The power of the round dance

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Photo: David Coombs

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There was a special moment for me today between my heart and the sky. Toronto weather reports for today screamed rain so, before leaving for today's round dance at Dundas Square in the heart of the city, I stopped and put a little tobacco down to ask Creator to hold off on the rain until after our round dance was over.

Sure, we had a contingency plan to move from Dundas Square to the Eaton Centre lobby, but we prayed for the best, thankfully wishing we could dance under all of creation.

More than 500 people arrived at Dundas Square, some with drums and shakers, some with placards and some with just their hearts connected to their feet.

Toronto Police greeted us at the square and questioned our rainy-day contingency plan. We thanked them for their help, but we wanted to stay outside for as long as the drums could tolerate any rain. The round dance was to last from 1:00pm to 2:00pm.

So there I was standing at Dundas Square at 2:00pm just after the round dance had finished up and I looked to the sky and felt a few drops of water touch my face and I smiled. The rain had held off for the hour so the over 500 people who had heeded the #J11 global call out in support of Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement and the promise of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty.

As we danced, the jumbotron from the East either showed our dancing live or played clips of Chief Theresa Spence and we all clapped. The surreal moment of watching ourselves sing and dance in real time made us realized that this wasn't just about us or Toronto.

Saami Indigenous activists were fasting in Norway, round dances were held in New York and New Zealand. These are the great big moments when we realize that we are not alone.

We are all in this together, demanding new relationships, Nation-to-Nation relationships between the Crown and First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada.

The round dance is both the perfect symbolic tool of friendship among fellow men but also a practical, peaceful way to encourage participation between different First Nations communities and with Canadian allies.

The drums and the singing seem to smooth over some of the rougher, historical angles that used to cut up both sides.

The easy part of the round dance is listening to the drummers and singers. Hearing the voices of the singers -- even if in an Indigenous language you don't understand -- rise and dive like Kingfishers and move between the realms of earth and sky is beautiful.

The slightly difficult part is building trust between individuals who are just standing around listening to the drum, and convincing them to reach out and take each other's hand and start round dancing.

That's when the magic happens, when two strangers reach out their hands and connect to form a giant circle which spins around, made up of hundreds of new relationships of trust -- and then suddenly the group of dancers are now all connected to one another. And I hope that it is this connection between Indigenous Canadians and mainstream Canadians that lasts well beyond this day of action. No justice. No peace.

The language of human touch carries with it many lessons and instantly breaks down any social-political barriers between the Canadian nation and First Nations across Canada. Aided through the communication of the drum -- the thundering power of the human heart -- one hand grabs another and a new understanding is built. New alliances. New allies.

It's as simple as one individual reaching their hand out and having that hand grasped in friendship, and quickly a round dance circle is formed and you are now no longer you and I am no longer me but we are now one part of a bigger circle that represents the continuation of life.

Which is in essence what First Nations communities are asking for: they are asking for life; a life away from housing shortages and missing women and boil water advisories.

Because many of the First Nations reservations that are in dire need are quite isolated from the world of mainstream Canadians, so it's easy for city Canadians to forget about their needs and existence. The abject poverty. The high HIV rates. The lack of clean water. Winters spent without proper winter housing infrastructure.

But through these round dances of friendship, new bonds of caring and reciprocity are born and now suddenly, for mainstream Canadians, the Indigenous-other doesn't seem so far away as you're singing and dancing with them and looking them firmly in the eye and you both smile.

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