Decolonizing in the Empire State: A view of #IdleNoMore solidarity from abroad

| December 31, 2012
Photo: Sean Carleton

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In September 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper grabbed headlines in New York City. The New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation presented Harper with the "World Statesman of the Year" award in recognition of his being "a champion of democracy, freedom and human rights." Yes, the same man who once proclaimed that Canada has "no history of colonialism" and more recently tweeted "Mmm…bacon" while trying to ignore Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike was actually awarded a humanitarian award! Now, some New Yorkers are putting Harper back in the public spotlight, but for very different reasons: they are protesting the Conservatives' Bill C-45 and supporting Chief Spence's hunger strike and the #IdleNoMore movement more generally.

#IdleNoMore is no longer a solely "Canadian" phenomenon. As Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada work to build the #IdleNoMore movement and clarify its short-term and long-term goals, activists from Palestine and Cairo to London and around the United States are issuing statements of solidarity and organizing rallies, flashmobs, and round dances to bring attention to the movement and its demands of land, dignity and sovereignty. Some of those involved are "Canadian" expats but many Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are simply inspired by the #IdleNoMore movement, its energy and creativity, and its potential to generate a sustained conversation about Indigenous rights and resistance. One group of Māori women from Aotearoa, or New Zealand, have even issued a statement of encouragement to those involved in #IdleNoMore and Chief Spence in particular, stating: "We thank you for your courage to stand in protection of future generations so that for seven generations and beyond there is a place for our descendants to stand. We thank you for your powerful expression, in these moments in time, of the dreams, visions and aspirations of our ancestors, seven generations and beyond, who held true to our protocols, beliefs and values in relationship to all living things." Check out the #IdleNoMore map illustrating the actions planned around the world:

Image: Tim Groves

In New York, activists are also mobilizing around #IdleNoMore with three actions organized so far. On December 21, 2012 in New York City, in the "Empire State," a small group gathered at Union Square to show their support for the #IdleNoMore movement and encouraged others to get involved in future gatherings. On December 28, 2012 a larger round dance in solidarity with the #IdleNoMore movement occurred at Washington Square in central Manhattan on the traditional territory of the Lenape. Building on Washington Square's long history of protest, over 100 people participated in the round dance to raise awareness about the #IdleNoMore movement, the consequences of Bill C-45, and Chief Spence's hunger strike. Amidst the dancing, the large group broke out into "Idle/NoMore!" chants and random declarations of solidarity. Indigenous peoples from across New York State traveled to attend the round dance and many Indigenous peoples from the Mohawk and Onondaga Nations who could not attend voiced their support through social media.

At the round dance, many participants held signs as they moved to the beat of the drums stating: "We Stand For Our Future Generations," "I Support Chief Spence," "NYC Natives Support Chief Spence." While solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada was the stated intention of the round dance, other signs such as "Support Indigenous Rights" and "De-Colonize" spoke to the prospective power of the #IdleNoMore to spark a larger movement of resistance and decolonization.

Photo: Sean Carleton

On December 30, 2012 another round dance took place, this time in New York's famous Times Square and with approximately 50 participants. The drumming and singing could be heard around Times Square and the juxtaposition of the #IdleNoMore signs against the backdrop of one of America's largest intersections-turned-corporate advertisement (one owned partly by the Disney Corporation) was powerful. Over 400 flyers with information about the #IdleNoMore movement were handed out to the tourists who were watching workers set up for the annual New Year's Eve concert in Times Square. Future New York City #IdleNoMore dances and events are currently being planned.

Photo: Sean Carleton

In short, the #IdleNoMore movement is receiving a significant amount of solidarity in Canada and internationally, and this is inspiring. Local and global support is important and solidarity can be very encouraging to those engaged in struggle and this was demonstrated by the casserole marches that were organized around the world this summer in support of the Quebec student strike. It seems that something similar is emerging out of the #IdleNoMore movement. Indeed, many of the round dances and solidarity flashmobs (at least those in NYC that I have attended and those elsewhere that I have viewed online) even have a similar feel to the casserole marches that were organized in support of the striking students.

However, it must be understood that solidarity events do not necessarily lead to successful struggles. In fact, we will do well to remember that the Quebec student movement ultimately defeated the proposed tuition hike not as a result of social media, slogans and signs of solidarity but because the students took risks and, through direct action, mobilized their social power for justice and change. In the end it was students' resolve to defy the law and the state that led to their victory. What risks those involved in the #IdleNoMore are ultimately willing to take will determine the movement's overall measure of success. Hopefully the solidarity actions taking place across Canada and internationally will continue as those involved in the #IdleNoMore movement develop riskier tactics and strategies to bring about justice and social change.

Sean Carleton is a PhD Candidate in the Frost Centre for Canadian and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. He currently lives on the traditional territory of the Lenape people (Manhattan, New York City).

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