing our people together, but there's past movements. The American Indian Movement, Women of All Red Nations Nations, of the Longest Walk that took place, and DQ University. I want to acknowledge our relatives that are here today from Peace and Dignity Journeys, that spent months running to unite the Prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor." 

Wounded Knee DeOcampo similarly suggested a connection between indigenous religious traditions and political action existed. 

"First of all I want to thank the Creator for allowing me to come here to speak to our Indigenous people across this country," Wounded Knee began, "and to the ancestors, wherever you are, take care of the Indigenous people in Canada, they need our prayers, and we must continue to fight for them, because I am going to tell you something. In 1978 I happened to be on the Longest Walk. It was a spiritual walk across this country, and many many people joined us on this spiritual walk, because they had many many bills pending against us in congress, against our people, here on Turtle Island, and one of them bills was HR9054. It would ask the president of the United States of America and congress to terminate all Indian treaties with Indigenous people, and we walked, and we were joined by many many leaders. Muhammad Ali who came out and supported us...and many many other people who came out and joined us to defeat these bills. This is nothing new to Indian people. We will continue to fight, but I ask one thing from the Creator, that is young Indian warriors and young Indian women need to stand up and start speaking about our Indigenous rights in this country, so I ask the creator today, that when you dance today, I want you to dance for your ancestors because they will be listening to you. Listen to the drums, these are our ancestors. Listen to that way, the way they taught us, without them, we wouldn't be here today. So I thank you, and I thank you for coming, and we need to send that spiritual message to Obama, from the people across this country. May the Great Spirit be with each and every one of you, aho." 

Round Dance

Wicahpiluta Candelaria sings

The rally at the state capitol on January 26 coincided with an Idle No More world day of action that was called for by the founding group for January 28, the day when Canadian MP's returned to their House of Commons. Bill C-45 was passed in Canada in December, and Sylvia McAdam noted in her address to the group in Sacramento that at least eight other bills currently before Canada's government have been identified by Indigenous groups as being "worse than Bill C-45." 

The official Idle No More website proclaimed that the day was intended to peacefully protest, "attacks on democracy, Indigenous sovereignty, human rights, and environmental protections." 

Idle No More's mission calls on all people to, "join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water." It is explained that this is to be accomplished through grassroots organizing where individual communities, "create their own forums to learn more about Indigenous rights and our responsibilities to our Nationhood via teach-ins, rallies and social media." 

While the original intent is outlined as wanting to, "build relationships and create understanding with allies across Canada," the website stresses that the indigenous community, "assert our sovereignty in the international arena." 

Additionally, Idle No More has been a women's movement from its beginnings. It was founded by a group of four women, and the grass-roots organizational structure has afforded many women the ability to assume power roles that more closely resemble the traditional roles of their culture, which are often at odds with the deliberate strategy of male dominance present in the large colonial governments of Canada and the United States. 

A press release for an Apihtawikosisan Women's Townhall last week stated that, "Indigenous women are acting within their traditional roles as the protectors of the land and the waters, according to their own particular nation’s understanding of what that means." 

The Idle No More movement was founded in Canada in November of 2012 by Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, Nina Wilson, and Jessica Gordon. The women began a social media campaign and held a teach-in entitled "Idle No More," which was in response to the Canadian government's introduction of Bill C-45. The passage of Bill C-45 threatened to weaken Canada's environmental protection laws, and in particular, the bill would lessen the amount of protection offered to navigable waterways, many of which pass through First Nations lands. It is estimated that of the 30+ thousand lakes that are currently protected in Canada, only 97 still would be after passage of the bill. 

The women continued to organize teach-ins in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert, which lead up to a National Day of Action in Canada on December 10. The day coincided with Amnesty International's Human Rights Day, as well as the beginning of a hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat, who was demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General of Canada to discuss Indigenous rights. 

Idle No More flashmobs, where participants performed round dances in malls and other public places, began during the holiday shopping season in mid-December. The focus and scope of the demonstrations also began to widen at this point, and the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations issued a press release on December 17 that stated, "it is clear sweeping changes are being introduced with scant consultation and sometimes with no consultation at all which will impact on how First Nations governments work and how our lands and waters are governed." 

The press release made it clear that the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations did not, "recognize laws and enactments of the Government of Canada, including but not limited to Bill C-45, which do not fulfill their constitutionally recognized and affirmed Treaty and Aboriginal rights." 

In many ways the momentum that turned Idle No More into a worldwide phenomenon had been building for some time in a variety of environmental struggles across North America. 

When the energy policies of the governments of Canada and the United States (and Mexico also) intersected, a sort of North American tipping point was reached triggering widespread political activism across the continent. 

The Idle No More movement's ability to communicate with the world has especially been facilitated by global-wide concerns over tar sands oil extraction, fracking, and the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Tar sands, or oil sand, or bituminous sands consist of loose sand or sandstone that are saturated with a form of petroleum. The process of extracting oil from the tar sands has been criticized for harming the environment on a variety of levels, including the amount of water that is required for the process, and the high CO2 emissions that result. The effects on public health and wildlife are still being studied, but one study suggests that there is a link between cancer rates in the residents of Fort Chipewyan in Northern Alberta, Canada, and the tar sands oil extraction in that area. 

On January 25 of this year, representatives from sovereign Indigenous Nations, tribes, and governments, participating in the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, entered into a treaty to protect the sacred from tar sands projects. The Nations declared that tar sands projects, "present unacceptable risks to the soil, the waters, the air, sacred sites, and our ways of life," and included, "The destruction of rivers, lakes, boreal forests, homelands and health of the Cree, Dene, and Métis peoples in the Northern Alberta tar sands region, and downstream Dene communities of Northwest Territories." 

The Keystone XL was built to transport synthetic crude oil from the Athabasca oil sands region in Alberta, Canada to various locations in the United States. Once opposed by President Obama, he became a big supporter of it in March of 2012. 

TransCanada, ConocoPhillips, Valero Energy Corporation, and Koch Industries are some of the big-name corporations that stand to profit from its construction and implementation. 

The pipeline is located near over 150 Indigenous communities in Canada, and TransCanada Corporation has operations on a dozen First Nations reserves. 100 miles of the pipeline currently passes through Native American reservations. 

TransCanada refuses to disclose the exact details of the combination of chemical dilutants used to transport the tar sands oil through the pipeline system, as well as the possible human health and environmental effects. 

The oil and gas extraction process of fracking has been a concern as of late to environmentalists, and all across the United States, big oil interests are positioning themselves to open up new areas to it, which has met resistance from activists. As with tar sand oil extraction, concerns have been raised that fracking caries unknown health and environmental risks. 

Further entwining the two countries together, a by-product of the fracking process in the United States is economically related to tar sands oil extraction in Canada. That fracking by-product has proven to be "ideal" for facilitating the flow of the tar sands product through the Keystone XL pipeline. 

For more information about Idle No More, see the official website: