“We are not creating anything new – we are building on the work that has already been done for 500 years. We are not saying anything new – we are just carrying on the teachings of the people who came before us.“ – Roger Fernandez (RF), from the Klallam and Makah people
Idle No More rally in Seattle, WA
January 12, 2013
Photo by Shauna Causey
Idle No More – Invisible No More by Michael Schmautz
I have never been to a native ceremony. In a position now to be reporting on one seems foolish, almost dangerous. Perhaps this is also because I went expecting to be a part of something other then I was, as is often the case in my case. What I anticipated was a rally of sorts, a ragtag protest in the spirit of others I have participated in the past – demanding of you, chaotic and electric, people’s persona’s exaggerated by the experience of collective dissatisfaction. Indeed, the movement of Idle No More began in protest over a piece of legislation introduced in Canada called C-45 which calls for the opening of access to waterways in Canada including those qualified under treaties with First Nations people. Yet what I witnessed, and I use that word precisely, was so natural, seamless, and calm. In a word, they remembered. In a history of struggle that spans 500 years, there are bound to be many important actors. We remembered Chief Seattle and Chief Chetzmoka for their diplomatic contributions, and others like Vi Hilbert and Pearl Warren for support of Indian cultural development, and Crazy Horse and Geronimo for their firm stand against oppressive injustice. Together, these people were in the pivot points of native history and responded in ways that are worth remembering.
Photo by Bryce Stevenson
“Si’ahl, who we call Seattle – leader of the Muckleshoot, Duwamish, and Suquamish people – he fought for his people everyday of his life.” – RF
It would be no surprise to say that 500-year-old campaigns such as this 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 (of sorts). But on a patchy blue Saturday afternoon with the air biting at our skin, 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, the movement of 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. It was a day where much more was witnessed than 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 translate halfway across the continent and still holding meaning for these people here? Was there a time that native people of this region were idle too and now stand, or was it more than that?
Photo by BP
“Vi Hilbert from the Skagit people who fought for us in the cultural way all of her life.” – RF
For some, like a few elders I spoke with, today was just more of the same. “We have been doing this for centuries in our ceremonies, in our canoe journeys, in our celebration, our dancing, theatre. Every weekend there are gatherings, community gatherings, tribal gatherings, honoring the veterans of the foreign wars, honoring the elders, honoring the children. It’s a continuous thing. It doesn’t stop because of the clock. So this is just one of those many things.“
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 for honor and respect of which I cannot help but think of fondly.
But something was different and people knew it. “A lot of our people choose not to be apart of this outside world and the Idle No More [movement] showed us that there are no boundaries.”
Maybe it highlights the seasons that separate young and old, but the younger of the crowd were sure that here, something important is happening. Said Gyasi Ross, a young man from Blackfoot Nation: [people now know] “its ok to sing our songs, our traditional songs in public places. We don’t have to be ashamed, and have to put those into a corner, into a powwow circumstance to be Indian. We can be Indian anyplace we want.”
So it is different then, and still the same. Nothing new here, just now public and proud – a change that is ostensibly a statement to Indians themselves.
Photo by Bryce Stevenson
Gyasi, continued: “of course its important…it’s a gathering of natives, gathering of indigenous people to better our lot in life, to be proactive, to not play the victim stance, but instead taking control…taking control of messaging, informing the legislation, informing ourselves…it is kind of passing the torch, both symbolically and literally, from one generation of resistance to another.”
To Gyasi and others like him, days like this are becoming more familiar. It was a day of coming out of sorts. 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 as our brothers and sisters are disrespected in Canada. “We have been struggling for 500 years and we will continue to struggle, so do not mistake us. We may have been dormant, on issues that matter to us, 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 is Idle No More.
“To stand up for that life is what I do” one community elder said, “Any time I can represent who I am and where I come from I am more than happy to be a part of that.”
This is Idle No More.
Or Idle Never Was,
Or Invisible No More,
Whatever it’s called, Idle No More was the acts themselves. It was the prayers and hope for Chief Spence on hunger strike in Canada. Idle No More was the poignancy that helped us forget the cold, 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 was the passion with which people sang songs that have been passed down for generations. Idle No More was the way in which people leaned into the collective pain of historical loss, present isolation, and somewhat obscurity that native peoples are in what is American society today.
Photo by Shauna Causey
“Bernie Whitebear from the Colville people who fought to make this place a good place for the native people here through our culture and our education” – RF
But Idle No More was especially about the earth people said. It is about all these other things, but it is mainly about the earth, since this is how it all began. The dark and soft underbelly of Idle No More. Hope and pain – they come in pairs. The earth sustains, but must be sustained, and that, is not happening.
