Solidarity with the Idle No More Movement and #J11

by Tushkahomma

January 9, 2013

What is Idle No More?

The Idle No More movement started in November 2012 in response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s introduction of Omnibus Budget Bill C-45 (which, among other things, gutted the Navigable Waters Protection Act) as well as other legislation detrimental to First Nations. Organizers held small rallies and a number of teach-ins throughout November to prepare for a National Day of Action on Amnesty International’s Human Rights Day, December 10. Those protests dovetailed with protests already happening in British Columbia over the Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails pipelines.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence announced a hunger strike to demand that Harper and the Governor General meet to discuss treaty rights of indigenous peoples. The Assembly of First Nations then issued an open letter calling for a meeting to discuss the Chief’s demands. However, by that time, Idle No More had ballooned as a grassroots movement with its own leaders, independent of the Assembly of First Nations.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence (Photo: Teresa Smith/Ottawa Citizen)

On December 17, the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations (those First Nations that signed Treaty Number 6) declared they did not recognize the legality of laws which are in violation of Treaty and Aboriginal rights and reaffirmed the Crown’s longstanding legal obligations.

First Nations are concerned about pending legislation that would undermine their rights and are demanding sovereignty, including the establishment of Nation-to-Nation relationships, rather than being governed by the Indian Act. In addition to sovereignty and treaty rights, they are universally concerned about environmental destruction, especially about the future of water and land protection. The energy of Idle No More has fused a number of widespread grievances into a movement.

Idle No More resonates beyond Canada

Protests have spread outside of Canada, and throughout the Christmas season, flash mobs erupted with round dances in malls and big box stores. Over 1,000 participated in the Mall of the America flash mob in Minnesota (see YouTube clip below). American Indians continue to protest at Canadian consulates and have brought the round dance to public spaces to demand the attention of the American public. Protests and solidarity events have been held in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., Texas, and continue to spread.

American Indian communities, which have long struggled against racism, chronic unemployment, poverty, and ecological devastation, and for sovereignty and cultural survival, are now facing austerity budgets as most U.S. government agencies have reduced appropriations. These issues have now converged in the consciousness of many, inspired by the example of Idle No More, and grassroots activism has increased.

American Indians have been fighting a long battle on the ecological front, including resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline in both Canada and the U.S. In some cases, activists have come head to head against their own tribal governments on the issues of dirty power plants and clean water issues. Moreover, recent struggles to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with tribal provisions saw widespread activism. Participation in Idle No More represents a continuation of the growing momentum in many tribal communities as well as off-reservation, where over 60% of American Indians now live, including cities where they are an “invisible minority.”

Growing militancy of the movement

Militant tactics are also on the rise, especially at the artificial colonial border. On December 30, about 100 people marched from Walpole Island to Algonac, Michigan. From January 4 to 6, blockades of Canadian highways and border crossings brought traffic to a half. On January 5, Mohawk protests in New York State closed the International Bridge.

While U.S. readers might remember militant indigenous action in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, First Nations on the Canadian side of the colonial border drew on militant tactics throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. For a deeper understanding of Idle No More in a longer historical and political context, see this excellent piece on the Decolonization blog. The continuation of militant action and a victory for Idle No More in Ottowa would serve as an inspiration for all of us.

Idle No More protesters establish a blockade at the border crossing between Canada and the United States on January, 5 (Photo: Geoff Robins/Reuters)

What’s next?

The Assembly of First Nations has invited Harper to a treaty meeting, and a delegation of First Nations leaders is meeting with Harper on January 11. Chief Spence has planned to join that delegation, but also stated that she is not ready to give up her hunger strike. Meanwhile, Idle No More has stated that the Leaders don’t speak for the entire movement and have called for a parallel “one day national dialogue with Indigenous Chiefs, including hereditary Cheifs to discuss water, land, sovereignty, and treaty relationships.” A convergence of events is planned for Jan 9-11 in Ottawa, Ontario, and will likely see various tactics both inside the negotiating halls and in the streets.

Tushkahomma lives in Texas and is a member of Solidarity.

Here’s what you can do to join January 11 actions or show solidarity from a distance:

  • Join the Facebook events page for INM
  • Go to an event in your area–see listing here
  • Change your profile picture to an Idle No More theme for the day of January 11
  • Share this article and information about Idle No More with a friend

Useful links:


8 responses to “Solidarity with the Idle No More Movement and #J11”

  1. Robert C Avatar
    Robert C

    #IDLENOMORE WORLD DAY OF ACTION in Over 30 Canadian cities and 10 cities in the U.S.

