What’s with all the Public Indian-ness around the country lately? That’s the question Blackfoot writer and musician Gyasi Ross hopes to answer in his essay “The Idle No More Movement for Dummies” (subtitled “What the Heck Are All These Indians Acting All Indian-ey About?”). If you’re new to the Idle No More phenomenon and want a short, easy entree into its mission and its place in the landscape of contemporary social movements, you need look no further:
The Idle No More Movement is not a new movement. Instead, it is the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492. It is not the Occupy Movement, although there are some similarities. It is not only about Canada and it is not only about Native people. Finally, and probably most importantly, it (and we) are not going away anytime soon. So get used to it (and us).
Ross sums up the movement’s two primary goals (for the moment at least) quite eloquently: protecting women and protecting the environment.
In connection with the former, Ross points to the need for Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which Republicans in Washington blocked last year over provisions that would have given tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. (Why such an obviously beneficial provision should be grounds for blocking reauthorization of a bill that has helped reported rates of domestic abuse drop by two-thirds in twenty years is something of a mystery.) Happily, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont – Vermont has some cool senators) has made reintroducing VAWA his top priority:
“The first legislation I plan to move in the new Congress is the Violence Against Women Act,” Leahy said Wednesday during remarks at Georgetown University Law Center. “Last year, the Senate passed my bipartisan bill, but House leaders refused to agree to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence and rape. Like so many other worthy efforts, renewing VAWA suffered from obstructionism that has seeped too much into our legislative process.”
And as Ross points out, this isn’t just a Native thing. VAWA protects all women, not just Native women.
In connection with the second goal, protecting the environment, no issue looms larger than the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Canadian Tar Sands. The latter are particularly relevant to the First Nations activists who started the Idle No More movement. But Keystone XL will be the primary artery for mainlining tar sands oil for the U.S.’s debilitating fossil fuel addiction. Indeed, the dangers of carbon-rich tar sands oil may be even greater than we had thought, according to a new report from Oil Change International:
Oil Change International’s new report “Petroleum Coke: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands” reveals that current analyses of the impacts of tar sands fail to account for a high-carbon byproduct of the refining process: petroleum coke. Because it is considered a refinery byproduct, petcoke emissions are not included in most assessments of the climate impact of tar sands. Thus, the climate impact of oil production is being consistently undercounted.
Thus resistance to the tar sands and resistance to Keystone XL are intimately linked. “Multinational corporations do not care about borders,” writes Ross, “and neither should we.” And as Kat Walker reports at Waging Nonviolence, resisters from Texas to Alberta are ignoring those boundaries both national and racial, bringing together Latinos, Native Americans, and Whites in the fight against climate change.
Because guess what? Caring for the earth, ensuring that there’s a liveable planet for our children and grandchildren to grow up on – that’s not a Native issue either. That’s a human issue. That’s an Earthling issue.
There has been a central thrust to many (even most) of the indigenous movements in the U.S. over the past fifty years: yes, we (that is, Native Americans) still exist. And all y’all White folks better start paying attention. The big difference with Idle No More is the urgency of the call to pay attention. Because if the rest of us Earthlings doesn’t start listening this time about how we’re, you know, destroying the planet on which we all depend, then it’s possible that within decades, none of us will still exist – not Native, not White, nobody.
A good reason to be Idle No More, huh?