Canada, indigenous activism
Advocates Tar Sands

Idle No More: Round Dance for Mother Earth


Idle No More has awakened indigenous voices from all over North America, blockading highways and border crossings, flash-mobbing in shopping malls, facing arrest and imprisonment. At issue are sovereignty and treaty rights, dancing and demonstrating for Mother Earth: for the protection of the air, the water, and the land, motivating native peoples out of their idleness and into the streets.

Round Dance, Los Angeles, Tar Sands
Idle No More Round Dance FlashMob at the Grove in Los Angeles in January 2013. Photo By Jessica Aldridge.

Indigenous Movement for Human Rights and Mother Earth

Over the last months, Idle No More has awakened indigenous voices from all over North America, staging non-violent direct action protests and flash-mobs, enlightening the shopping masses while facing arrest and imprisonment. Hundreds of years of oppression and prejudice, coupled with capitalist and governmental overreach, has shocked native peoples out of their idleness and into the streets.

Awakened and active, many have focused their energy on fighting the most environmentally destructive industrial project on the planet, the Athabascan Tar Sands of Alberta. With associated pipeline proposals, the Enbridge Northern Gateway and expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain through British Columbia and the TransCanada Keystone XL, to cross the heartland of the US, tar sands mining would dig a hole the size of Florida in the Boreal Forest, with carbon burned off at almost three times the contamination of Saudi crude. The following video is from a gathering of indigenous to speak out against this ongoing environmental and social atrocity.

Signing Ceremony – January 25, 2013 — Ihanktonwan Homelands, Yankton Sioux Tribe, South Dakota — International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Projects

Canada, indigenous activismCanada’s Bill C-45: Abrogating Treaty Rights, Limiting Environmental Protections

The tipping point came last year when changes to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act were passed in the first omnibus bill, giving ministers more approval power over energy and pipeline projects.  Bill C-45, introduced in October 2012, makes further changes, only requiring “major” projects to undergo environmental evaluation. The bill also overhauls the Navigable Waters Protection Act, exempting pipelines from the impact assessments and leaving less than 1 percent of Canada’s waterways protected. And finally, it alters Canada’s Indian Act, allowing for easier privatization of treaty lands through a referendum vote, giving the Aboriginal Affairs minister power to call a meeting to consider surrendering reserve territory.

For First Nations people, the Bill C-45 represents the latest colonialist incursion against indigenous sovereignty, threatening the taking and contamination of ancestral treaty lands. The Idle No More movement has formed alliances with environmental groups and labor unions across Canada under the mutual concern about the reduced environmental protections.  Going beyond race and ethnicity, it focuses on protection of the Earth and its children.

Tar Sands Blockade

Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence fasted for a month and a half to decry this move. She ended the protest with a 13 point declaration, calling for a national inquiry into the hundreds of disappearances and murders of aboriginal women that go unsolved, improving education and housing, and fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Idle No More, well-organized and at times militant, remains non-violent. “We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth,” movement founders wrote in January. “To keep us on this good path, we ask that you, as organizers create space for Elders or knowledge/ceremonial keepers to assist in guiding decisions as we move forward. It is up to each of us to see that this movement respects all people, the environment, and our communities and neighbours.”

Los Angeles, flash-mob, indigenous activism

Idle No More: Los Angeles

Recent gatherings in Los Angeles underscored the movement’s spiritual and communal roots. A Flash-Mob descended upon the Grove shopping center and later Venice Beach to speak out in support of indigenous rights and against damaging environmental projects like the tar sands. Using the form of a Round Dance, a custom originating from the Great Plains, music and dance express joy and kinship, connectivity between peoples and place. The spirit of the communal Round Dance, undertaken by surprise in a place devoted to individualistic capitalism and consumption, brought the earth-loving dimension of Idle No More all the more clear. People wonder, try to look away, but can’t resist the beat. Even the security guards were smiling.

Los Angeles, Idle No More

At the Grove, a number of Native celebrities showed up, including musician Quese IMC, artist Sheridan MacKnight, model/actresses Shauna and Shannon Baker, actor Zahn McClarnon, actress Q’orianka Kilcher, musician and comic book artist Arigon Starr, and musician Crystle Lightning. Drumming, songs and dances progressed in front of Nordstroms Department Store, as security scrambled to disrupt the affair. The Grove trolley attempted to part the gathered crowds, but the heartfelt beats blended with a crowded shopping Saturday in the middle of LA.

“We are American Indians of SoCal and friends, dancing in support of our First Nations brothers and sisters of Canada. We also dance for Mother Earth: for the protection of the air, the water and the land – for you, for us, for all that lives. For the generations of the future. Strong Voices. Good Hearts. In Solidarity.” – from the T-shirts made for the Grove Flash-Mob

Idle No More: Los Angeles – Flash-Mob Round Dance at the Grove.

In Venice Beach, community members gathered in celebration of the earth’s wonders, the rights of the indigenous, and to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. To the local Gabrieleño/Tongva tribe of Los Angeles, Venice Beach is known as Sa’Angna, meaning “Place in the Sun.” Again the drums sounded, the circle of humanity formed in a round dance as the bicyclists, roller skaters and beach-front diners looked on in humor, support, and occasional derision.  Welcome to the United States! Idle No More, keeping us grounded, is not going away soon.

Los Angeles, indigenous rights
To the local Gabrieleño/Kizh tribe of Los Angeles, Venice Beach is known as Sa’Angna, meaning “Place in the Sun.” Photo By Jack Eidt.


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