Saturday, June 1, 2013

Reminders of California Colonialism Frame Idle No More Flash Mob in Monterey

On February 17, individuals gathered in Monterey for an Idle No More flash mob held in solidarity with First Nations and Chief Theresa Spence. Organizers described the flash mob as an opportunity for "dance and prayer" and to educate the public. Groups represented at the gathering included the Ohlone and the Chumash, as well as a number of others.

The gathering resembled other Idle No More events and flash mobs where participants sing traditional songs and join together in round dancing. Isaac Orozco, who also dances with Amah-Ka-Tura, an Ohlone group based out of the Pajaro Valley, sang traditional Ohlone songs. In addition to drumming, individuals played clap sticks, which are a traditional instrument of central Californian Indian groups. Fliers were also handed out with information about the legislation currently before the Canadian House of Commons that threatens First Nations sovereignty, which was the basis for the founding of the Idle No More movement. 

The flash mob began in front of the Museum of Monterey, which is located at Custom House Plaza, and is part of Monterey State Historic Park. There was a crafts fair occupying most of the space in the plaza that day, and the is area surrounded by a cluster of restored "historic" colonial-era buildings. Additionally, the plaza is overlooked by the more contemporary Portola Hotel, which is named after Gaspar de Portolà de Rovira, who in colonial historical accounts was said to have "founded" Monterey in the 18th century.

The area now known as Monterey was originally inhabited peacefully by the Rumsen Ohlone tribe before European contact.

Like other Idle No More flash mobs that have been held around the globe since Fall of 2012, the Monterey gathering had a brush with security. Rangers with the California State Parks system regularly patrol the plaza area, and after about four songs were sung, two of them who were on duty that day informed those dancing that they could not do so without a permit to use the exact location they were at.

Rangers then offered to show the group where a they could dance without a permit, and they lead them to the area directly in front of the Custom House itself, which is near the entrance to Old Fisherman's Wharf. The "Old Customhouse" as it is also known, is the oldest "government" building in California, and it is the state's first officially designated historical landmark. It was originally built by the Mexican government to collect customs taxes at the Monterey Port, and it served as California's first capitol building. The carefully preserved Custom House still overlooks the busy Monterey harbor that is currently full of modern recreational boats.

The location proved to be a busy pedestrian route, and at least a few tourists and other passers-by joined the round dancing after being encouraged to do so and being educated briefly about the Idle No More movement.

Round Dance

Gray Wolf

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