Idle No More makes its mark in Montana



Two days before Christmas, Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member Louie Paul ran through Southgate Mall carrying a hand drum.

“Everybody was looking at me like, ‘What’s he carrying?’” Paul recalls.

When Paul arrived at his destination under the clock tower, wide-eyed shoppers flocked around him and his friends. The shoppers found a large crowd of American Indians who beat hand drums, sang traditional songs or waved signs. (Check out the video below).

“It was probably one of the most fun things I ever did,” says Paul, who organized the event, billed as a “round dance flash mob.”

Paul estimates the Missoula flash mob drew 300 American Indians from across the state. It mirrored other such gatherings held recently in Canada, Alaska, Colorado, California, New York and in Helena for the first day of Montana's new legislative session.

The events are being held in solidarity with a new indigenous rights movement called Idle No More. The grassroots movement started after the Canadian government’s efforts late last year to, as First Nations people say, undermine treaty obligations and remove environmental protections from native lands.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, the face of Idle No More, went on a hunger strike Dec. 11, vowing not to eat until Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with her to discuss indigenous concerns. On Jan. 4, Harper agreed to Spence’s demands. It remains to be seen if the meeting will defuse First Nations grievances.

Back in Montana, Paul points out that indigenous Canadians aren’t the only ones with modern treaty disputes. The CSKT, for instance, are still working to quantify how much water is owed to them based on promises made by the United States government 157 years ago.

“This shouldn’t be where we have to quantify our water rights, and the non-natives get to keep existing uses,” Paul says.

Idle No More’s rapid growth would seem to indicate that it has tapped into widespread sentiments. Sonny Doney, a 25-year-old Flathead Reservation resident who participated in the Southgate Mall flash mob, says that ever since he learned about his parents’ involvement in the activist American Indian Movement decades ago, he’s wanted to help protect indigenous rights. Idle No More gives him a vehicle to do that.

“I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement,” he says.

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