Drumbeats echoed through an upscale Denver mall as at least 300 Round-dancing and singing Indian people showed their support for the Idle No More movement among First Nations people of Canada, who have pressed for honoring treaties, preserving natural resources, and meeting with the prime minister over the erosion of indigenous rights.
Members of the Denver Indian community are also supporting a hunger strike, now in its third week, by Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, who has been urged by other First Nations and government representatives to end the strike she undertook to force a meeting on Native rights with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Although peaceful, the Denver flash mob event December 29 was a forceful presence that prompted Nick LeMasters, general manager of the Cherry Creek Mall, to state that it was “a disruption to shoppers”—and the mall was not “a forum for folks to convey their message.”
Mall security and city police remained in the background, although a security official phoned one event organizer beforehand and she characterized the call as “more like I was being bullied, but he never said he would call the police.”
In fact, the Round Dance was a forum for people to remind others that borders don’t separate Indigenous Peoples. And, although political, the event was also “sort of a family affair,” initiated by four cousins active on the powwow circuit.
One, Katrina Her Many Horses, Oglala Lakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho/Taos Pueblo/ Mesquaki/Ojibwe, 15, of Denver, has a brother and friends in Alberta and she has attended a number of powwows in Canada. ”It affects my family and friends up there—their treaty rights, lands and water supply,” she said.
The flash mob was organized by Natalie Goodluck-Locust, Navajo/Oglala Lakota/Northern Cheyenne/Cherokee, 19, who said, “We’re just cousins who thought we could help.” The other cousins were Taryn Soncee Waters, Cheyenne/Oglala Lakota, Cherokee, 21; and Cheyenne Birdshead, Cheyenne/Arapaho, 17.
“This just started out as something that sounded cool, but we all decided it was a good thing to stand up for,” Goodluck-Locust explained, stressing that the U.S.-Canada border “doesn’t separate us from other Indian people,” a sentiment echoed by Birdshead, who said, “We just kind of want to support all the Indian people.”
The event’s meaning went deeper than trans-border kinship because it also spanned the ages and seemed to revive a tradition of activism. “I’m glad we were able to come together as a community and not just for ‘us’—for the whole picture. We’re all Indian. I’m sure Canada would do it for us. And youth involvement—we’re all young. Our ancestors had to fight for us to be Indian and we’re still fighting to be Indian,” Waters said.
Robert Chanate, Kiowa, said, “Friendships between people on both sides of the International Boundary are common among Indigenous community organizers. We often work together on issues like climate change, the tar sands, water rights, [United Nations] indigenous issues and others. Those issues are shared in our communities on both sides of the border but Idle No More was the catalyst that managed to capture the imagination of a huge number of indigenous people and popularize issues that had been worked on for years.”
Others noted the similarity between some U.S. and Canadian governments’ past or present initiatives to make it easier to take land from trust or reserve status and ultimately make it available for sale to outsiders.
Although the four women who organized the event disavowed connections with other activist groups, they said they are concerned about indigenous rights. “All the other minority groups have had their civil rights revolutions—us Natives haven’t,” said Goodluck-Locust. “I think it’s our time to get our rights back.”
Others agreed. “It was inspiration—we were being heard,” said Nick Apodaca, of Denver. “It’s all Native people supporting each other,” said Garrett Mitchell, Navajo, originally from Window Rock, Arizona. “We’re supporting because of similar things that happened to us—we’re all related,” said Ava Hamilton, Arapaho. “The issues affect all Native peoples,” said Cele Spink, Hopi/Navajo.
Cross-border unity will be reiterated at a protest/Round Dance December 31 at the Canadian Consulate in Denver to “keep the pressure on the government of Canada,” according to flyers announcing the protest. People are encouraged to bring drums, banners and signs and to “flood the offices of Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper with e-mails, calls, and faxes in support of Chief Spence and Idle No More.”