Idle No More Movement continues to evolve
By Lailani Upham
A round dance is directed around a the statue in front of the capitol by organizer Charles Walking Child. Walking Child told the crowd to say “good-bye to the statue.” He stated he will be working on removing the statue to be replaced by a “true Montana value” of a Veterans memorial of all races. (Lailani Upham photo)
HELENA — Another Idle No More rally sprang on the steps of the Capitol on Monday lead by Montana Native leaders.
Over 200 people assembled for the Indian People’s Action day of action in solidarity.
The event was organized and planned on Lobby Day in hopes of motivating supporters to push for action in the Montana legislation, according to IPA organizers.
“Together we will send a message to our political leaders that we are advocating for their constituents across the state,” said Lita Pepion, IPA member.
Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, holds up Senate Resolution 9 that supports Idle No More movement. Windy Boy urges supporters to come out and testify on behalf of the movement at the Friday hearing in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee. The resolution states, in part, “that the Montana Senate supports the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights and the commitment to improve relationships with tribes and tribal leaders and all indigenous individuals and communities in the United States.” (Lailani Upham photos)
Lined up speakers were: Theda New Breast; Dr. George Price, University of Montana Native American Studies and History and African American Studies Professor; Attorney Gyasi Ross, Blackfeet; Kathy Little Leaf; Rep. Clarena Brockie, (D-Harlem); Sen. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency; Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder; Western Native Voice Director Dustin Monroe; Kaden Walks Nice; Activist Charles Walking Child; and Public Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Niki Zupranic.
IPA organizers stated the event was planned to advocate on issues of social, racial, economic and environmental justice.
“Idle No More is not just an Indian issue. It’s about the unification of all people,” said IPA board chairman Elrae Potts.
Rep. Clarena Brockie,(D-Harlem) took a brief moment in between meetings to encourage the supporters.
“Who would of thought years ago we would be here. We have the most representatives than any other state. Finally we are taking our rightful place in history,” Brockie stated.
Rep. Clarena Brockie,(D-Harlem), urged supporters to continue on in the work of INM. Brockie stated that Montana has more Native representatives elected in than any other state. (Lailani Upham photos)
The movement launched in December of last year among Canadian tribes and has reached momentum in the northern U.S. tribes, especially Montana.
Walking Child said “Idle No More” is also about getting native voices heard in government. He wants to see issues like poverty on Montana’s reservations addressed, and wants the tribes to have seats at the table to work on creating jobs and protecting the environment.
The movement started among Native American populations; however many of the speakers urged in unison that it is a movement to give a voice to the poor and voiceless.
“We certainly welcome all voiceless, poor, non-native people. White people, black people, Hispanic, all of you guys. You guys are our brothers and sisters it has nothing to do with race,” said Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and an attorney that works to help tribes with economic development.
Singers render one round dance song to close out the day. Amanda Walking Child, and a Missoula INM event singer passes a lead to fellow INM singer Ryan Upham. (Lailani Upham photo)
Ross brought up the importance and an example of why the movement is for all people and not just Native people, such issues as Montana Medicaid expansion, environmental protection, protection against sexual violence for women and the to fracking in low-income communities.
Ross dispelled myths that have arrived in mainstream of what the movement is about and cleared the air, “You may have heard Idle No More is only about Native people. That is completely untrue. What Idle No More is about – is a difference in perspective. There is a difference between being a victim and being a self-determined autonomous person that takes control of their fate. That is what Idle No More is about. As an example of why Idle No More is not about race, I am going to talk briefly about the Medicaid expansion. To my understanding affordable healthcare and being covered by health insurance covers all people, irrespective of color. It has nothing to do with whether you are Indian or non-Indian,” Ross stated.
“Idle No More is first of all a poor people’s movement. It’s a voiceless people’s movement. It is a people that are formerly idle taking control and saying we will not be victims any more. That doesn’t say anything about color. The only reason why there are Native people that have been specified as the primary movers of the Idle No More movement is because there are a visible number of Native people that are poor.”
Ross explained the second misconception of the Idle No More movement, “It’s about Native people getting together and singing on drums. Doing round dances. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s called a 49 - it’s a good time,” he stated in amusement. “But Idle No More is a platform of organizing people.”
Judith Heilman of Bozeman holds up a sign, “An African American who support Idle No More” says she felt it important to make the trip to stand in solidarity with her friends. Heilman worked as State Director for the Obama campaign last year. She says she met First Lady Michele Obama last year as well and wore the shawl that had been gifted to her. (Lailani Upham photo)
Niki Zupanic, Public Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana stated, The ACLU have been honored to work with the tribal communities over several decades in litigation. “When tribal members were denied the ability to vote we helped bring a lawsuit and we won. When tribal members were ignored and ridiculed and openly derided when the districting commission was trying to draw new seats, we helped you sue. And as a result we made some important progress together. This is not about one community in the state this is an issue every Montanan should care about - access to the ballot. Fairness for everyone, that’s a Montanan value we should all care about.”
“This year the redistricting committee changed their tune, this go around the first district they voted on was tribal communities. It used to be they split up the Flathead Reservation in eight different districts. This year they made sure tribal communities were kept together and their power was not divided. This year the turnout in Native communities were increased in strength and that means political power. And that power is a threat and it is making people nervous.”
“You have been doing God’s work for a long time,” Ross told the crowd of organizers and supporters.
Gyasi Ross, Blackfeet, author and free-lance writer for Indian Country Today and Huffington Post, is a Seattle-based attorney runs down a list of what the Idle No More movement is – and what it is not. Ross’s law practice is centered around economic development for tribes. (Lailani Upham photo)
Ross and others pressed upon the crowd to come out and support, “We want things like Medicaid expansion, and the stop of fracking in vulnerable communities. These companies understand we are economically vulnerable. So they come in with a little bit of money and say we are going to give you this in exchange for your blood, in exchange for your people’s properties. And we do it because we are economically vulnerable. We need to stop those practices — and they way you stop those practices is building up those economically vulnerable communities.”
Ross explained that Indian Reservation were targets by large corporations because of the economically disadvantaged community. “That affects everybody, that affects every single person in the state, where they are on the Indian Reservation or not.
“Every single kid no matter race has an interest in clean water and air. We want every single person to benefit in clean water. “
The last point Ross made concerning the movement was the capacity to protect homelands and women of all ages and races against sexual violence, “It’s not about drumming and singing – that’s beautiful and I love that but we should do that, but it’s about protecting our homeland. It’s about passing the Violence Against Women Act.
Brockie stated, “If we don’t talk up who’s going to? I just want to encourage you in the work that you are doing to go on and ‘idle no more.”