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Mckibben writes: "The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet's future - and #IdleNoMore is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense."

Idle No More protestors gather on the Blood Reserve in Standoff, Alberta. (photo: Blaire Russell)
Idle No More protestors gather on the Blood Reserve in Standoff, Alberta. (photo: Blaire Russell)

Idle No More, Think Occupy With Deeper Roots

By Bill Mckibben, Reader Supported News

12 January 13


don't claim to know exactly what's going on with #IdleNoMore, the surging movement of indigenous activists that started late last year in Canada and is now spreading across the continent - much of the action, from hunger strikes to road and rail blockades, is in scattered and remote places, and even as people around the world plan for solidarity actions on Friday, the press has done a poor job of bringing it into focus.

But I sense that it's every bit as important as the Occupy movement that transfixed the world a year ago; it feels like it wells up from the same kind of long-postponed and deeply-felt passion that powered the Arab spring. And I know firsthand that many of its organizers are among the most committed and skilled activists I've ever come across. In fact, if Occupy's weakness was that it lacked roots (it had to take over public places, after all, which proved hard to hold on to), this new movement's great strength is that its roots go back farther than history. More than any other people on this continent, they know what exploitation and colonization are all about, and so it's natural that at a moment of great need they're leading the resistance to the most profound corporatization we've ever seen. I mean, we've just come off the hottest year ever in America, the year when we broke the Arctic ice cap; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was when I was born.

Thanks to the same fossil fuel industry that's ripping apart Aboriginal lands, we're at the very end of our rope as a species; it's time, finally, to listen to the people we've spent the last five centuries shunting to one side.

Eighteen months ago, when we at the climate campaign started organizing against the Keystone XL Pipeline, the very first allies we came across were from the Indigenous Environmental Network - people like Tom Goldtooth and Clayton Thomas-Muller. They'd been working for years to alert people to the scale of the devastation in Alberta's tar sands belt, where native lands had been wrecked and poisoned by the immense scale of the push to mine "the dirtiest energy on earth." And they quickly introduced me to many more - heroes like Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Cree Nation who was traveling the world explaining exactly what was going on.

When, in late summer 2011, we held what turned into the biggest civil disobedience action in 30 years in this country, the most overrepresented group were indigenous North Americans - in percentage terms they outnumbered even the hardy band of Guilty Liberals like me. And what organizers! Heather Milton-Lightning, night after night training new waves of arrestees; Gitz Crazyboy of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta absolutely on fire as he described the land he could no longer hunt and fish.

In the year since, the highlights of incessant campaigning have been visits to Canada, always to see native leaders in firm command of the fight - Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus in Yellowknife, or Chief Reuben George along the BC coast. Young and powerful voices like Caleb Behn, from the province's interior; old and steady leaders in one nation after another. I've never met Chief Theresa Spence, the Attawapiskat leader whose hunger strike has been the galvanizing center of #IdleNoMore but I have no doubt she's cut of the same cloth.

The stakes couldn't be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice if he wanted to keep developing Canada's tar sands, because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.

Canada's environmental community protested in all the normal ways - but they had no more luck than, say, America's anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tarsands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied.

But there's a stumbling block they hadn't counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the Aboriginal Nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the Crown, and others haven't, but none have ceded their lands, and all of them feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper's power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada's total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world's second largest pool of carbon. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." Which means, in turn, that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.

And luckily the sentiment is spreading south. Tribal Nations in the U.S., though sometimes with less legal power than their Canadian brethren, are equally effective organizers - later this month, for instance, an international gathering of indigenous peoples and a wide-ranging list of allies on the Yankton Sioux territory in South Dakota may help galvanize continued opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would help wreck those tar sands by carrying the oil south (often across reservations) to the Gulf of Mexico. American leaders like Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Indian Reservation have joined in the fight with a vengeance, drawing the connections between local exploitation and global climate change.

Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of native communities -- because they were poor and scattered in distant places, they could be ignored or bought off. But in fact their lands contain much of the continent's hydrocarbon wealth -- and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet's future -- and #IdleNoMore is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense. your social media marketing partner


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+13 # tutu 2013-01-13 00:44
this is the best news i've read in the past year!
+16 # X Dane 2013-01-13 01:46
Wouldn't it be great if the people, who were here before any of us came, will help save the world.

I remember years ago when some people started attacking the pollution. They had a commercial with a proud Indian Chief surveying the destroyed land. At the end you saw a tear run down his strong face.

It definitely made a strong impression...
....Today he would be crying buckets seeing the enormous destruction.

Let's hope the Native tribes can lead the saving of our planet. We need some dedicated leaders.
+15 # hoodwinkednomore 2013-01-13 02:13
Thank you, Bill McKibben for acknowledging the Indigenous People's significant place, power and contribution to this great struggle against the monster fossil fuel industry, in all of its incarnations. It is way past timet that the media catch up with what has really been going on, who has been at the fore, and what is at stake. El Pueblo Unido...will never be defeated!!
+5 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-01-13 03:37
The year was 2004. A beautiful summer it was, and the large, two sided sign, hanging aft on my trawler, with the logo: Kerry - NO MORE Ed WAR ds - had caused a stir along Alberta's canals. While at first glance, it appeared a simple political approval of Dem. Pres. and V.P. candidates Kerry/Edwards, the NO MORE WAR logo quickly caught folks' eyes, and met with countless thumbs ups and comments, particularly in the Canadian locks. It was a ray of hope, how much less naive than we Yanks the good Canadians appeared to be, with their constant indications of approval for no more war for oil, oil, oil (and endless profits into the pockets of the villainaire 1%ers).

