Jingle dancers wearing traditional native clothes and a row of singing drummers keeping a steady beat led the way from Caras Park to the Missoula County Courthouse Monday afternoon.
More than 150 people with the Idle No More movement came out to show solidarity with the other protests happening across the globe. The crowd sang and danced down Ryman Street before rallying on the courthouse yard. Speakers called for greater solidarity as indigenous people, but also heavily emphasized the need to focus on the environment.
“It’s not us coming out to support a human being,” April Charlo told the crowd. “This is us coming out to support the earth. We know that what we’re here for is the land, and protection of the land.”
Idle No More sprang from protests in Canada over a contentious bill C-45, and treaties more than 100 years old that First Nation people say the Canadian government has broken. The biggest issue is over water and land rights. The group would like to keep resource development closed to oil and gas companies.
Since then, solidarity groups have sprung up around the globe, sending Idle No More’s message international. While there are similarities between the group and other recent grassroots movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring movements, Idle No More is focused primarily on environmental issues, rather than political or economic ones.
“It’s fair, but I do believe that the Idle movement has much deeper roots,” said Craig Pablo, one of the Missoula rally’s organizers, “I’m not saying any thing bad about Occupy, and we’ve learned a bit from what they did. But this movement is hundreds of years in the making.”
Monday’s protest is the first of what some hope will be many demonstrations to come.
“What is a beautiful thing is that as Native people when we are called to come out, we come out,” Charlo said. “It’s our job to protect the earth and to educate those people who don’t have that inherent knowledge of how important it is to protect the earth. We have our nonnative support coming out because they understand that.”
One of the nonnatives present, Dan McCue, said the movement’s message applies to more than just indigenous people.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re native or white. Natives just happen to be hit hard by this up in Canada. But it’s everybody’s responsibility to make sure that our land does stay clean and that our resources are used properly and efficiently, instead of sucked dry,” McCue said.
Although still in it’s infancy, Idle No More appears to have a following with the strength to last.
“Our ancestors lit a fire for us hundreds of years ago, and I’m here to make sure that it doesn’t go out,” Pablo said.