It would be no surprise to say that 500-year-old campaigns go through periods of lull. For the Irish, it took 500 years for the British to conquer them, and another 500 to kick them out. Undoubtedly that campaign had its own share of ebb and flow. But on a patchy blue Saturday afternoon with the air forcefully biting at our skin and reminding us that we are after all just human, natives representing tribes of the Pacific Northwest were hootin’ and cooin’ and lamenting and singing as they joined, in spirited empathy for what has become a dwelling of solidarity for aboriginal peoples globally, Idle No More.
In this campaign, this point of call, this ostensibly free expression of life and the sacredness of it, native people brought all of themselves to downtown Seattle. Palpably present in this native band of singers and storytellers was a recipe that called for 2 teaspoons sadness, 6 cups respect and honor, 1 cup of dull ruggedness, and a pinch of absolute defiance all broiled under the heat of community pride.
It was a day where much more was witnessed than told and transcribed, and I had a hard time understanding if natives were a community ever really idle at all. Notwithstanding the obvious references to its origins in Canada with Chief Spence, how did this expressive movement of solidarity come to be called Idle No More halfway across the continent and still holding meaning? Was there a time that native people of this area were idle too and now stand? It appears to be so, but it was hard to pinpoint, as what we did today was something that is done all the time in native circles. Only now it was public and intentional. As I asked people again and again what of it, they could not exactly say themselves and at times, I knew, simply did not want to say – a community habit of honor and respect which I cannot help but think of fondly.
Today was a day of coming out though. It was part celebration and part demand of cultural potential and present existence. Here we are! the day went. Every moment choreographed to tell the world we will not stand by. We have been struggling for 500 years and we will continue to struggle. We may have been dormant, afraid to publicize ourselves, but now
a bunch of noisy Indians.
You could feel the pride, and this is how I could start to nail down what Idle No More is.
“There is always ‘Yes Men’” one young guy told me, referencing the fact that there have always been natives standing tall. “I cannot talk about other peoples,” he continued “but in my community we are fishing people and many of us have isolated ourselves from the real world, but this is their stepping out.”
And join us, they said. All are welcome. “The blood that runs red in each of us” unites us. This is Idle No More.
With no one shining a direct light on it, yet simply doing what has been done for ages in other shape and form, Idle No More is the prayers and hope for Chief Spence on hunger strike in Canada. Idle No More is the felt pride which touched and warmed us despite deep chill, as leaders from different peoples stood, spoke, encouraged, bringing the best of their small band of warriors to the benefit of the whole. Idle No More is the passion with which people sang songs that have been passed down for generations. Idle No More is the way in which people leaned into the collective pain of historical loss, present isolation, and somewhat obscurity that native peoples experience in American society today.
But Idle No More is especially about the earth, they told me. The dark underbelly of Idle No More. Hope and pain – they come in pairs. The earth sustains, but must be sustained, and that, they said, is not happening. We are destroying the earth and it will not be here like it is for our children and their children.
It was a palpable fear among the crowd – the fear of dropping the baton. That in this 500-year history of native struggle, that theirs would be the generation that was truly idle, that let the issues before them pass unchallenged, that did nothing and went nowhere except farther into the isolation of their reserved land. As much as Idle No More is a circling outward to the world to say, “See us and respect us as we respect ourselves,” it is also the AA meeting that replenishes a weary and yet uncertain community’s commitment and solidarity with itself.
For broader American society, I have my doubts Idle No More will mean much. But to the native community that is replenishing itself, this day was a day to caste out demons of idleness, to reorient oneself and one’s community. Given by the elders who told story after story, we all drank from the cup of our humanity and were reminded to stand tall and proud and to live fully. I have not been apart of something so sacred on a Saturday in as long as I can recall.