Pauwauwaein: Idle No More to Indigenous Nationhood Movement
by Lesley Belleau
People are contemplating if the rush of a new revolution called Idle No More is bubbling down to a whisper. There are news articles asking if this is the end of Idle No More, and there are people wondering if the Indigenous nations have gotten the protests and rallies out of their systems and have gone back to life as usual. I read the tweets and the Facebook posts suggesting that Idle No More is in its final gatherings, using the very last energies of a fury of activity that was short-lived and powerful only at its peak; its power diminished now that Chief Spence has finished her hunger strike and Grand National Chief Shawn Atleo has fatefully – despite great resistance – undercut the movement by meeting on January 11th with Stephen Harper and other elect officials. Despite all of this, from my vantage point as an Indigenous woman, mother, academic and activist, I see fully that just the opposite is true because the idea of Indigenous Nationhood must also be considered and understood.
Bill C-45 and resistance to it, particularly the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation, catapulted Idle No More into the public spectrum at an opportune moment in history. Fueled by Indigenous voices, cultural renewal and acts of resistance, and led by the rise of Indigenous women and youth, treaty discussions, political engagement and resistance spread through social media and many new ideas, both academic and creative, sprung up as quickly as a camera shooting in quick succession. Click. Click. Click. So rapidly that people were in constant motion. It was the breaking of a long sheet of ice and the overpour that hits the shore; a thaw during the onslaught of winter. A soaking of history and immediacy that attracted the attention of people globally. A wide screaming of the earth against the hand of a Prime Minister who callously ignored the pleas of a starving and desperate Indigenous woman whose voice lay protectively over all of the earth and the bones beneath in her singular action toward justice and accountability. An accumulation of voice and resistance that rose to meet the parting of history and justice that lay swallowed deep underwater. The remnants that lay in wait within the water.
After some time, things quieted. The media and outside world heard the quieting ebb. When those on social media began to discuss other issues, when the urgency of the movement was not on the forefront, the mass media began to insinuate that this was just another movement like Occupy, or merely another Oka or just one more Native issue. When the flashmobs and round dances became spaced further and further apart, when the screams fell into humming, and there was a feeling that the urgency has ended. When there was a lapse between the drumsounds, between the urgent gathering of a country holding hands and dancing round and round and round.
Idle No More was the moment of release, the flurry of activity before a great flight, the prayer before the takeoff, the stretch of breath before a new mother pushes a first baby from her body. Think of a woman in labour: the creation of the new life is a period of gathering, of nurture and preparation. The labour is immense work and action where the mother and child are working together intensely to produce and to shift into a new way of being and life; her physical body needs to undergo a great transition in order for a new life to come into the world and to begin to live and thrive inside of the world that she already knows. But she has to endure the loud action in order to be able to hold the fruits of her labour. In transition, the last stage of labour, the woman often goes into herself and her will and uses the very last morsels of her strength and resilience in order to help her baby find its way into the world. This is a moment of great willfullness and strength, often much quieter and more intense than the previous hours of labour. And then, shortly after, she imparts the final strength onto her own body and her baby birthed, and she can hold this new life in her arms as her body regains momentum and begins the building up of strength once again. All great movements come from a moment of sacrifice and great inner working to produce and birth something vital, earth-changing, and necessary.
Something extremely significant happened during the months of December 2012 and January 2013. It was a time of great action, of a great collective voice that rose together to work toward resistance, decolonization, cultural revival and to hold hands within a new and possible hope that was only seen in fragments and small and scattered pieces before this, although we have had many significant historic and strong moments inside of our history. We held hands with other nations, other cities, other cultures, and other countries for the same purpose during these months. For justice, for future generations, for the possibility of a new world and new voice for Indigenous peoples, for protection of our lands and waters because their voices matter and we must speak for them and work with them to sustain our future. During this time, Pauwauwaein happened on a large and collective scale. Pauwauwaein is described by John Burrows as, “a revelation, an awakening, a vision that gives understanding to matters that were previously obscure.” By understanding the idea of Pauewauwaien, the future of Idle No More seems at once clearer and more realistic, and the reality of the actions of Indigenous Nationhood that has been at work for a long time can be observed more clearly.
Pauewauwaien as a revelation, an awakening, or a vision has deep implications for the future of Indigenous peoples and Mother Earth globally in terms of the Idle No More movement. The last couple of months, during the flash mobs, the rallies and protests, we began discussions on the honouring of our treaties, we took a long look at our future if we do not protect our lands and waters, and we opened our hearts, minds and spirits to a place of awakening where we could accept the potential of a new vision. This is no small occurrence and holds the very future of Mother Earth and Indigenous peoples within it.
