Atiwapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's 44-day hunger strike is over. The Idle No More movement, initially linked with the strike, continues.
Ongoing dissatisfaction with environmental justice issues and U.S. and Canadian treatment of Native Americans, typified by legislation such as H.R. 4297, co-sponsored by Indiana Republican Congressman Larry Bucshon, continues to fuel Idle No More's momentum.
"By consolidating and repealing grant programs, the bill [known as the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012] would decrease the amount of assistance that state, local, and tribal governments receive for employment services, job training, and adult education and literacy services," according to a cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
The song remains the same
Spence's hunger strike, launched in protest of a series of a controversial Canadian legislative initiatives and diplomatic slights to First Nations, ended Jan. 24, after she delivered a 13-point demand aimed at making the issues of First Nations peoples a priority with the Canadian Parliament.
Such demands "received scant attention in the federal budget released by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Thursday," according to a report filed online by Canada's Global News.
Protestors oppose the government's unilateral changes to the Canadian Indian Act regarding how reserve lands are managed, as well as the transfer of control of — and revenue from — large tracts of First Nations land to the British government. In addition to indignation about a unilateral overhaul of the Navigable Waters Protection Act that removed protection from most waterways, frustrations also remain over well-documented disparities in the socioeconomic conditions between Native and non-Native populations.
"It's not about leaders or groups anymore; it's a movement of the people," said James Magaska Swan, president and founder of the United Urban Warrior Society and enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in Rapid City, S.D. "It has grown into its own living thing, like AIM (the American Indian Movement) in 1973; no one runs INM."
"Nations are coming together to fight a common enemy," he added, noting that North America is home to 620 bands of aboriginal peoples.
Jeff Corntassel, a writer and associate professor at the School of Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and a member of the Cherokee Nation, echoed the unity-though-diversity theme.
"We are nations, not minorities," Corntassel said, adding that the movement is a "new awakening of the next generation that's fed up with the legacies of colonialism that divide us and have caused us to be dismissed for centuries.
"Our voices are just starting to be heard."
Allies and alliances
Those voices are demanding protection of the land, the waterways and of their ancestral rights, confirmed by treaty but not upheld by the current Canadian government.
"The government has a duty to consult them before infringing on their constitutional rights, but it isn't doing so." said Sophie Theriault, associate professor, faculty of law at the University of Ottawa. "There is a tiredness with the policies of the government."
The strategy of the second phase of Idle No More must begin with Native governance and inter-nation alliances, Theriault said.
She identified new treaty confederacies, revitalization of old trade networks and the reinstitution of ceremony as strategies important to the movement's success.
For Corntassel, "It's less about renegotiating with the government and more about nation-to-nation agreements with ourselves. We have to take the struggle back to our land, rename territories, ask for allies."
Swan touched on a similar point, "We need to practice sovereignty."
Corntassel suggested a variety of methods of engagement: incorporating music, art and humor, using "teach-ins" and blockades.
"We have to get out of the malls," he said. "Blockades get more attention than flash mobs."
Swan agreed that "blockades show that Indians are serious," especially if they result in arrests, as Canadian authorities recently threatened, or violence.
"We don't want violence ... but that will get attention," he said.
Idle in Indiana
Known as the "re-occupy" movement in indigenous circles and dubbed the Indigenous Nationhood Movement by some, Idle No More has attracted more attention and support than any previous Native American movement in decades.
"Idle No More is about unity and voicing our concerns," said Chief Gordon Plain Bull Jr. "It's about the First Nations in both United States and Canada saying we had enough. Stop poisoning our sacred water and Mother Earth."
In addition to the rallies Plain Bull organized in cities across Indiana, he supports protests against H.R. 1066, the Art & Organization bill, noting, "It will hurt us too."
He adds: "The XL Pipeline and Tar Sands are at the top of the list; we have blockades in Minnesota on the Red Lake Rez. Women abuse is another issue."
Swan is planning a round dance protest at Crazy Horse Mountain in South Dakota later this spring and other protests are scheduled across North America.
"Oftentimes our plight and our fight are hidden away from popular culture and mainstream society. Now it is time to get our voices heard by more than just Indian country and a few lawmakers," said Kelly, an Indianapolis-based Lipan Apache woman who declined to provide her last name.
"Idle No More means more than just standing up for indigenous rights, but also making the public aware," she said. "Most Americans have no clue that we're still here and still fighting for rights."
Kelly, whose father and grandmother were part of AIM in the 1970s, believes most Americans don't realize that Native Americans face rights violations, or that "our current condition is a direct result of 500 years of history."
She adds: "The oppression that occurred has not gone away. Most people don't realize that it wasn't just the past."
"We need meaningful action now," Corntassel said. "The key is to raise awareness, make the government accountable and keep talking about real change."
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