“The message that I gave there is not only the body and soul who we are, but its also a culture, and our culture primarily in this country is the birds, the bees, and the trees, and as long as that is going on then we have a life here, but if we don’t pay attention to that as a human being then our life is cut pretty short. We waste our water, pollute our air, destroy our land, and eventually that ozone disappears then we don’t have much left. That’s what I mean stand up for who you are as a human being.”
While festive, there was a palpable fear among the crowd – optimism couched in nervousness 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,” it is also clear that our ceremony that day was like an AA meeting where people and community are replenished and reinvigorated so that they can carry on. When I asked Ross what he wanted to see going forward he said: “What I want to see with my community is to see my community doing exactly what we are doing.”
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 ones 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.
Photo by BP
So I sat down on my porch last night for a good 15 minutes in the rain.
I thought to myself, Will this world be safe for my children to live in when the future comes?
No it will not, unless we fight for what we believe in. For our rights to take care of this land that our ancestors fought for and have died for. Our grandparents that have put their own lives on the line to protect the environment that we live in today. We are not only supporting one person or one country. We are fighting for a whole nation, a whole generation of children that will be taking our places 20 years from now.
This is a revolution.
What we stand up for right now will effect a lifetime of decisions that the next generations after us will come upon. They will learn the respect that we have for the trees in our backyards, the oceans, lakes, and rivers that we swim in. And most of all, they will learn how important it is to take care of what is taking care of them, Mother Earth.
Let us stand up and fight the same governments that took away our clean lands, clean waters, and clean air. For we will be teaching our children what our ancestors have taught us.
Fight for our land and our land will fight for us.
We will be IDLE NO MORE.
written by Chad Charlie, from the Ahousat First Nation on Vancouver Island, BC Canada
Photo by BP
Shauna Causey Twitter / Instagram / Facebook
Shauna Causey has managed communications, community relations and social media strategy for companies, non-profits and elected officials. She’s worked for the Seattle Mariners, FOX, Fox Sports Net, Comcast and Nordstrom.
She was voted in the 100 Top Women in Seattle Tech by TechFlash and named one of Seattle’s 40 Under 40 by the Puget Sound Business Journal. Shauna serves on the board of directors for three nonprofits: Social Media Club Seattle, Leadership Tomorrow and Reel Grrls. She’s also ad advisor for Team Up For Nonprofits and Jolkona.
Bryce Stevenson Facebook / Instagram
I am Bryce Stevenson, I was born and raised in Seattle, WA. I am an enrolled member of the Ninilchik tribe in Alaska, as well as descended from Gros Ventre (A’aninin) of Montana, and multiple other tribes in the Kenai Peninsula area of Alaska. I received my first (disposable) camera at age 9. Aho!
Michael Schmautz Email
I’m just a guy from Seattle.
Roger Fernandes Website
My name is Roger Fernandes. My native name is Kawasa. I’m a member of Lower Elwha Band of the Klallam Indians from the Port Angeles area of the state of Washington.
I was born and raised in the Seattle area. My mother moved to the city when she was a young woman and I was born in 1951 in Seattle. So I guess I’m what you would call an urban Indian, in some regards that makes life difficult in figuring out your native identity. In other regards it cam be seen as an asset. As when you do begin to look for your tribal identity it becomes a very focused search. That focused search led me to art and language and ceremony and story. So the past few years I’ve been telling Native American stories from this region for my own tribe as well as the tribes of the Puget Sound area.
Gyasi Ross Twitter / Website
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. He is a father, a writer, an entrepreneur and an attorney. He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, currently practices law representing tribes for Crowell Law Offices-Tribal Advocacy Group and is co-owner and Vice-President of Red Vinyl Records. His first book of short stories and poems, Don’t Know Much About Indians (but I wrote a book about us anyways) was published in August 2011 and is in its second printing. The book has made an impact in Indian Country and beyond and has received universally positive reviews. Gyasi is also a frequent contributor to Indian Country Today Media Network, and has contributed to other publications including The Seattle Times and The Huffington Post.
Chad Charlie Instagram / Facebook / Website
Canadian born and Seattle bred, Chad comes armed with a heavy-hitting style, fine-tailored to make your stomach hurt. Chad got his comedy career started in 2011working with well known comedians such as Elaine Miles and JR Redwater, much to his surprise for this great amateur he opened for Elaine Miles and JR Redwater, and will continue to work with JR Redwater. Chad has always been a character, always has a something funny to say he is one comic not to be missed.