January 10, 2013

Idle No More = Occupy

Idle No More--Think Occupy, But With Deep Deep Roots

By Bill McKibbenI don't claim to know exactly what's going on with #IdleNoMore, the surging movement of indigenous activists that started late last year in Canada and is now spreading across the continent--much of the action, from hunger strikes to road and rail blockades, is in scattered and remote places, and even as people around the world plan for solidarity actions on Friday, the press has done a poor job of bringing it into focus.

But I sense that it's every bit as important as the Occupy movement that transfixed the world a year ago; it feels like it wells up from the same kind of long-postponed and deeply-felt passion that powered the Arab spring. And I know firsthand that many of its organizers are among the most committed and skilled activists I've ever come across. In fact, if Occupy's weakness was that it lacked roots (it had to take over public places, after all, which proved hard to hold on to), this new movement's great strength is that its roots go back farther than history. More than any other people on this continent, they know what exploitation and colonization are all about, and so it's natural that at a moment of great need they're leading the resistance to the most profound corporatization we've ever seen. I mean, we've just come off the hottest year ever in America, the year when we broke the Arctic ice cap; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was when I was born.

Thanks to the same fossil fuel industry that's ripping apart Aboriginal lands, we're at the very end of our rope as a species; it's time, finally, to listen to the people we've spent the last five centuries shunting to one side.
And:The stakes couldn't be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice if he wanted to keep developing Canada's tar sands, because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.

Canada's environmental community protested in all the normal ways--but they had no more luck than, say, America's anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tarsands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied.

But there's a stumbling block they hadn't counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the Aboriginal Nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the Crown, and others haven't, but none have ceded their lands, and all of them feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper's power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada's total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world's second largest pool of carbon. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." Which means, in turn, that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.
Comment:  For more on Idle No More, see Harper to Meet with Chiefs and Arguments Against Idle No More.


Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

IMHO, Idle No More =/= Occupy.

Occupy has been primarily about shoring up economic privilege for white people. INM is about Indigenous sovereignty.

There have been some very serious problems with racism in Occupy. Starting with the name. Some non-Natives in Occupy decided to declare themselves allies of some NDNs and NDN events, and forced their way into these spaces, announcing they would now "occupy" those NDN events. As we are living on illegally occupied land, stolen from NDNs, this declaration by a non-Native group made many people rather uncomfortable.

A call was made in a number of Occupy camps to rename the effort "Decolonize." Most occupiers voted it down. There has also been a problem with Occupy people taking over what were previously POC spaces, pushing the POC to the margins and then voting them down when they spoke up. Check out what happened with that in Oakland.

Additionally, we have seen some people in Occupy, and even Decolonize groups, who are very intent on appropriating Indigenous identities. In many Occupy camps Newagers set up meditation/ritual spaces where non-Natives confidently mimicked NDN ceremonies. Known pretendians showed up at Occupy rallies and claimed to represent Indigenous people and the Occupiers eagerly propped them up as token POC, even when these pretendians have been white people.

Idle No More is founded and led by 3 Indigenous women and one non-Indigenous ally. It is very different from most of what we have seen with Occupy. In some areas, we are having to make sure non-Natives from Occupy are kept from colonizing and taking over INM events with their own agendas.

Anonymous said...

Newagers in Occupy? I'm just lulzing because they apparently don't remember Anonymous' pre-activist days, when they were just another group of trolls.

FWIW, Alcatraz might well be a prototype for an Anonymous-style action, though. (For those unfamiliar, the occupation of Alcatraz was done because it was never intended to be self-sustaining, or to have any occupant leave willingly, making it perfect for a reservation. In short, the whole thing was "for the lulz".)

dmarks said...

"Think" and the Occupy movement do not go together. The movement was rife with antisemitism, had goals which included giving the most powerful even more power, and was successful ultimately at nothing other than creating rape camps and harassing small business owners.

Kathryn has a lot of good points (especially about Occupy and privilege), but I find her tortured reference to coloreds (barely hidden in an acroynym) to be unfortunate.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Hi dmarks,

By referring to People of Color (POC) by that phrase, I am following the lead of the African American, NDN, South Asian, and folks of other ethnicities who have been speaking out about racism in Occupy, such as the authors of "For People Who Have Considered Occupation But Found It Is Not Enuf," the writers at Racialicious, and many other activists and authors who self-identify as being "of color," in addition to their particular ethnicity. Among the many POC writers I read and talk to, it's not a controversial phrasing; it came into popular usage among coalitions of ethnic communities who have the shared experience of being subjected to racism, long after "colored" fell out of fashion.

As someone with white privilege, it is not my place to decide what to call people who are being subjected to racist oppression, so I try to be alert to how people self-identify. My apologies if I offended anyone but, as I said, I am just following the lead of the other writers I link to in pieces like this one: Americans and "Indigenous" Identity.

Rob said...

I posted several items about the Occupy/Decolonize controversy. The name may have been a mistake, but it was chosen innocently. People were thinking about physically occupying Wall Street, not what the word might mean to Natives.

Occupy is about challenging the 1% of capitalists who use their wealth and power to dictate to the rest of us. These are the same people running the companies despoiling the environment, especially on Native lands. So yes, the movements have a lot in common, including the idea of devolving power from the elite to the masses.

As for "shoring up economic privilege for white people," I'm not sure what that means or where it comes from. I do know that Native groups participated in Occupy rallies because Occupy's goals were similar to theirs. Again, the "Occupy" name was a complication, but it doesn't negate the movement's goals.

What New Agers and Pretendians have done at Occupy rallies also doesn't negate the movement's goals. Same with the anti-Semites and Tea Partiers, possibly the same people, who participated in some rallies. The movement is bigger than the fringe elements it attracts.

P.S. There's nothing wrong with the phrase "people of color" (POC), which has nothing to do with the outdated word "colored." It's widely accepted among blacks, Indians, and other minorities.

dmarks said...

Occupy's policies for the most part, but not always, focused on giving more power to the much less than 1% who control and rule. They focused extensively on giving more power to the ruling elites.

"People Of Color" means the exact same thing as "Colored", just as if a person said "People of Indonesia' instead of Indonesians. It is an immense semantic trick to imagine any sort of difference between them. Other than the trendy re-wording of "colored" looks very clumsy. I never use either term, and never will. And yes it has everything to do with "colored".

Sometimes the modifications/updates for terms like this make great sense, like Jesse Jackson's coining of "African-American". This clumsy rewording of "colored" is not one that makes sense. It would be like someone saying that we need to say "Americans of Africa" instead of "African-American" and that the two meant something entirely different.

"It's widely accepted among blacks, Indians, and other minorities."

Actually, I have seen many many discussions where this version of colored is only used for African-Americans.