Home Culture Not just an “Indian Thing”- Idle No More movement strikes close to...

Not just an “Indian Thing”- Idle No More movement strikes close to home


Friday, January 11th was considered a global day of action for the Idle No More campaign currently emanating out of Canada. In reaction to omnibus bills passed by Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper, indigenous groups there are up in arms over what appears to be a concerted political effort to dismantle their treaty rights.
In addition to stripping them of numerous long-held rights, members of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit tribes in Canada believe Harper’s legislation deregulates environmental standards to clear a path for the extraction of Alberta Tar Sands on indigenous lands. Since the initial rallying cry amongst several Canadian activists in November 2012, many tribal and non-tribal groups began to take action. Then, on December 11, 2012, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began a hunger strike that threw the movement into overdrive and brought Idle No More to the attention of people around the world. In response to the growing opposition, Harper’s office scheduled a meeting for January 11th between his government and representatives from 20 First Nations groups. Thus, #J11 Global Day of Action saw gatherings and actions around the world in support of Chief Spence and all the tribal groups fighting to maintain their sovereignty in the face of political oppression.
In Alaska, this fight hits close to home for many indigenous tribes and non-indigenous allies. Even though it has yet to gain world-wide attention (except in the case of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay), there are several Alaska Native tribes that have been fighting for years to prevent the state government, and large corporations, from developing their traditional lands and waters for coal, copper and gas. From Chuitna to the Mat-Su to the Arctic, indigenous cultures all across Alaska are under pressure to defend their means of sustaining themselves and their access to their spiritual environment.
As fellow Alaskans, we have an opportunity to be allies in this fight. What native tribes are fighting for is everything we also hold dear; clean water, abundant fish and game, snow covered mountains, and crisp air. Most importantly, however, is their desire to maintain the cultural and spiritual ways that have sustained them as a people for thousands of years. As Americans, we can all understand and respect that ideal.
Last Friday over 120 people, native and non-native alike, gathered at the corner of the Performing Arts Center next to the Town Square Park. Organized by several activist groups like REDOIL, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and Alaska Rising Tide, tribal leaders from at least 12 different groups all across Alaska came wearing their traditional regalia to speak in support of the Canadian movement.
With traditional song and dance, the beating of skin drums, and the burning of sage to cleanse the spirit, these leaders spoke of their own struggles to defeat the ills of development and destruction of their traditions.
Elaine Kingeekuk, a Yupik leader from St. Lawrence Island brought purple crosses to represent those in her tribe who have died from cancer, which is hitting them at rates several times higher than other places in Alaska and the US. Lisa Wade, an Athabascan representative from the Chickaloon Tribe in the Mat-Su area spoke of being denied access to their traditional spiritual grounds and waters due to coal companies who have leased the land and put up fences with hired security guards. One of the three coal mines proposed on traditional Chickaloon lands is located directly next to their primary source of salmon that they recently successfully reclaimed after mining in the 40’s destroyed the salmon’s upstream access.
While January 11th was merely one day in an ongoing struggle for native rights, it will be to our benefit if Alaska Native peoples take the Idle No More movement to heart and beat their drums even louder from now on.

All pictures taken by Brandon Hill from Alaska Rising Tide. He granted permission for them to be used by Alaska Commons.