Indigenous Movement 'Idle No More' Gains Allies

PHOTO: A group of Latinos in Toronto, Canada show their solidarity with the Idle No More movement.

Facebook/Valentina Harper

A growing indigenous rights movement, called Idle No More, is holding gatherings on Friday in dozens of cities across Canada and the U.S., and in various countries around the world, including Colombia, Chile, and Puerto Rico.

The meet-ups around the globe coincide with the day that Canada's First Nation leadership and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down to discuss Bill C-45 -- new legislation that indigenous leaders say violates claims to self-governance and control of traditional land bases.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for 32 days to call attention to the Idle No More movement and pressure Prime Minister Stephen Harper to scrap the controversial bill. Although her hunger strike seems to have been instrumental in procuring a meeting with the Harper government, Spence and a handful of other indigenous leaders boycotted the meeting that got underway Friday afternoon, because Harper said he'd only be able to attend for half an hour and Governor-General David Johnston said he would not attend the meeting, against the wishes of Chief Spence. A crowd of about 3,000 people gathered outside of the building where the meeting was being held on Parliament Hill, "chanting, drumming and waving makeshift banners," according to the National Post.

Sylvia McAdam, one of the four Native founders of the Idle No More movement, said on Tuesday morning that she was skeptical anything would come out of the Friday meeting, if it occurred.

"I'm cynical about that meeting on January 11th -- it's not going to change hundreds of years of injustices," said McAdam. "If the conservative government truly means that they want to work towards a meaningful relationship with us, they'd remove all that legislation. And they aren't doing that."

Whether or not Friday's talks will change anything for Canada's Native community, everyday the Idle No More movement is gaining more sympathizers and allies around the globe. Some of the most vocal of those groups standing in solidarity are Latinos and indigenous groups from Central and South America.

"El pueblo unido jamás será vencido," chanted a small group of Latino Toronto residents, holding Idle No More protest signs, who gathered to tape a video with messages of solidarity. The iconic protest chant (which translates to "The people united will never be defeated,") rang out on the 16th day of Chief Spence's liquid-only hunger strike, to indicate to other protesters and to Canadian officials that Latinos of Canada had joined in the fight.

Valentina Saavedra Harper, one of the organizers of the gathering and a native of Chile, says that standing up for the Native American community means standing up for her own mestizo heritage. While she bears the same last name as the Canadian Prime Minister, she couldn't be more opposed to his new bill. Harper, 38, and Ingrid Flores, 46, a fellow Chilean living in Canada, started a Facebook group for Latinos who support the Idle No More movement, which has now grown to nearly 300 members in just a few weeks. Both women say that Mapuche people of Chile are fighting a very similar fight as that of indigenous groups in Canada, which has brought them closer to the current struggle.

"I was raised in Chile during a time when admitting you were part Native was like admitting you were somehow a lesser being," Harper said. "[But] so many of us are mestizo. As Latinos its become a cultural and political move to accept our cultural background with pride... People are slowly researching their bloodlines and coming in step with their Native heritage and the pride that comes from that acknowledgement."

Census data in the U.S. supports this idea. The number of Latinos who also identify as Native American skyrocketed between 2000 and 2010, from 407,073 and 685,150, according to Census counts. In fact, 70 percent of the 57,000 American Indians living in New York City in 2010 were also of Hispanic origin, a 70 percent jump from just one decade ago.

Part of this leap could be the result of mixed-ethnicity children. Harper says her husband is Native American, of Plains Cree origin, and therefore her two children have indigenous roots in Chile and Canada. This has only strengthened her devotion to the Idle No More cause.

"My children have supposed land rights in Alberta which they could lose. It hit me hard and I decided I needed to do something, " said Harper, who moved to Canada in 1986 as a teenager. So she and Flores, who lives in Edmonton, started the Facebook group, from which they helped organize gatherings, produced online videos of Latinos sharing the reasons they are supporting the movement, and helped translate Idle No More announcements to spread the cause in Spanish-speaking communities.

While Canada has relatively few Latinos (about one percent of the total population, by latest estimates), many individuals with roots in Latin America are taking up the fight in the U.S. The Mexica movement, who reject the classification of Latino and prefer to identify themselves as the Nahuatl-speaking indigenous peoples from across the continent, have held protest gatherings in front of the Canadian consulate on Saturdays and Sundays for the last few weeks, on behalf of Idle No More Movements, director of the Mexica Movement, Olin Tezcatlipoca told ABC/Univision. On Saturday, the group has scheduled take the rally "to the heart of our community" at Atlantic Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Avenue in East L.A., Tezcatlipoca said.

McAdam said she is honored by the outpouring of support from Latinos and other indigenous groups from Latin America.

"From the information that we're getting, they're joining from other indigenous nations across the continent, like the Maya, Inca and Aztec Nations," McAdam said. "We're seeing all kinds of people standing up who can relate to colonization, genocide and the destroyal of water and lands. It's not just us who have experienced this."

McAdam says that although the message has been able to grow to Latinos and other communities because of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, she and her co-founders had never used the technologies before the grassroots movement began over a month ago.

"We don't have any experience with organizing movements like this, but we knew we couldn't stay silent. We'd never done this before, we'd never researched this." McAdam said. "But we understood that silence is deadly for all people, and that acquiescence means that your compliance is consent."

Originally Idle No More started as a series of teach-ins, but soon, it became evident to the founders that social media was a necessary tool for further growth, and volunteers were chosen to specifically curate the movement's online presence.

One of the founders of the Latino solidarity Facebook group had a similar experience.

"I never saw Facebook as being useful. But now that I'm in the Idle No More movement, it has become indispensable," said Ingrid Flores.

On Friday, a picture of a young boy in an Andean hat and vest, who took part in an Idle No More protest in London, went viral on Facebook, with over one thousand shares in under 18 hours. He holds a sign that reads, "In defense of our people. From Canada, to Chile, to the Amazon, to the Andes, to everywhere on our continent."

Flores hopes that viral images such as these will get more Latinos to realize the importance of the Idle No More movement.

"Latinos need to know that this is the most important issue that is facing our time and we cannot sit idly by allowing Bill C-45 to be signed into law," Flores said. "We all live in treaty lands. If the bill passes we are all affected."

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