STANDING UP George Neptune (left) and David Slagger, representatives of Maine’s Native American population
A nascent but growing protest movement originating from indigenous people in Canada has found sympathizers in Maine, where 0.7 percent of the population identifies as American Indian. The movement, called Idle No More, is the product of mounting dissatisfaction with the Canadian government, which passed an omnibus budget bill last year that some say disregards indigenous and treaty rights while harming the environment. What started as a single teach-in on November 10 in Saskatoon, Canada, is swiftly morphing into an international consciousness akin (or parallel) to the Occupy movement.
In addition to attempting to re-assert the autonomy of native peoples, there's a strong eco-angle to the Idle No More philosophy. "Idle No More calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills indigenous sovereignty, which protects the land and water," reads the mission statement at idlenomore.ca.
"This is about the planet and the environment and not any particular tribe," says David Slagger, of Kenduskeag, who served as the Maliseet people's first representative to the Maine House last year. (He has since stepped down, citing the limitations of the post — tribal representatives can introduce legislation but not vote on it, according to state law.) He notes that by continuing to discount and marginalize indigenous cultures, the establishment is making a risky mistake. "We have several thousand years of managing the planet with no problem. We always put back and we never took more than what was needed. We always did things in balance and that's the beauty of indigenous knowledge."
Slagger joined about 40 people (both indigenous and non-) in Congress Square Plaza on the first Saturday in January in solidarity with the Idle No More movement. He spoke of being "sick and tired of our rights and our voices being trampled on and not being heard."
Sally Breen of Peace Action Maine.
Similarly, Passamaquoddy tribal member George Neptune, a basketmaker and an educator at the Abbe Museum on Mount Desert Island (an institution devoted to the Wabenaki Nations), said that what is happening to the indigenous people in Canada affects all people everywhere, because it speaks to questions of autonomy, respect for the land, and observance of treaties.
Neptune, 24, who attended his first protest on New Year's Eve in Bangor and led a group prayer at the Congress Square gathering on Saturday, feels a sense of responsibility to speak out. "My grandmother was there, at the end of The Longest Walk, in the receiving line," he says, referring to a 1978 action that involved several hundred Indians and non-Indian supporters walking from California to Washington DC, to draw attention to tribal sovereignty. "I would have been there if I'd been alive. I view this as my turn . . . my grandmother did her part."
He'll have another opportunity to participate this Friday, January 11, when communities around the world observe a loosely structured "global day of action," scheduled to conincide with a scheduled meeting between Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and that country's indigenous leaders — including Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence, an Idle No More heroine who began a liquid-diet hunger strike about a month ago. Learn more at j11action.com.