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Isolated No More: Idle No More and the United States

How different would life be for Native Peoples if more of our Nations had stood together in defense of our homelands in the past? That’s a question I think many of us Natives have pondered alone or discussed with one another. What compels one to re-imagine a different Native past is the modern consequences of the divide and conquer legacy.

Look at a map of Indigenous Cultures in North America and you will see that some of the cultures on the map are grouped as Plains, Plateau, Northwest Coastal, Great Lakes, Woodlands and others. If the Cultures are broken down you will find Native Nations and Confederacies like the Blackfoot, Ojibwa, Iroquois, and Cree, to name a few and others.

What the map does not show is the history of those areas. One cannot see the songs that were sung nor the dances which were held. The winter stories told are not on the map. The annual visits between Nations of those areas are invisible as are the ceremonies that renewed the People. Not shown are the relationships between our Peoples in which we shared knowledge and support. The cycles of life, continuous and connected, do not appear on the map images.

Cutting right through all of the Cultures, Confederacies and Nations is an invisible but sharp line. This borderline is known as the International Boundary and its origins lie with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The separation created by the line was not so great in the beginning because it could not divide people who had lived with one another for as far back as their collective memory stretched. We were still relatives. Over time, that separation grew as Native People on both sides grew more accustomed to the division. Many of us became strangers to one another.

On both sides of the line, our Native Nations fought the tyrannical forces of colonialism. Though the degrees differed, we all experienced massacres and victorious battles, the theft of our lands, broken promises, boarding/residential schools, language destruction, etc. These policies were not just of the past, and they continue to be issues for Native Peoples in Canada and the United States.

Over the past month, we in the south have witnessed a mass mobilization by the First Nations to the North. The tipping point came in the form of Canadian legislation that poses numerous threats to the First Nations. On December 10, thousands of First Nations Citizens took to the streets and launched a movement that has continued to grow. The well known name of this movement is of course Idle No More. The initial concern over the legislation is still paramount, but more deeply rooted issues are fast becoming focal points for Idle No More.

One way the movement has spread is through the Round Dance. Round Dances are being held in public spaces far and wide and are uniting people who attend them. These Dances have crossed that invisible line and are now being done in the lower 48.

Those of us in the lower 48 are moved by an awareness that we are still related to those in the north. We recognize the policies they are fighting are similar in aim to the ones that imposed the Allotment Act on us. We can see that the environmental destruction of their lands will put them in a state of dependency that many of our nations are fighting to overcome. We hear their languages and wish for them to remain strong, even if some of us have lost ours. We feel the power of their songs and witness how they are moving the young ones and elders alike and we are inspired to do the same for our people. Just as we did in the past, we are learning new lessons and creating networks of support.

If you look at the dividing line on the map, try to see the developing circles of native unity and instead of asking what would have happened if we had united more in the past, ask what will happen if we unite in the present to be idle no more.

Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at and He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO.

The photograph above was taken by and is copyright Nadya Kwandibens of Red Works Studio; to see more of her Idle No More photography visit the galleries on her Facebook page.