Idle No More: Indigenous Rights, Sovereignty, Environmental Justice

Sweeping across Canada and into the rest of the world, the Idle No More protest movement is a “campaign for indigenous rights, sovereignty, and environmental justice.” According to Indian Country Today, the movement arose in part as a reaction to Canada’s C-45 bill, which influences First Nations communities (particularly by encroaching on a variety of environmental protections) but was created without their consultation. Many indigenous voices contend that because of this, the bill violates Native rights. At the Assembly of First Nations conference on Dec. 6, 2012, chiefs unanimously adopted a statement of unity rejecting any Canadian legislation that impacts Native sovereignty concerning the use of Native lands.

Additionally, on that day, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began her fourth day of a hunger strike to protest abhorrent reserve conditions and to demand a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a representative to the Queen. From these beginnings, the Idle No More movement has spread internationally, with aboriginal people across the United States and the world protesting in solidarity with the Canadian tribes.

A major component of Idle No More is its substantial use of social media, coordinated and disseminated through Twitter and Facebook. Much as the popular meme the “99 Percent” worked to spread awareness for the Occupy movement, various hash tags related to Idle No More are popping up over Twitter, such as #settler to drive home to the uninformed that non-indigenous peoples are unintentional beneficiaries of a colonialist system.

The tag #upsettler further enforces this point as it combines the words “upset” and “settler” to describe a person who is upset by the subject of racism even being introduced into conversation by Idle No More. Those interested in joining the conversation may use #idlenomore. The use of Facebook and Twitter has been instrumental in the organization of flash mobs popping up throughout the country in support of Idle No More, including in Portland’s Pioneer Place mall and in Eugene’s Valley River Center. Native drumming is often included.

One of the greatest things about Idle No More, perhaps, is the unification that has been seen among hundreds of different tribes both in Canada and the United States as indigenous people of both countries see each other facing the same issues. It is beautiful and inspiring to witness all these people stand together on such an important issue. Moreover, it is a proud moment to see non-indigenous peoples galvanizing in support of justice for their fellow human beings.

Concerning Idle No More’s significance to Oregon, Cheryle Kennedy from the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Rhonde stated, “Idle No More is of importance to all Native Americans because it deals with Treaty rights. Our Native American people who live in Canada are being impacted through erosion of their rights and need help and support to let the world know this is happening. It’s important to stop this unjust action and add our prayers and unity to eliminate this type of injustice.”

More information on Idle No More can be found at

by Joel Southall