Idling in the fast lane of a unique winter

Urbane 2

By Drew Hayden Taylor

Originally published in March 2013

It’s a well-known fact that Native people prefer to wage war in the summer; rarely the winter. After all, they’re not stupid. I refer you, for example, to Little Bighorn, which happened on a hot and sweltering June day. The Battle of Batoche occurred during a warmish May. Kahnasatake and Ipperwash were also summer engagements.

This is one of the many reasons that make the current Idle No More movement such an anomaly. Not more than a few weeks ago, I saw several dozen frigid supporters standing outside at Ryerson University trembling in the cold winter air, chanting and round dancing. That was just one of the numerous and continuous nationwide demonstrations reflecting the anger and hope of Canada’s Native people. This winter time advocacy was another fine example of how Stephan Harper is changing the way Native people operate.

I can safely say most Native people would far rather be inside watching hockey (finally) and drinking their hot chocolate than wandering the streets protesting yet another oppressive and insensitive political action by the federal government. There is a saying we have in the Native community: The road to Hell is paved with government intentions.

An argument could be made that these current battles are substantially different in nature than the more historical and bloody ones, but the truth is, a fight for Indigenous rights is a fight for Indigenous rights. This time, more long underwear is being worn. All those summer battles I mentioned were against an oppressive government force, unsympathetic to First Nations needs. This is quickly becoming a generational institution.

And the use of the flash mobs, or more accurately, the flash round dances, also provide something more positive than most protests, for the round dance is a healing dance. The belief is that anger by itself can only achieve so much. You get what you put into it, so a positive, healthy and healing attitude might actually make its way to Ottawa. Hopefully.

What’s also new and innovative about the current Idle No More protests is that they are the first sizable and substantial political Aboriginal movement of the 21st century. It is also one of the first Native rallies sustained and empowered by the social media and network. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Idle No More movement has embraced that little twitter blue bird icon as their clan or spirit animal. The flash mobs are often humorously referred to as the fax mobs.

What’s also interesting is that this undertaking was primarily originated, organized and focused by Native women.  Started by four women in Saskatoon last November to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s now infamous omnibus bills, it was further empowered by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike (or more accurately her liquid diet).

It’s amazing what five bossy and opinionated Native women can achieve in this land and luckily women like this are not in short supply in Indian country. We’re just the first to harness it. It’s a very sustainable energy.

The movement is also expanding beyond the confines of the strictly Native community, and Canada. Many past protests, while endorsed by many non-Native sympathizers, were primarily organized by Native organizations and lasted a brief period of time, after which they would frequently peter out. The Ryerson protest was organized by a non-Native professor who, logically, taught a course in advocacy for the Child and Youth workers program.

I also noticed a trio of sign language translators taking turns interpreting the dozen or so speakers. They smartly opted out of translating some of the more rapidly delivered hip hop songs sung that afternoon.  Additionally, there have been more than 30 flash mobs across America, as well as solidarity protests in Sweden, England, Germany, New Zealand and Egypt. Celebrities such as Paul Martin, Joe Clark, and Blue Rodeo have openly endorsed the movement.

Despite the increasing cold, the occurrences here in Canada are actually gaining speed. There were several major political rallies occurring last Feb. 14 as part of an international event called ONE BILLION RISING, an encouragement to get one billion people worldwide to rise up protesting violence against women and girls. There are also several dozen events planned all the way through February and March in places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Macon, Minneapolis and Paris, France.

In addition, there was a second event at Ryerson University, the second Idle No More happening in one week, co-organized by the Ryerson Aboriginal Students Association and the Ryerson Students Union.

This is in itself ironic since the man after whom the university is named, Egerton Ryerson, was paramount in providing a report on Native education in the 1800s that would become the model on which residential schools would be based on.

Funny, huh?  The things you learn in school.