And, hope is still alive nearly nine years later, with what is reported in this article. Go, native Americans, go!
+11 # Smokey 2013-01-13 04:28
Oh, Canada! I wish that the people in the United States gave more attention to Canada. Even in the Northeastern states, where Quebec is only a few miles away, citizens seldom pay much attention to Canadian political and cultural developments.

As Moyers says, the energy justice movement that's developing in Canada - and it ivolves more than just climate change concerns - has some "roots." It's an inspiration for all Americans.
+4 # X Dane 2013-01-13 11:28
My husband and I visited Canada a couple of times and the people do seem grounded and reasonable.

We walked back to our hotel one evening close to midnight and I was impressed with how safe the streets were.

Since the Canadians ARE sane and grounded, I sure wish they would keep the terribly polluting tar sands in the ground. SANE people of the world BEGS them
+2 # goodsensecynic 2013-01-13 19:36
Sane people are one thing. Insane governments are another. Because of our peculiar parliamentary system, Stephen Harper and his merry minions of mendacity rule. He got less than 40% of the vote, thus demonstrating that over 60% of Canadians are sane. We are looking forward to 2015 when we will have the opportunity to rid ourselves and the world of this accursed man and his mindless sycophants.

Fortunately, we only need 60% sanity to ensure unrestricted access to abortion, universal publicly funded medical care, same-sex marriage rights, absolutely no "right-to-work" laws, absolutely no capital punishment, and a number of other hints of mental health.

It's not perfect, but we're moving. And, let's not forget: Greenpeace, the Occupy movement and Idle No More are all Canadian inventions. So, we BEG you ... get on-side with a few of these other matters and [who knows?] we might have a significant common front!
+3 # michele6933 2013-01-13 13:27
The native peoples the world over salute the First Nations of Canada and the USA for their strength . Go forward , you are at the helm , guide the ship to a clean future . Thank you .
-1 # Malcolm 2013-01-13 14:10
Sorry to focus on only one statement in McKibben's article, but this has been confusing me for a long time.

McKibben references a National Geographic article to prove that the ocean is 30% more acidic than when he was born.

According to "the literature", the average pH (the measure of acidity/base) of the oceans' surface water has dropped from 8.179 (pre industrial) to 8.104 (1990's) to ~8.104 (currently)
It is forecast to drop to 7.949 by 2050, and 7.824 by 2100 A.D.

Since acid's pH is, by definition, less than 7.0, and base's pH is, by definition, greater than 7.0, the ocean's waters are not acid. Not weak acid, and not strong acid. Nowhere near acidic. These numbers show that the ocean's pH is base, sometimes called alkaline.

So how can a non acid (a base) become "30% MORE acidic?"

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me understand this.
+2 # Organizer 2013-01-13 17:11
Sure Malcolm. It is true that an acid typically refers to a substance with a pH less than 7. However, "more acidic" simply refers to an increase in the hydrogen ion concentration of any liquid, regardless of the initial pH. Remember, it's all log 10, so a pH of 7 is 10 times as acidic as a pH of 8. The fact is that the acidity of the ocean is maintained in a very tight range and it makes all life possible as a result. Even what seems to us a small change (about 0.23 pH units) can have a massive effect on life in the ocean. If our own blood drops 0.25 below the low end of the normal range (from 7.35 to 7.10), we ourselves are in deep trouble. This would be considered a dangerously low value in medicine!
-1 # Unicorn144 2013-01-13 18:05's finally begun; and "Idle No More" is more than a fad or a pastime for a few Indian Tribes: it's soon going to be all of them; very shortly... as it says at the 7th Blast of the 7th trumpet of Revelation; at the Last Trump: "...To DESTROY those who DESTROY the Earth...." And that means the Corporations and nations who will not heed the Voice of the Earth; It's written kids; this is the Last Jihad; the Real one; the Holy War to SAVE OUR PLANET....they one we are standing on at this very moment...yea... take a look: it's all we really have....!!! The Voice of the Earth was the Ecology Movement itself' and we as the True White Brother of the Red Race; who are the Pahana; as I myself speak for all of My Generation; and were given this gift by the Red Race; and now it hath finally come to this mass uprising....thi s is no joke....Rise Up; the Last Battle hath begun...and this will be the start.....
+2 # goodsensecynic 2013-01-13 19:23
There's another similarity between Occupy & Idle No More (besides the fact that, like Greenpeace, they're Canadian inventions. This is it: Last night on the 11:00 newscast on the Global Television Network (Canada's most right-wing on "mainstream" TV), the old questions started coming: Who are the real leaders? And, more important, what do they really want?

Why such inanities and banalities?

Partly to marginalize the movement since it is made to seem disorganized (not democratic) and confused (not comprehensive).

And partly because these folks sincerely don't get it. Mass movements do not fit into their corporate ideology, unless its a management-oper ated motivational meeting for members of the Mary Kay cult.
+2 # Phlippinout 2013-01-14 09:58
And if there were a revolution, I would stand with them. The white man has done a bad job preserving the earth and living in peace. Please. send the white man home and let us all just live. Take your greed, rape and torture and go away. We are so very tired of it all!
+2 # Coyotespeaks 2013-01-14 19:36
I'm not too keen on the comparison with Occupy. At its heart, Occupy was about "stuff" - materialism - how the pie should be divided. It's language was predominately Euro-centric.

Idle No More, I'd like to think/hope, has a spiritual component to it - something that Occupy clearly did not have (again, because it's about "stuff"). I admire at how, at every chance, the #INM movement reminds people that this "isn't just about indians."
+1 # V Appalachia 2013-01-15 19:26

Please inspire more of us!

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