Six Sacred Considerations in Solidarity with Idle No More


idle no moreI first heard of the horrific attacks on First Nations people by the Canadian government from Clyde Hall, a Shoshone elder. I had seen a few things on Facebook but I did not understand the potential to strip Canadian First Nations people of their sovereignty until Clyde laid it out in plain English. As he explained in detail the implications of the law that was on its way to passing in Canada, the danger of this legislation began to sink into my body. If this legislation passes, the Canadian government will cease to recognize First Nations treaty rights. The potential of which is that Canadian First Nations potentially could lose the rights to their land, among other things. Furthermore, ceasing to recognize the treaty rights of the First Nations is a move towards an erasure of indigenous identity and another attempt at genocide. If this legislation passes in Canada, it’s just a matter of time before this kind of legislation comes to the United States.
Native people across North America have been organizing a peaceful movement of resistance called “Idle No More”. A lot of my friends have been asking me, what is this movement about? Idle No More was founded by First Nations women and has gained significant momentum through the leadership of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskit First Nation, who has been on a hunger strike since December 11, 2012. Her demand is that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov David Johnston meet with First Nations leaders to discuss treaty rights. The resistance is spreading like wildfire and I recently had the honor of joining with hundreds of First Nations people and their allies in Oakland for a Round Dance in solidarity with Chief Spence and Idle No More.
As a descendent of colonizers of this land, I have often struggled with the knowledge that my ancestors played a role in the genocidal attacks on first nations people of this land. As a descendent of settlers and a person with white skin privilege, what is my place in First Nations struggles for liberation? As a non-Native person who feels deeply connected with the land, how do I honor that connection? How can we as non-native people who love this earth be supportive of the movement in a way that does not reproduce systems of inequality and the generations of colonization that runs through our blood?
I struggle regularly with these questions. I do not propose to have the answers. But, in this time of great change as waves of resistance spread across the land, I would like to share with you some things that I have have learned through the resistance that I have have been honored to be a part of over the years.
1) We must learn to follow the leadership of first nations people. This is a movement led by First Nations people. Those who are most directly impacted by decisions made by people in power must be leading this movement. Part of how colonization and white supremacy works is by instilling in white people the belief that their opinions and voices are more important than others. Too often, I have seen white people get involved with justice struggles led by people of color and quickly begin speaking loudly and often in meetings and decision making processes. Part of being an ally is learning how to be a follower. This is not our movement to lead, this is a movement in which we are to follow. This is not to say that our voices are not important or that we should be silent. Just check yourself as you get involved and keep checking yourself. We must be humble, connect with the earth, and listen to our brothers and sisters.
2) We must not seek to imitate or colonize indigenous spiritual traditions. This is hard. Many of us come from blood lineages that are no longer connected with the earth based spiritual traditions of our ancestors. Because of this, the “culture vulture” can emerge and give birth to “Native American Shamanic” trainings led by non-native people disconnected from any tribe, elder, or actual lineage. We must enter into support of this movement with consciousness that we are guests in ceremony. Just because you have danced a round dance in the streets with first nations elders does not give you the right to bring a round dance back to your spiritual community. So you learned a native song at the action. This does not mean you should sing the song in another context or teach it to someone you know. Many native songs are only sung in certain contexts or with permission. Respect the traditions don’t make assumptions.
3) Respect the people, respect their ways. Native traditions vary widely from tribe to tribe. Many of the Idle No More actions are being held in a ceremonial context. Often in a ceremonial context there is protocol and different people have different roles. Look around and notice how people are interacting with one another. Are people holding hands and hugging or are they more generally less physically interactive? Are people making eye contact with one another? How are people interacting with elders? Try to respect the culture and follow along with the way people are interacting.
4) Don’t make assumptions about someone’s spiritual orientation. Many First Nations people identify as Christian or with other religious traditions. There is a long history of Native American people taking Christianity and transforming it into a tradition that is relevant in their cultural context. This has been a fundamental element of resistance for some First Nations people. For many First Nations people, Christianity has been a foundational element of the genocidal attempts on their ancestors. Bottom line, spirituality and resistance to genocide and colonization is complex. Respect the way others have found divinity. We all hold a piece of the truth.
5) We must be compassionate and humble. Solidarity is not easy. Racism and colonization thrives on the pride of those in positions of power. We are going to stumble. We are going to make mistakes. We have been raised in a racist world and even with the best intentions we are inevitably going to act in ways that reflect the racist context in which we were raised. Unlearning generations of colonization can not happen overnight! We must be compassionate with ourselves and with each other. Don’t hesitate to name racist behavior when you see it and please be compassionate when you speak about it. Focus on the action that the person did, not the character of the person.
6) Consider committing to this movement for the long haul. The healing of this land is deeply connected with the liberation of the descendents of the ancestors of this land. If we are to be in a good way with the land, we must be in a good way with the ancestors and the spirits of the land. Colonization is the voice that tells us that one life is worth more than another. Colonization is the weapon that drove our ancestors away from right relationship with the earth and each other. Coming into right relationship with each other is critical for the healing of the earth. And one of the best ways we can return to right relationship is through the long slow work of relationship building.
So much is at stake in this moment. This latest land grab at Native land is connected with attempts to develop the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline. If you care about the earth, if you care about stopping the tar sands, if you care about leaving earth that our children and our children’s children can live in, please get involved with Idle No More and support the leadership of First Nations people in this movement to protect our sacred mother earth.
To learn more about how to get involved with Idle No More, go to
Claire Bohman aka “Chuck” is a priestess and witch in Reclaiming, an herbalist, and a community organizer. She is a Deans Scholar at the Pacific School of Religion and draws on over 15 years of activism and over 20 years of magical practice in Reclaiming and the Unitarian Universalist Pagan tradition.