    Today, January 28, 2013 Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons. Idle No More and a number of allied groups will greet them with a strong message.
    “This day of action will peacefully protest attacks on Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28th,” organizers said in a statement on the Idle No More website. “As a grassroots movement, clearly no political organization speaks for Idle No More. This movement is of the people… For The People!”
    Please attend local solidarity events and
    New York City
    New Mexico
    Anchorage Alaska
    Dallas/Fort Worth Texas
    East Tennessee (Feb 2)

    For More context of Idle No More see:
    See the INM Manifesto
    INM Plans (Working Document)
    View events from the January 11 actions here: and one report in this article:

  2. Doug Avatar

    On the AFN, it is not a government but rather an advocacy organization of sorts. There has been a long debate preceding Idle No More by many years about the Assembly of First Nations. Many see it as a tool of Canadian colonialism – a state-sanctioned organization of chiefs and other Indigenous leaders who are in fact empowered by the Indian Act, not Indigenous people themselves.

  3. MikeMc Avatar

    On January 18, about 100 Idle No More demonstrators marched down Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee during the noon hour. Starting at the Federal Building and marching to Veterans Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. While Peace Action Wisconsin was a co-sponsor of the event, participants were nearly all Native peoples. The Oneida Nation was the most prominent (flying their official flag, among others), but someone was there with a Flathead Nation banner too.

    In addition to expressing solidarity with the Canadian First Nations, the march also emphasized “protection of the land and water” by opposing the easing of environmental protection standards to allow Gogebic Taconite to restart iron mining near Lake Superior.

    Video here:

  4. Isaac Avatar

    This reminds me of the speech that Tecumseh delivered to then-governor William Henry Harrison in 1810:

    Houses are built for you to hold councils in; the Indians hold theirs in the open air. I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I only take my existence. From my tribe I take nothing. I have made myself what I am. And I would that I could make the red people as great as the conceptions of my own mind, when I think of the Great Spirit that rules over us all. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear up the treaty.

    But I would say to him, “Brother, you have the liberty to return to your own country.” You wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as the common property of the whole. You take the tribes aside and advise them not to come into this measure. You want by your distinctions of Indian tribes, in allotting to each a particular, to make them war with each other. You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this. You are continually driving the red people, when at last you will drive them into the great lake, where they can neither stand nor work.

    Since my residence at Tippecanoe, we have endeavored to level distinctions, to destroy village chiefs, by whom all mischiefs were done. It is they who sell the land to the Americans. Brother, this land that was sold, and the goods that were given for it, was only done by a few. In the future we are prepared to punish those who propose to sell land to the Americans. If you continue to purchase them, it will make war among the different tribes, and at last I do not know what will be the consequences among the white people.

    The way, the only way to stop this evil, is for the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now—for it was never divided, but belongs to us all.

    No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.

    Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you killed him and nailed him to the cross. You thought he was dead, and you were mistaken. You have the Shakers among you, and you laugh and make light of their worship. Everything I have told you is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me.

  5. Robert Avatar

    “IdleNoMore is here to stay according to recent news. Leaders are announcing intentions to keep at it until the nation-to-nation relationship is re-established with the settler governments and the protection of land and water is accomplished. This is the precursor to the great showdown. The most important aspect of our struggle with the west is the imminent clash of world views. The true revolution is not a greater cut of the resource development or a fairer slice of any of the corporate produced “wealth”; the true revolution is an awakening of the spirit and a return to living a respect relationship with the earth. The corporate west and its myth GDP measured wealth is going to buckle by our actions or by earth’s. A new reality is the only salvation for all of us. We are ready.”

  6. Tushkahomma  Avatar

    Thanks, Isaac for your thoughtful questions. I am NOT an expert on the Canadian context, but the Assembly of First Nations is a gathering place for First Nations to discuss issues of common concern and functions as a mainstream, institutional lobbying organization to address First Nations issues. It is NOT a government, but most of its leaders are leaders from tribal governments. The AFN has “partnerships” with foundations and non-profit organizations, unions, and even some corporations. Some background on AFN is here and

    The AFN is probably most analogous in the U.S. to

    Both the AFN and NCAI are very important organizations. While they both might be compared to the NAACP or LULAC, they both depend on indigenous Nations for membership over individual members (AFN does not have an individual membership category, although Individuals can join a mailing and email list).

    Idle No More was not an initiative of AFN, nor the Chiefs. It was a grassroots initiative that has gotten tremendous support from Chiefs and traditional leaders. I hesitate to explain more from my limited vantage point over 1200 miles from Canada.

  7. Isaac Avatar

    Thanks for this write-up, it’s a great summary of information.

    Here in Chicago, I have not heard about an action on J11 but there was a good flash mob round dance this past Saturday, January 5, organized by the American Indian Center of Chicago. Around 250 attended, including some from surrounding states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The flash mob began at Federal Plaza and marched to the Canadian consulate, where a representative came out and spoke to the crowd (this was the day after Harper had announced he was going to meet with Chief Spence). Afterwards, there was a final round dance done with the American Indian Movement intertribal song.

    There’s a video on Youtube:

    I am also commenting to ask for some elaboration. In the second paragraph you write: Idle No More had ballooned as a grassroots movement with its own leaders, independent of the Assembly of First Nations. I was wondering if you could comment or provide reading more about the history of the Assembly of First Nations and their role, and the significance of independent leadership. Is there or has there been a similar body in the “United States” or is this something unique to the Canadian state?