Round dance flash mob joins 'Idle No More'
Coordinated surprise round dance gives voice to Canadian Tribes' right and fight to exist
By Lailani Upham
Dozens of drummers sing hard and loud while hundreds of Idle No More supporters crowd into the center of Southgate Mall in Missoula on Sunday, December 23, to raise awareness of the injustice of the indigenous rights that are being ignored with the First Nations people of Canada through the passing of Bill C-45. Drummers: (First Row L to R) Markus Davis, Ryan Upham, and Shandin Pete. (Second Row L- R) Louie Paul and Ervin Kicking Woman. (Third Row L to R) Sonny Doney, Trevor Butterfly, Mike LaFromboise, and Acorn Holds The Enemy. (Lailani Upham photo)
MISSOULA — Holiday shoppers have been greeted with singing this holiday season in malls around the country – and it hasn’t been the traditional Christmas carols; it has been traditional Native round dance singing and dancing.
The day before Christmas Eve hand drum singers from near and far gathered around the clock at Southgate Mall in Missoula at two minutes before two o’clock p.m. with drums nestled away in shopping bags, coats and backpacks to “flash” the crowds with a couple friendship songs to make a statement.
Approximately 30 singers showed up with compelling voices and deep felt drumming. Hundreds of Native supporters and dancers were present – some with signs making a statement for the “Idle No More” movement.
Many said they missed it by minutes – “Indian time” was not a factor for this particular Indian doings.
The statement came without words – but with heartfelt songs to bring awareness in a peaceful way to the injustice happening to the neighboring First Nations people in Canada, according to Louie Paul, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member and Idle No More Flash Mob Round Dance local coordinator.
Meeting at 2 p.m., Sunday, December 23 at the clock at Southgate Mall did not start on “Indian Time.” A CSKT Flag was raised along with cameras, cell phones and iPads to record a significant account in Native history. (Lailani Upham photo)
Paul said the event was organized to make people wake people up to what is happening up North and to take heed to it, “Because this could happen to us.”
The “Idle No More” protests were sparked in Canada regarding 14 pieces of legislation — the main one focusing on Bill C-45, an omnibus bill that made amendments to many pieces of legislation that affect indigenous treaties, according to Pamela Palmater, chair in indigenous governance at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Canada, and spokeswoman for the Idle No More movement.
Several of the Idle No More Flash Mob Round Dances across the U.S. are also a symbolic message to bring awareness to one of the movement’s most high-profile supporters, Chief Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, who has been on a hunger strike in a tepee just outside Ottawa’s parliament since December 11.
Spence warns she will starve until Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agrees to meet with her to discuss the respect for historical treaties.
As of this article, Harper has not met with Spence.
Bill C-45 passed earlier this month with a 50-27 vote.
According to a press release from the National Post located in Toronto, Canada, The budget bill, Bill C-45, includes changes to public sector pension plans, a new electronic travel authorization system, pay raises for judges and changes to environmental protection and reviews for lakes and rivers.
Also according The Post, the Harper administration argued that the changes are needed to protect the economy.
“Bill C-45 will not be enforced or recognized by their First Nations," said a statement released by the Chiefs of Ontario in conjunction with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Anishinabek Nation, Grand Council Treaty No. 3, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, and Independent first Nations.
Supporters dance their way around the singers to show their support for the Idle No More campaign for indigenous rights and environmental justice that is spreading across Canada during the Flash Mob on Sunday, Dec. 23, at the Southgate Mall. A young supporter carries a sign “We are all children of the earth! Idle No More!” (Lailani Upham photo)
“At no time in the nine months that Bill C-45 was being considered did the Government of Canada discuss any matters related to it with First Nations—this bill breaches Canada’s own laws on the fiduciary legal duty to consult and accommodate First Nations," said Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy in the statement. "The Canadian government just gave birth to a monster.”
Spence stated on Sunday, December 30, she was “deeply humbled” by the support she is receiving from aboriginals and non-aboriginals around the world in her appeal for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Harper and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
“The two critical pieces for us at the time were the changes to the Indian—unilateral changes to the Indian Act, which would allow the easy surrender of our reserve lands, and the changes to the Navigable Waters Act, which doesn’t just impact First Nations people, it also impacts Canadians and Americans because we share, between Canada and the U.S., lots of waterways and water basins and rivers and lakes. And so, these changes will be catastrophic to those waterways and affect people on both sides of the border. So what we were trying to do was not to just inform and empower First Nations communities about that violation to our treaty rights, because we never surrendered our waterways, but also the devastating impacts on Canadians and Americans in terms of clean drinking water,” stated Palmater.
What is a flash mob?
According to Dictionary.com, a flash mob is "a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration."
Palmater, stated that the name for the movement, “Idle No More” is symbolic to get people organized at a grassroots level. “For many decades we have this scenario where politicians in Canada are making decisions over the lives of First Nations communities across this country and First Nations leaders who are trapped in this system under the Indian Act—that’s federal legislation that we have—that controls every single action and decision they make, which really leaves the grassroots people out of the decision-making process. And for traditional indigenous governments here in Canada, it’s the indigenous grassroots people that are the real decision makers. They have been kept in the dark. They haven’t known what’s going on. And so, what we tried to do for this movement is come up with teach-ins, come up with information that would help empower the grassroots to know what is the threat against them and how to take action to address it, regardless of what’s happening at the political level.
Round dances are known as friendship dances and a way to bring people and communities together in an upbeat way and powerful way.
However, across the country part of the non-Native population observe the “Idle No More Flash Mob Round Dances” as a threat, leaving Native people feeling misunderstood and to some extent discriminated.
Several “mobs” including the one in Missoula were asked to leave and the security officials did not welcome the singing.
Supporters crowd in regardless of the heat and sweat generated by the full house to shoot videos and photos. (Lailani Upham photo)
Several bystanders were asked to quit recording and to stop taking photos.
The peaceful demonstration continued and supporters stated they have never felt or seen anything like it.
However, according to The Examiner, a Tacoma publication, the Idle No More supporters in Tacoma Mall were asked to leave by the city police and not to return for 24 hours on December 26. Shops in the mall closed their doors during the singing.
Paul stated the purpose of coordinating the Flash Mob at Missoula mall was also to support Chief Spence.
Paul stated Spence was a true leader, and was pleased with the turn out. “I felt good about the results. It was peaceful.” He added he was surprised at how many singers showed up to support the cause. “It wouldn’t have happened without the singers.”
Junior Caye, Kootenai Culture Committee member stated, after he heard the “Flash Mob” was due to happen he was determined not to miss it. “I was familiar with what was going on with Prime Minister Harper and the picking away of the treaty rights. I made an effort to attend because I really feel for them (Canada’s First Nations people).”
Despite the fact cameras were asked to be off and singers were not wanted in the mall, a security official was caught on tape bouncing to the power of the drum in a couple Youtube videos of the round dance.
“To stand around the drum, it is pretty powerful. You can feel the vibration and power it generates and once it touches you – you can think with your heart and feel for the people.
Caye said it was a good feeling to see the people come together and support all Native people. “It should be like this all over.” He added it was good to see the drummers, the dancers - the smiling supporters and the serious supporters.
“Today I watched quite a few videos of flash mobs all over and its good to see and feel the difference it is making,” Caye said.
“It is a light feeling, not a heavy one. It is good for everyone - it takes the stress away. It’s healthy for the people.”
At the end of the second song, the crowd immediately dispersed and went on with their holiday shopping. No harm done.
However, participants and a few observers of the Southgate Mall flash mob came away more educated and informed, with a stark reminder of the tentative relationship between the government and tribal nations.
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