Braving blowing snow and frigid temperatures on the final Saturday
in December, people came to Downtown Indy from as far away as Ohio, Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Montana and Canada to participate in Indiana's first Idle No More rally
and Round Dance flash mob.
The effort to stand for
environmental justice and against further erosion of native peoples' rights is
in solidarity with an ongoing grassroots First Nations campaign in Canada. Dismay over Canada's omnibus budget bill C-45
C-45sparked the movement. Opponents of the bill believe it will strip the First Nations people
of treaty rights.
A week later, many of the same people traveled
to Chicago to join nearly 400 others in a march under police escort from Daley
Plaza to the Consulate General of Canada.
"We're making a stand," said Bruce "Many
Faces" Pillow, executive
producer of WBND International Radio from London, Ontario, a man of Ojibwe and Cherokee heritage who attended both rallies. "It's
got to stop."
The movement is
experiencing rapid growth in Canada and the U.S. It
registered barely a blip on the local news radar but is garnering international
The budget bill at issue includes
unilateral changes to the Canadian Indian Act
Indian Actregarding reforms in land management
and private ownership that will make it easier to develop and take away reserve lands
from the First Nations people.
Proponents of the bill insist that it does not affect sales of
reserve land and that it merely expedites the lease procedure, streamlining the
designation process by simplifying the referenda required to grant an interest
in reserve lands. A simple majority of meeting attendees is now the only
requirement for leasing designated reserve lands. Previously, approval required
the support of a majority of eligible voters.
addition, the amended act would authorize Canada's Minister of Aboriginal Affairsto call a referendum to consider total forfeiture of a band's
territory. The minister could also ignore a resolution from the band council in
opposition to a decision at the meeting.
object to other provisions of the 400-page bill, as well, such as changes to
the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Environmental
Assessment Act that would remove protection of 99.9 percent of Canada's
Renee Kincaid, co-organizer of the Indianapolis rally and a woman
of Potawatomi, Miami and
Cherokee descent, said the bill has already removed thousands of lakes and streams
from the list of federally protected bodies of water in Canada. "On Dec. 4th, there were 2,500,000 protected lakes,
rivers and streams," she said. "On Dec 5th, there were 82."
and power-line projects would no longer need to prove they wouldn't adversely
impact waterways not on the transportation minister's shortlist.
The government said its
goal is to maintain environmental protection, strengthen enforcement and reduce
overlap and regulatory uncertainty, which it maintains will permit safe
resource development to proceed without unnecessary delay.
Reasons behind the rallies
Kincaid's goals in staging the protest that saw dozens of Native
Americans march from the Eiteljorg Museum to Monument Circle for a
peaceful rally include protecting land, water and mineral rights and getting
the government to honor treaties.
"I want [the Canadian government] to stop
breaking the law by keeping the Crown out of talks and I want the Prime
Minister to meet with Chief Spence," she said.
First Nations Chief Theresa Spence became the face of Idle No More, a
movement fostered by four
Native American women outraged by the controversial government budget bill, when she began a hunger strike on Dec.
Vowing to die for her beliefs unless Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a
representative of the Queen meet to discuss treaty rights and Canada's broken relationship with its
indigenous peoples, she is currently living in a teepee on Victoria Island,
Ottawa, just outside the Parliament buildings.
On Jan. 5,
Harper announced he would meet with First Nation leaders in Ottawa on Jan. 11. Spence intends to be at
the meeting. However, when pressed by protesters during the Chicago rally about
meeting with Spence, a spokesperson for the prime minister replied, "No
Citing caution due to historical precedent,
Spence is determined to continue her hunger strike until the meeting takes
"I will continue my hunger strike and await
the outcomes of the meeting," she said in a news release. "Our
peoples have had a history of prior promises and commitments from the Canadian
government with no true tangible results. We look forward to re-establishing
and strengthening our treaty relationship with Canada and the ongoing
discussions that lead to the recognition, implementation and advancement [of]
our inherent treaty rights."
Tribes unite in historic protest
battle is not Spence's first with the prime minister. In early 2012 she
declared a state of emergency on her
reserve over chronic underfunding
of essential human services such as housing, water, sanitation and education.
Following international media coverage and public outcry, Harper's government
seized control of the band's finances. Spence filed suit and won in court.
Her current hunger strike, emblematic of
indigenous oppression and resistance, is for all aboriginal communities, she
"I am here for my people, for our rights,"
Spence told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network
Peoples Television Network.
Inspired by her strength,
Native Americans have expanded the campaign of public protest into the U.S.
"We want Chief Spence
to know America supports her," Pillow said during the Indy protest.
By standing beside her in
solidarity, the intertribal movement is achieving unity among all nations and
putting a stop to the bickering between tribes, said Chief Gordon Plain Bull,
one of the Indianapolis organizers and an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes.
Bull said he believes it's important to lend support to his Canadian neighbors.
"What's happening there could happen here,"
Dubbed the Round Dance Revolution because
thousands participate in traditional circle dances in public, the movement is
gaining rapid momentum with international support and cooperation.
Recent rallies featured American protesters
meeting Canadians at border crossings. Many of those border crossings had to be
closed last week when large numbers of protesters showed up. Similarly, a blockade on the main rail line between Toronto and Montreal disrupted Via Rail
passenger trains last weekend.
In response to the disruptive protests in
Canada, Kincaid emphasized the peaceful, legal nature of their protests in
Indiana. Pillow noted that other rallies are being planned in various Indiana
cities, across North America and even in Japan, as well. Additional details
about upcoming events in Indiana will be announced at a future date.
we don't stand up for them, we'll all fall," Kincaid said.
Just as it's grown geographically, the Idle No
More movement has expanded into a movement for political transformation beyond
its Canadian genesis. It's developed into a crusade for Indigenous sovereignty
and rights, seeking respect for Mother Earth and this land's first peoples.
"We want Indian people to be recognized,"
Plain Bull said. "The struggle is just beginning."
Kincaid said she believes the struggle is even
more expansive, encompassing non-Native peoples, as well.
isn't just about Indian rights," she said. "It affects everyone
because it affects the environment and our natural resources."