Idle No More movement marches on
By Lailani Upham
Hundreds unite for the Idle No More march in downtown Missoula to show support for Canadian First Nations people. From tiny to tall, folks march southbound on Higgins Avenue Bridge despite the bitter temps to make a statement through signs and songs. (Lailani Upham photo)
MISSOULA — A call for solidarity was the drive for the Idle No More March in downtown Missoula last Friday afternoon.
Over 300 people from tribes across the state of Montana, Canada, and as far as Arizona gathered at Caras Park to make the march in the icy temps across Higgins Bridge to make a statement to join others across the globe to say they will not be dismissed as a people any more.
Seven-year old Ali Kelly-Nenemay holds up a sign and message she created herself the morning before the march. (Lailani Upham photo)
Last month a 10-minute Idle No More flash mob round dance materialized with almost the same amount of people at Southgate Mall for the matching cause that began in Canada over a month ago regarding Bill C-45 - a bill that violates First Nations’ treaty rights, as well as human rights.
The C-45 bill transports significant changes to the Indian Act with changes to land management on reserves, handing power over to the federal government to control reserve land and reduce the protection of millions of lakes and rivers.
The Higgins Avenue Bridge Idle No More March organizers were Antoine Paul, Jimmy Ray O'neill, Dean Nicolai, April Charlo, and Craig Pablo. (Lailani Upham photo)
Friday, January 11, the day of the Missoula march, marked not only a complete month hunger strike for Chief Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, who has been protesting in a tepee just outside Ottawa’s parliament since December 11, it also was the day she was to finally meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The march ended in a round dance at the pavilion at Caras Park where media, professional photographers and cell phone snap shooters were seen throughout the crowd ready to capture the experience. Organizers stated they returned to the starting spot to represent “the circle” and the significance of a round dance is also a circle but it stands for unity and “to have a good time.” (Lailani Upham photo)
Spence, who is the Idle No More movement’s highest profile supporter, chose to go on a hunger strike until Prime Minister Harper and Governor General David Johnston agreed to meet with her and First Nations leaders to discuss the injustices regarding Canadian treaty rights.
On January 4, Harper announced he would meet with Spence on January 11.
However, Johnston declined to attend the meeting, and Spence cancelled it all together due to his decision to opt out.
A vehicle passenger snaps a shot of the Idle No More round dance during the last song. Supporters in vehicles passed by honking and snapping photos throughout the march and roundy. (Lailani Upham photo)
Spence stated it was essential that both Harper and Johnston participate in the discussion with First Nations leaders or she would continue her strike.
Last week Spence prepared for the worst and drew up a will prior to the scheduled meeting.
Coordination for both the flash mob at Southgate Mall and the march on Higgins Avenue Bridge was set off on Facebook, and then hit the halls of the University of Montana’s Multicultural Center, stated April Charlo, Idle No More Higgins Avenue Bridge march coordinator and great-great granddaughter of Chief Charlo.
The crowd makes the turn at the Missoulian building to head north while volunteers alert traffic with an “Indians marching” banner. (Lailani Upham photo)
The night before the march word spread fast on social media networks that Spence was preparing for death. The rush to assemble hit the hearts of young and old to march for justice – mostly very young.
Charlo and the rest of the coordinators were impressed with the turn out of crowd.
“It was a call for solidarity today and they (crowd) took the call and came out.”
Marchers file up the stairway to Higgins Avenue from Caras Park shortly after 1 pm. (Lailani Upham photo)
Craig Pablo, Idle No More Higgins Bridge March coordinator and spokesperson added, “It’s not just a movement, it’s an awakening.”
Charlo added her motivation for the movement, “We’re here to protect the land and water, and this isn’t just a Canadian issue. This incited us to have the warriors in all of us to come out and to say, yeah, we are here and we’re here to protect the land and the water.”
(L to R) The singers and drummers Amanda Walking Child, Wes Brown, Ryan Upham, Kyle Felsman, Sonny Donny, and Antoine Paul lead the way heading north on Higgins Avenue Bridge. Singers pictured in second row are Jarod Boyer and Jesse Nenemay. (Lailani Upham photo)
Pablo, also a descendent of Chief Charlo said he hopes to see the Idle No More movement stay alive and keep on. “There are plenty more issue ahead.”
The movement marches on.
There will be an Idle No More round dance event at the Salish Kootenai College Joe McDonald Health Center parking lot at 10 a.m. on Friday, January 18.