A December 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.

fifth_businessA Dec. 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.

Over the last three months, Idle No More has taken North America by storm, blocking roads and trains, and flash-mobbing in community squares and shopping malls (and being summarily arrested for it in some places).

The movement is a response to hundreds of years of environmental rape and pillage by European settlers, who have generally shown themselves to be shitty stewards of this land (OK, “shitty” is generous). So why now?

Well, why not?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Idle No More has been particularly outspoken against tar-sands pipelines in Canada and the U.S. But the movement actually began this past fall in reaction to Canada’s effort to weaken the Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it would protect only 97 bodies of water; it currently safeguards tens of thousands of them. It’s expanded beyond Canada, but its roots are still up north.

Gyasi Ross at Indian Country wrote a primer on the movement, its motivations, and its goals:

It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The Idle No More Movement simply wants kids of all colors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Idle No More, though at times militant, has taken an explicitly non-violent tack. “We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth,” movement founders wrote on Monday. “To keep us on this good path, we ask that you, as organizers create space for Elders or knowledge/ceremonial keepers to assist in guiding decisions as we move forward. It is up to each of us to see that this movement respects all people, the environment, and our communities and neighbours.”

Idle No More is gearing up for another global day of action on Jan. 28. “This day of action will peacefully protest attacks on Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28th.” Protests are planned in Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, and across Canada.

Idle No More is in it for the long haul, but they’re a little sensitive to comparisons to that other decentralized grassroots movement that came and went over the last year. Ross again:

We’re Native …  Hello? You’re not going to scare us off with the cold weather.

Or the riot cops’ hot pepper spray, I hope.