In Dancing on Our Turtle’s Backs, Leanne Simpson writes, “The act of visioning for Nishnaabeg people is a powerful act of resurgence, because these visions create Shki-kiin, new worlds.” The Idle No More movement’s beginning months did just this: created acts of visioning for Indigenous people worldwide, and from this created Shki-kiin, a New World. In this New World it is possible to break free from colonial thought and speak what you know is true. In this New World you are able to express yourself culturally in public places, strengthening your own sense of the power of expression and the very beauty and joy of declaring your culture after a history of colonial powers silencing and denying such things. In this New World peoples use their individual and collective strength to protect their children’s futures by acting today, and use their strengths to protect Mother Earth against the powers that wish to destroy her. This New World has been initiated on a large scale over the last couple of months through Idle No More. A New World opened and the public outpouring of action was the celebration to the opening of this New World. Shki-kiin. What the world saw as Idle No More was a much needed awakening, a return to and speaking of that long history of action our people have. When Shki-kiin’s doors sliced open, the Indigenous Nationhood Movement was seen. This movement has always existed in the hearts of our people, but has gone unrecognized at times. It exists and always has. We are Indigenous Nationhood.
Now that this New World has opened its door, there is another step that comes next. Leanne Simpson writes, “In terms of resurgence, vision alone isn’t enough. Vision must be coupled with intent; intent for transformation, intent for re-creation, intent for resurgence.” Now that Idle No More has created an activated vision, we, the people, must follow this vision with a conscious intent for transformation, for Indigenous Nationhood. We must move from the initial celebratory and birthing stages of Idle No More and urgently create and continue to transform the New World of the Indigenous Nationhood Movement through strategizing with other people. We must continue to find justice for our missing and murdered mothers, sisters, and daughters. We must continue to protect our earth. We must continue with a consuming desire to walk into history and take back what is ours – because we have to – while at the same time seeking to find our way toward a stronger and more just future. Simpson writes that will require “sacrifice, commitment and countless selfless acts. It requires strategy, commitment and a one mindedness built from the diversity of our perspectives and understanding.”
We must not be content to live a life that holds us down in restless corners, that writes our stories for us, that continues to belittle our cultures and languages, that offers our children, lands, waters, and everything we hold sacred a future of destruction. Each of us must keep this New World alive by personally and collectively acting. We must never let go of our languages, cultures, children’s futures, love for the land we stand on, and waters we drink. We need to rewrite a history of colonial silencing. We have to understand that the Old World that held our voices and personhood down no longer exists for us. When we see reminders of oppression against ourselves and our lands, we must remember that these are the actions and thoughts that are still alive and thriving in the Old World, and we must not let them affect our walkings through Shki-kiin, our new and powerful world.
Idle No More did so many necessary things and will continue to do so through the Indigenous Nationhood Movement. Idle No More activated a dormant seed. Idle No More created leaders out of people who did not know they were meant to be leaders, those who have powerful and righteous work to do within the Indigenous Nationhood Movement. We have always had strong leaders, active workers, academics, and artists who were working toward a more just society for Indigenous people and our earth. However, on a large scale, Idle No More created a collective leadership focused on moving forward. Indigenous people saw allies rise up from those who heard our cries for justice, those who related to our voices, who heard us, and who walked with us from around the globe.
The most important seeds have sprouted over the last couple of months and will continue to create a harvest unlike anything that would have been possible otherwise. Idle No More created springtime during a long winter. Idle No More is unlike anything that has ever occurred before and it cannot be compared to any other revolution, because it is not a revolution! This is not a revolution. It is more than that.; it is an awakening that will forever progress. Idle No More has unleashed a responsibility that was living inside of us, but needed prompting and awakening. We are responsible for our earth and our children’s futures and we must intently hold on to our responsibility. Idle No More opened our spirit doors and eyes to a New World and it is up to us what we do inside of this New World.
Pauwauwaein. We have awakened to the Indigenous Nationhood Movement. Now there is work to be done to harvest and plant new seeds in this world which has been visioned for us. INM is throbbing and living and expanding by the second, like the sprouting of a new plant, perfect and arching toward maturity and vitality, a strong green root sunk deep into a rich and ancient soil, breathing the breath of the newly birthed, yet held tight by the ancestors thick memory and lovesong. Pauwauwaein: We are together, inhaling the dreams of our future.
Lesley Belleau is from Garden River First Nation and a PhD student in the Indigenous Studies department at Trent University. She is a writer and the mother of four beautiful children.