The Winter We Danced Voices: From the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement

By Edited by The Kino-nda-niimi Collective
ARP Books, November 30, 2013, $19.95

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When you hold The Winter We Danced, you hold more than a book. Edited by the Kino-nda-niimi Collective and gathering together more than 80 different contributors, it is a text bursting at the seams with collaborative fervour. With the addition of visual pieces, including paintings, photographs, posters and a substantial addendum of resources and organization information, this collection extends outside its own covers to participate in the larger movement it describes.

Subtitled “Voices From the Past, Future, and the Idle No More movement,” The Winter We Danced encapsulates the incredible output of writing that began in December 2012 and continued through the winter months of 2013, during the time better known as the beginning of Idle No More (INM).

Pieces range from scholarly breakdowns of legal and government policies, to poems, manifestos and textual collages of social media rinteractions. Together these pieces take the reader through INM’s historical antecedents to the Round Dance Revolution, Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and Shawn Alteo’s January 11 meeting with PM Stephen Harper. The book does not conclude in the current day but instead ushers us into the future armed with knowledge and resources to continue resisting. 

By now most know INM began as a teach-in about Bill C-45. However, it is also obvious that it was never just about that particular legislation. INM was a renewed declaration of refusal. Native people have always fought back against continuous assaults on their lands, lives and bodies and INM simply provided what contributor Jarett Martineau might call a new “hub” around which to organize that collective struggle. The movement also addressed the urgent need to revise public understandings of the relationship between Canada and First Nations.

The women of INM

Mainstream media coverage of INM often cast Indigenous demands as unreasonable or unjustified. Dru Oja Jay poses a challenge to the common representations of free-loading Indians, evoked most notoriously by the Toronto-based Sun News, with the title of his piece, “What if Natives Stopped Subsidizing Canada?” His overview of resource extraction on several First Nations territories highlights the uncomfortable fact that Canada relies much more on the resources of Indigenous peoples than Indigenous peoples get from Canada.

Misguided attacks from the media also included a slew of misogynistic attacks against Chief Teresa Spence. Leanne Simpson’s pieces “Fish Broth and Fasting” and “Idle No More: Where the Mainstream Media Went Wrong” address the fact that gender violence, in language and acts, is a common response to Indigenous assertions of sovereignty. The attacks on Theresa Spence and the sexual assault of a woman in Thunder Bay in December 2012 make clear that the issue of colonial exploitation cannot be described solely as an “environmental” concern. Resistance to exploitative resource extraction is inextricably bound up with resistance to gender violence. INM and Indigenous movements in general cannot compartmentalize their struggles. 

Dory Nason captures both the inherent misogyny of settler colonialism and the history of Native women’s confronting this structure in the story of “Dakota writer and activist Zitkala-Sa who went to Oklahoma in the early 1920’s to investigate the rampant violence against Indigenous women and girls.” Nason mentions that these women were especially targeted by “lawyers, judges and other white men in power” for their oil money.

Nason’s piece stands alongside a number of brilliant Indigenous women’s writing that came out during the movement, much of which celebrates women’s leadership while addressing the incredible harm of colonial gender violence. With “More Than a Poster Campaign: Redefining Colonial Violence,” Sarah Hunt provides a crucial contribution in which she urges us to “centre the voices of the most marginalized women in our communities,” such as sex workers, and to work on building stronger relationships with each other while reinstating women and two-spirit people in positions of power.

The means of resistance

INM was born from and sustained by the Internet, and this digital disposition is reflected in the articles, songs, messages, art work of The Winter We Danced, almost all of which were first published online.

While the Internet, particularly social media, live streaming and podcasts, proved an effective tool to distribute information and express political protest, with hashtags like #Ottawapiskat, Taiaike Alfred argues that a kind of Facebook feedback loop has limits in terms of creating change on the ground.

To talk about action beyond digital activism opens up an ongoing debate about the use of violence, which unfortunately often seems collapsed with any type of escalation from round dances and rallies. Glen Coulthard however argues that it is by only physically standing against the intrusion of foreign forces on Indigenous territories that we can effectively resist the “ongoing theft and exploitation of our land and resource base.”

This collection is an important archive of all the effort toward Indigenous freedom that has been achieved so far and an impassioned vision of a resilient Indigenous future. It comes at a crucial moment to provide reflection and stoke the fires of further action. Indeed, simply purchasing the book helps further important work as all proceeds from The Winter We Danced go to the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. 


Lindsey Catherine Cornum is a mixed-blood Diné graduate student and writer who spends a lot of time thinking about outer space, settler colonialism and everything in between. Lindsey lives in Vancouver, belongs to Dinétah and can be found sometimes on twitter @MixdBludMessags.