When Pamela J. Peters and Shawn Imitates-Dog attended a recent Idle No More rally in downtown Los Angeles, they were surprised.
The crowd was small—odd, considering LA County has the largest urban population of Indians. No media representatives were present. And the signs addressed immigration, racism and other issues not directly related to the protests sweeping Canada.
Idle No More’s message was being lost, they realized. Onlookers weren’t sure what the movement was about. Reporters didn’t know how to cover it.
They decided to hold their own rally to raise awareness of Idle No More and what it stands for. At its core, said Peters, the movement is about “the sovereign rights that we as tribal people have. We have rights to protect our water, our air and our land for future generations.”
There was one major obstacle. Many activists were planning to attend a big rally in Sacramento in two weeks. That gave Peters, a Navajo media consultant, and Imitates-Dog, a Lakota HR professional, less than seven days to organize and implement their idea.
They immediately began contacting their Native friends and colleagues. They created a Facebook page, alerted media websites and sent e-mail blasts. “It’s like our spirit was just on fire,” said Peters. “We really, really reached out to the community.”
“Thank God for social media,” said Imitates-Dog. “I don’t know how AIM did it back in the ’70s.”
People asked how they could help. The Tataviam Tribe’s creative services volunteered to do artwork for the signs and t-shirts. A Colville woman had the shirts made, with a vendor delivering them the night before the event.
Peters also talked with Idle No More’s founders. “I did the respectful thing,” she said. “I told them what we were doing. They pretty much gave me their blessing.”
Imitates-Dog suggested The Grove, a large shopping complex, as the location. It was outdoors, near Hollywood and next to CBS Studios. He and Peters scouted the site and tried to anticipate problems.
The big day
On January 19, the day of the rally, they arrived at The Grove uncertain what to expect. Only a few dozen people were standing around. Once they heard the drumbeat at one o’clock sharp, though, people appeared from every part of the mall—perhaps 200-300 of them. They had come from all over the region—some from hundreds of miles away—to join in.
Many formed a circle and started a round dance. Others hoisted signs, distributed t-shirts and handed out informational brochures. “It’s almost like we had rehearsed a couple different times,” said Imitates-Dog, “because it was just so on cue.”
A contingent of “Hollywood Indians” showed up to lend their star power. Among them were Q’orianka Kilcher, Zahn McClarnon, Shauna and Shannon Baker, Quese IMC, Crystle Lightning and Arigon Starr. They danced and held signs too.
After 10 or so minutes, The Grove’s security politely asked the participants to leave. Having anticipated this, Peters and Imitates-Dog led the group to a park across the street. There they danced, sang and prayed for another hour.
The LAPD was out in force, but for another reason. Sam Pepper, Louis Cole, Sawyer Hartman and Cyr—four young YouTube sensations—were holding a meet-up for their fans. Indians and teenagers eyed each other across the grounds.
“[Cole] came up and we told him what we were doing,” said Peters. “I gave him some literature and one of our banners. And he, in his video blog, gave us a little plug, and said it was a good cause.”
It was a fitting example of how social activism works in LA.
Everyone thought the rally was a great success. “It was amazing to see so many non-Natives at The Grove to support the Idle No More movement,” said Shauna Baker, Stellat’en First Nation. “It just goes to show that we are all human and this isn’t just a Native issue. It’s about human rights.”
It “was a wonderful chance to present a positive Native American image to the folks living in LA who probably don’t know they’re surrounded by Natives from many different tribes,” added Arigon Starr, Kickapoo.
While they watch events unfold in Canada, LA’s Indians are thinking about what else they can do. For one thing, they hope to talk to the founders about expanding Idle No More into a global movement. INM has the potential to educate the world about indigenous issues.
“We want to do more,” said Peters. “There’s a lot of resources here in Los Angeles. We’re using whatever we can to bring more awareness.”
For more photos from the event, see our previous story, " Scenes from the Idle No More Protest at The Grove in Los Angeles"