December 27, 2012

Idle No More uses Native traditions

The Feather and the Fist: Media, Ceremony, and #IdleNoMoreThe newest of media meet the oldest of traditions as indigenous protests sweep Canada and the web.

The Idle No More movement, which began just weeks ago in response to the Canadian omnibus budget bill C-45, widened quickly to encompass long-running concerns around indigenous sovereignty, land, and environmental degradation. The uprising was originally sparked by four First Nations women who began running teach-ins about C-45, a bill that would weaken environmental laws and make the leasing of indigenous lands easier. It went country-wide with the National Day of Solidarity & Resurgence on December 10th. Today much more is at stake than the fate of one bill, as the protests become a focal point for First Nations demands for sovereignty, environmental protection, and the upholding of treaties.

The movement is taking full advantage of social media and web-based outreach. They have called upon supporters to spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, posters, videos, and poems. The organization’s hashtag, #IdleNoMore, is showing up in tweets from across the world. They have put out some striking visuals, and their efforts have inspired poster artists to share their work in solidarity (below from Dwayne Bird, Gillian Goerz, and Aaron Paquette).

At the same time, the protests are rooted deeply in First Nation symbols, ceremonies, arts, and traditions. From the image of the feather in a fist, to the use of sacred peace pipes, organizers are tapping the power of indigenous culture and framing their work through indigenous concepts like “e na tah maw was sew yak” which means “defending the children/generations.” Flash mobs in streets and shopping malls have been centered on the traditional round dance. Even the hunger strike by Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, which began on December 11th, echoes aboriginal fasting traditions.

The use of traditional symbols, ceremonies, and arts does not only offer support to political efforts—it is a political act in and of itself. As Greg Macdougall puts it:In this context, a fast/hunger strike as part of Idle No More (along with the many prayer ceremonies, drumming, round dance flash mobs, etc that have been happening) shows how the very Native culture that the people are standing up for is very much alive and experiencing a (re)surgence that can be a point of hope and solidarity in this country racked with so much present and historical pain and amnesia.In combining the newest online media and communications techniques with traditional symbols and ceremonies, Idle No More is treading ground first successfully walked by the Zapatistas in their 1994 uprising. People can try to write off the growing attention to #IdleNoMore as another twitterverse fad. But as the cultural work of the movement makes clear, this rebellion did not appear overnight with the latest Bieber gossip. This is only the most recent face of a centuries-long resistance movement that has never been idle for long.
Comment:  For more on Idle No More, see Idle No More in Los Angeles and Idle No More Goes International.

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