Today we are publishing this introduction to the Idle No More movement, as well as a collection of reports of solidarity actions and statements from the movement.
One of the most exciting and important developments in the people’s struggle in North America as 2013 unfolds is something called Idle No More, which has erupted out of indigenous communities in Canada.
Here is a four point primer on this movement. We are also posting some reports from friends who have participated in one or another of the literally hundreds of actions that have already taken place, and some statements from the movement.
1. It’s a massive challenge to climate change
The movement is a response to a big outrage: in this case, the determination of the Conservative Party government of Canada, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to massively escalate the ripoff of natural resources and disregard treaty obligations to Indigenous peoples.
Here in the United States, probably the strongest single mass campaign targeting the US government since Obama’s re-election has been the movement against the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline is designed to take oil cracked from dirty tar sands in northern Alberta through all the way to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and shipment.
It is being fought at multiple levels, from national speaking tours educating and mobilizing thousands at every stop, to legal battles to physically blocking pipeline construction. Harper’s bill would speed up the exploitation of First Nations lands for projects like Keystone XL.
The stakes are extraordinarily high. Tar sands extraction has already devastated thousands of square miles of Canadian wilderness. The carbon released in producing and burning this oil would so escalate global warning and associated climate change that NASA’s top climate scientist James Hansen says “It’s essentially game over for the planet.”
Native Canadians and Native Americans are actively involved in the Stop Keystone XL movement already and among the key forces trying to stop the pipeline. This new upsurge has been welcomed by folks in the movement for the new strength and leadership it brings in what, despite its accomplishments so far, is undoubtedly an uphill battle. And it’s an uphill battle because the present structure of the monopoly capitalist system is so dependent on carbon-based fuels and petrochemical feed stocks. A challenge on this scale to their right to despoil the planet in pursuit of profit is a challenge to the future of that system itself!
2. It’s a lot like Occupy Wall Street!
Idle No More arose far off the radar. It was triggered by four indigenous women in Saskatchewan who started holding discussion and study groups in the fall and has spread like wildfire in a few short months.
The spontaneous spread has taken place horizontally, without a lot of central organization, principally through the internet and social networks. Militant tactics like meeting disruptions, blockades of railroad lines, hunger strikes, long marches and flash mob round dances have swelled the ranks of the movement.
Initially met by a media whiteout, Idle No More has broken through to become the central feature of political life in Canada today. The Harper government was wrongfooted at the start and has been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this challenge. Efforts to defuse it by meeting with selected leaders and expressing “concern” have failed so far.
It is resonating internationally. First and foremost, this is a result of work by activists over the last few decades in building ties between indigenous peoples and struggles throughout the Americas. (Some activists point out that, in fact, people from the First Nations are the true majority in the Western Hemisphere.) That movement in the US has been galvanized in a way that has not been seen in decades. In addition, sympathy and active support from other people in Canada, here, and around the world has been building as word spreads.
Idle No More in São Paulo, Brazil at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Encuentro. Photo by Julio Pantoja.
3. It’s very different from Occupy Wall Street!
It is focused on a single issue, although very broad in scope: The preservation of the Earth’s biosphere from reckless damage by settler governments and giant corporations driven by capitalism’s single imperative: Expand or Die. The central demands target the Canadian state, demanding that First Nations’ ancestral lands and treaty rights be respected.
It has deep roots within some of the most oppressed communities of North America, the First Nations, which provide a powerful base of support. Idle No More connects with a long history of indigenous struggle for sovereignty and national rights and justice. Among those who have been stepping up and providing leadership are some veteran activists from the movement of the ’60s and ’70s, some traditional leaders, and many folks new to activism.
One such leader, Tom Pearce, American Indian Movement co-chair for Indiana and Kentucky, recently posted some thoughts about Occupy! and Idle No More on Facebook which we reprint here with his permission. They reflect the frustrations many people of color felt with the whiteness of OWS:
There are some awesome non Indian allies that are supporting efforts to bring Idle No More to the forefront of the left and the public. So please understand I am not pointing this at everyone on the left, but…… Geez, the Occupy movement wonders why it is irrelevant? They used the name Occupy to brand their cause. Even though the majority of them are descendants of occupiers. They rejected the notion that they might support the causes of the oppressed people of this nation, because as they stated, “Those are narrow issues that don’t affect everyone”. So I can tell you this. You don’t get to call yourself a radical if you are not supporting indigenous people in a meaningful way at this time. Interesting. In a short month, the indigenous movements have invaded the shopping malls, they have blockaded railways, and highways, and bridges. They have brought the Canadian Government to the bargaining table. In the over a year that Occupy was in place? What did you win? I call on you if you consider yourself a true anti-imperialist to show your solidarity! If not? Remember this moment; I sure will while you are in my rear view mirror.
(It should be noted that remaining Occupy groups and councils have come out strongly in support of the Idle No More upsurge.)
4. Everybody can — and should! — support it
This point is aimed mainly at non-indigenous residents of the US, especially at folks who consider themselves reds. Generally speaking, we have generally not been at the core of the environmental movement or more than marginally aware of the struggles of the First Nations. It’s catch-up time, and here are some thoughts on getting started.
First: Educate yourself about the Idle No More movement a bit. A quick look around online will turn up websites and Facebook pages galore.
Then: Spread the word. In the US, where sports sections and ESPN are the only place you normally find mention of Canada, the whiteout is still in effect.
Next: Participate or give concrete support. There are actions everywhere. Calls to write public officials or engage in boycotts should be taken seriously; merely signing some online petition doesn’t cut it.
Again: Keep spreading the word, based on steps you yourself have taken. That’s the only way to engage more people.
Finally: Get prepared to take on the reactionaries. Folks in parts of the country with a big Native American presence know firsthand what may have escaped many of us: there is a deep and vicious current of anti-Indian sentiment among many white people which flashes forth when white privileges and dominance are threatened. From the drive to eliminate racist sports team mascots to battles to preserve sacred sites from desecration, from legal action to reclaim land that no one ever bothered to steal “legally” to the defense of fishing rights, First Nations people asserting their rights trigger white backlash. All of us who are not indigenous have a responsibility to support them in those battles.Download this piece as a PDF