Idle No More Gathers Steam in Portland, Oregon, With Teach-in

[node:summary]A January 24, 2013, teach-in at Portland State University proved that Idle No More is alive and well.

As the Idle No More movement maintains its traction across Canada, the U.S. and the rest of the world, foundation-building teach-ins and events designed to promote awareness at the grassroots level are replacing the large-scale, publicity-oriented protests that were held at the beginning to attract attention.

Despite a public opinion survey in Canada earlier this year whose results suggested that Idle No More’s momentum could be slowing, events are still being held as the movement takes a moment to gather steam. A teach-in on January 24 at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, showed Idle No More to be very much alive in spirit and integrity. Sponsored by the university’s indigenous studies department and coordinated by community members, graduate students and faculty, the event attracted not only urban tribal members but also numerous non-Native allies. Representatives of Portland’s American Indian community, nearby tribal communities and Indian organizations mingled with faculty, students, activists, media representatives and other supporters to learn about the issues behind the movement and plan future events and actions. The dozens of participants also discussed the effectiveness of what had been done since Idle No More exploded in December 2012 with flash mob round dances in malls and other public spaces.

“The round dances are fantastic for interrupting a public place and raising awareness of Idle No More in a positive way,” said Shilo George (Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho), a graduate student and one of the teach-in organizers. “The purpose of tonight’s teach-in was to harness that energy and discuss the movement on a deeper level, along with what we can do to bring more awareness to issues going on both internationally and here in our community.”

Photo: Leah Gibson

Breakout session at an Idle No More teach-in on January 24, 2013, at Portland State University in Oregon.

Participants raised concern over the Violence Against Women Act, which had not been passed at the time, and began organizing a day of action. They also discussed the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, a petition for federal recognition of the Chinook Tribe and Canada’s C-45 budget bill. George asked the community to also consider organizing around issues identified in the report The Native American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile, which highlighted deep poverty in the Native population as well as overrepresentation in foster care and the criminal justice system, underrepresentation in the job market, lack of resources and other instances of institutionalized racism.

Professor Grace Dillon (Anishinaabe, Métis) stressed the importance of indigenous communities sharing stories of survivance in addition to the data.

“I think one of the bleaknesses we face in the world is a real concern that our Earth is simply going to be more depleted, and that we as human beings are not going to survive,” said Dillon. “People are realizing that indigenous ways of thinking are real ways to eradicate that inevitable possibility.”

The teach-in occurred in the wake of four round dance flash mobs held in Portland malls and in the city center’s outdoor Pioneer Square in December and January, as well as a public screening of Why We Are Idle No More: The Exploitation of the Tar Sands and the Future of a Continent. Future actions were planned around VAWA and media awareness, and schemes were hatched for more teach-ins and round dances to come.

“There may be less media coverage going on right now because people are putting more of a focus on organizing at this point,” said George. “It may not be as exciting to the larger community and less in-your-face, but it’s because there is a much deeper movement going on than simply round dances and roadblocks.”