The Circle got an opportunity to speak with one of the co-founders of Idle No More, Nina Wilson, when she was in town for an environmental panel at the Minneapolis American Indian Center in March.
CW: How did Idle No More come about?
NW: There was the four of us that met online. We started because of our concerns of what we saw happening to our lands, our territories, our water. It was very distressing for many reasons. But that’s basically what brought us together, we had the same vision, the same goals. There’s Jess McClain, and she’s from my treaty territory, which is Treaty Four [in Canada]. And there’s Silvia McAdams and she’s from Treaty Six. And Sheila McClain is a non-Indigenous co-founder, and she’s in Saskatoon. She’s also an educator on anti-racism and decolonization.
CW: Idle No More is sort of a movement in that there’s no central organization that says “you do this, you do that”?
NW: We have a vision and we’ve worked really hard to protect that vision. And what that vision basically is, is defense and protection of land and water, and indigenous rights, and the fundamental rights of all human beings and the creatures and the air. That’s basically the vision of Idle No More. So that’s the original vision and we’ve worked really hard to keep that vision intact. And so far it’s still there.
CW: When you see things happening all over the country and they’re tacking “Idle No More” on to their posters and flyers, what do you think about that?
NW: I think it’s awesome. I’m just really proud our people for taking ownership of doing the work. It’s the work that is very difficult. I am in support of people using the name in ways that benefit the cause that’s directly linked to that vision. I think for the most part that everyone is in tune, they have the same kind of vision, too. When I see that [Idle No More] all over, it just makes me proud that the people have woken up and they’re not being silent anymore.
CW: Did you guys have any idea that it would catch on the way that it is catching on? If you look at Youtube there are people in Hawaii holding Idle No More signs. And now I hear that Europe is starting to do Idle No More stuff.
NW: There are indigenous people everywhere, all over the world and they have been under direct attack for generations – hundreds and hundreds of years. So it’s not that they don’t have that spirit themselves, they have it.
What happened was that one rally that we had in Winneapeg there was only four people there. The second rally that we had there was several hundred people there. And we had found that as we were doing these Idle No More rallies and other people were doing them, that they were not being covered. There were certain things happening that the news was not covering. I don’t think it was because they weren’t interested, I think it was more there was maybe an intentional thing going on there.
At one rally there were people that got into the legislative building… stormed it and they went inside. They didn’t do any damage or hurt anyone, but that was not on the news. And that’s quite significant to see people take over a [Canadian] government buildings. That concerned us, why wasn’t that covered? How come there were so many police officers there and yet there was nothing on the news?
That started to worry us and we started to think maybe we need to step up the recording of things, so that if anything did happen at least we would know what happened to people. So we started recording everything and downloading all these to Youtube. And then those started disappearing. Which was weird, we couldn’t figure it out. We thought this can’t be a coincidence, there’s something else going on there.
It’s not uncommon for other countries to do erasure, where they are totally blocking stuff. So we sent an interview to the United States, and we sent footage. And once the footage hit the U.S. it went viral all over. And not just that one but several others. And then the videos started coming back up on Youtube because they [the Canadian government] couldn’t control it anymore. They were coming in from everywhere, Egypt, Australia, England, everywhere – they were popping up. People just picked it up (Idle No More) and took it and it gave people a way to use their voice and their action.
CW: So you think the Canadian government was intentionally not covering issues, and getting rid of stuff online that was being posted about indigenous issues?
CW: What do you mean when you say you “put it out in the United States”?
NW: We sent out an interview to Indian Country Today and I think that’s the first one that went out to the United States, and from there our phones just wouldn’t stop ringing. So it was just a matter of getting involved with the media. Of course we ran into some media that were twisting things, spinning things. They didn’t have accuracy, and they were sort of creating more problems. So we found that we had a lot of clout in who we chose to speak for us, and we started to turn down certain media there were known to put out negative messages about indigenous people.
CW: Is there anything else that you think our readers should know about Idle No More. Like where you want the movement to go?
NW: We are moving toward continuing to assert our sovereignty and our indigenous rights and we’re going to continue to protect and defend the land and the water. We support and encourage all people to do the same, however they choose to do that. We can’t tell anyone how they should do things but we do hope that whatever they do is safe. And what ever they do is integral. And to keep doing the work.
I suggest for those people that are doing that kind of direct action to get some kind of training. There’s lots of activists out there that have a lot of experience. Get some information from them on how to be strategic, because at a lot of these areas there’s elders, there’s children. We don’t oppose what people choose to do but we hope that people remember the safety of the people. That’s what we hope.