0 thoughts on “Six Sacred Considerations in Solidarity with Idle No More

  1. a beautiful, life-affirming message.
    i suspected that the moves against the Native peoples lands and rights was motivated and initiated by ”for-profit” global business profiteers, the same who are fracking and devastating our earth survival system and endangering non-native’s rights and life-resources…… is tied in with all the others and connects us in the obligation to protect our earth.

  2. Thank you, with all my heart, for articulating with wisdom and beauty on the importance of we non-First Nations people knowing our place in this movement: We are to be followers.

  3. Chuck, thank you for your wisdom, for the reminder to follow and to humble one’s self, and to not make assumptions. Well written. I

  4. Nice Article but thought I would mention It was my understanding many Native Americans may take offense to the Shamanism reference in #2 ??? Maybe Shamanism from what I understand came from celtic druids I’ve heard some who took offense because of the mix up

    • ”Shaman” was used to describe the medicine men of the Turks and Mongols. A ”Druid” is a Celtic priest with Pagan based faith.

  5. Very nice article and very poignant to these times. As a Pagan from European stock, I have always followed that I am a visitor on this land that I live and honor the spirits that live here. I honor the Native Peoples that are from here and have a bigger stake in what happens here because this is their land. I have never figured out why White Europeans who are drawn to a non Christian path, don’t bother to look at their own ancestors then seeking a path closer to the Earth. Instead, they dishonor the Native teachings by thinking they understand them.

  6. The beauty of Idle No More is that it started with tweets from four indigenous women in Saskatchewan expressing their dissatisfaction with Blil C-45. It lit a spark on some very dry tinder that ignited a world wide resistance movement. The only conceivable purpose of Bill C-45, a purportedly budget omnibus bill, is to remove the last legal impediments to full scale exploitation of oil and minerals and pipeline or other transportation regardless of environmental, social or treaty considerations. It’s like saying “Earth Going out of Business – Everything on Sale Now.” And yes, we need to be respectful and aware of our inherent colonizing impulses (we learned it in the womb). As the elders are saying, they are not coming from anger, but from love for our Mother. Idle No More is at its heart a decolonizing movement. it’s not about “this is what you need to do for us” but “this is what you need from us for your survival.” It is re-establishing our connection to the sacred, for all of us. As Buddhist teacher Tich Nhat Hanh says, “We need to be able to hear the sound of he Earth crying”, If we can humble ourselves in this way we might figure how to make life livable for our grandchildren. The world is waking up.

  7. Thank you for this very insightful article. I didn’t even know it was here until a few minutes ago, when I was scrolling through the Tikkun Daily blog and recognized your name. In the abstract, it isn’t too difficult to recognize one’s own privilege with a reasonable amount of awareness, but the associated tendency to “take charge” of a movement that should be led by others who are more deeply and directly affected–in this case, Canadian First Nations people–is one that has to be fought continuously. Its manifestations are for the most part unconscious, although they can easily become conscious, or be made conscious.
    It’s important to remember though that privilege is always context-sensitive and depends very much on the ethnic background and family history of the individual, which is usually invisible to an outsider. While I may have privilege on the basis of my skin color, my ancestors came to America not as colonizers but as refugees from religious persecution–and not all that long ago either. I assume this is true for most of the American Jewish readers of the Tikkun Daily blog. So in an American context, I can’t personally identify either with the victims of colonization or its perpetrators.
    But not all of my grandparents’ generation (and later) came to America. Some emigrated to what was then called Palestine and were the first Zionists–and we all know how that has played out. In that context, I have no choice but to identify with the colonizers whether I want to or not.

  8. Linda–Thanks so much for your feedback. I think the question of how immigration and forced migration fits into this picture is a really important question. It is hard to hold the complexity of oppression in a short article. I am grateful for your sharing of your and your families experience, it’s helps to complicate this conversation about solidarity and decolonization.

  9. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and everything.
    But imagine if you added some great images or videos to
    give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and clips, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its field.
    Terrific blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *