An environmental battle in Canada came to Lawrence Saturday afternoon as hundreds of Native Americans started a flash mob and demonstrated on behalf of the Idle No More movement at South Park on Massachusetts Street.
The movement promotes awareness about a Canadian bill that Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation and her people are fighting. Spence has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 11, drinking only water and fish broth, to bring attention to Bill C-45, which activists say infringes on land- and water-related treaties, and changes the approval process for leasing tribal land.
Since December, Idle No More protests have been happening around the world in countries including Colombia, Chile, and Puerto Rico, according to ABC News.
The local flash mob was more than just a quick dance — it had spiritual overtones that were symbolized by drums, eagle feathers, sage and cedar. Participants circled in front of the park's gazebo and danced a round dance, or friendship dance, and periodically let out a traditional battle and celebration cry. In the center of the circle, singers hit their hand drums in the rhythm of a heartbeat and belted out round-dance songs in a native tongue. A nearby man prayed while he burned sage and cedar to bless the dancers. Many of the people prayed for Chief Spence as they danced.
“This is a powerful, symbolic display of solidarity with our relatives north of the border,” said Dan Wildcat, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University. “Any time we can inform the larger community about issues that are affecting native people, much like the issue we’ve been struggling with for 20 years on the South Lawrence Trafficway, I think it’s good.”
“Justice takes centuries,” said Mike Ford, a Baldwin City resident and flash mob participant. “This is a beginning.”
After the flash mob, some of the dancers gathered at Four Winds Native Center, 1423 Haskell Ave., for a potluck dinner and to meet the organizer of the event, Susan Laubsch-Robinson, a Lawrence resident and board member at Four Winds.
Laubsch-Robinson was motivated to start the flash mob after attending one in Kansas City, Mo., two weeks ago. She also wanted to support her First Nation family members in Canada.
“I think the younger generation needs to feel like they have a voice and an outlet,” Laubsch-Robinson said. “They also need to see that through peaceful actions, like Idle No More, that they really do have a chance to change things.”
She said one reason why Native Americans in the U.S. have been so passionate about Idle No More is because similar issues are being debated here, and there is a lot of Native American anger stemming from issues such as land and water rights, boarding schools and reservations.