Much of the current resistance to Idle No More movement is rooted in fear, from the dominant culture, that Indigenous people want social change, are feeling agitated and seem determined to make this change a reality.
Agitation occurs when people outside of the normal decision-making establishment advocate significant social change and encounter a degree of resistance within the establishment such as to require more than the normal discursive means of persuasion. History shows when indigenous people, who are “outside” the normal decision making establishment, push for change the dominant culture establishment will resist and use force if necessary. W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote, “Agitation is a necessary evil to tell the ills of the suffering.
Dr. King called it “Creative Tension.” Creative tension is essentially a structure that helps to facilitate creativity and change. You form creative tension when you clearly articulate your vision and your current reality and the gap between your vision and your current reality becomes apparent. This creates an emotional and energetic tension that seeks to be resolved. Through a comparison of violent tension, which is undesired, and nonviolent tension, which is constructive, Dr King established the concept that the “constructive, nonviolent tension” will “help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
The official website for Idle No More states that the vision of the movement “revolves around Indigenous ways of knowing rooted in Indigenous sovereignty to protect water, air, land and all creation for future generations. The current reality of the indigenous people then is that the Conservative (Canadian) government bills beginning with Bill C-45 threaten treaties and this Indigenous vision of sovereignty. This gap is what has agitated us into action.
Historically efforts to take back our ways of life have been met with fierce resistance, genocide even. When the Lakota people began practicing the Ghost Dance spiritual movement, the belief that Lakota people had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the Gods by no longer practicing their Native ways, many believed that if they rejected the white man ways that the world would be recreated and all non believers would be destroyed. (This is my understanding of the Ghost Dance as an Ojibwe woman). The U.S. government took notice and worried about the increase in number of the Ghost Dancers, especially at Pine Ridge. On December 29, 1890 a band of ghost dancers were surrounded by the Calvary and ordered to surrender their weapons. A brutal massacre followed and subsequently an estimated 300 Lakota were killed, mostly women and children. Whatever the motives, the massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement.
The Idle No More founders, organizers and Elder advisors issued the following press release emphasizing their call for peaceful non-violent action:
Idle No More has a responsibility to resist current government policies in a Peaceful and Respectful way. It can be done. It can be done without aggression or violence. This is an energetic, exciting and transformative time.
This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.
To keep us on this good path, we ask that you, as organizers create space for Elders or Knowledge/Ceremonial Keepers to assist in guiding decisions as we move forward. It is up to each of us to see that this movement respects all people, the environment, and our communities and neighbors.
So even as the Idle No More effort strives to make our voices heard in a peaceful and constructive way through non violent tension aka Dr King, the fear of the dominant culture is that, as in the Ghost Dance, the indigenous people are trying to recreate the world and they as non believers will be destroyed.
In her book, Holding Our World Together, Brenda J. Child details the ways in which women have shaped Native American life and the influence that they have had. Women and their rituals served as ballast for an Indian nation long buffeted on the waves of depression, forced removal, and ethnic cleansing. It is time, once again, for the wisdom of our female elders to lead and sustain our nation.
Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.