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“Flash Mob Prayer Circle” Shows Idle No More’s Spiritual Side

Speakers at an Idle No More event in Seattle drew comparisons between spiritual and political struggles, making the movement seem closer to Civil Rights than Occupy.
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Participants in the Idle No More movement play drums and sing on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo by Matthew Black.

Flash mobs are commonly associated with marketing stunts and pillow fights, not with Native American treaty rights and solemn prayers. But that was all turned upside down at a "flash mob prayer circle" in Seattle on Saturday, January 11.

“You’re carrying your weapons but you’re not carrying your pipes,” Old Coyote recalled the Chief saying. “You’re not carrying your whistles. You’re not carrying your drums.”

The gathering was organized in support of the First-Nations-led Idle No More movement, which began as a protest against Bill C-45 in Canada in late 2012 and has since spread around the world. Somewhere between two and three hundred people gathered in grassy Victor Steinbrueck Park, which overlooks Puget Sound, many of them holding round drums that they played during the day’s many songs and chants.

The event made clear the key role that spirituality is playing in Idle No More events, especially when compared to relatively secular movements such as Occupy Wall Street. The prayer circle began with an invocation by Marilyn Wandrey, an elder of the Suquamish tribe, who drew connections between spiritual and political issues.

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Members of the Tlingit tribe dance in Seattle at the “Flash Mob Prayer Circle.” Photo by Alex Garland.

"I know that our creator is looking down on us," Ms. Wandry said. "He knows what we have gone through, through all these years of having to fight for our rights, having to fight for our treaties, that they be honored, that we as a people be honored. So my prayer today will be for all of us. Each and every one of us who has come here today are warriors."

Those assembled stood silently, many with heads bowed. Other speakers encouraged a more relaxed atmosphere but made the same connection between spiritual roots and political liberation.

"We will survive," said Steve Old Coyote, who put things into perspective with stories of native rights organizing that happened decades ago. "I started fighting for this very cause that we're fighting for today back in 1964 and I think it's a damn shame that we still got those things to face,” he said. :But we do, and we'll keep fighting as long as we have to."

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Old Coyote discussed a meeting with Chief Phil Lane Jr. in which Lane had criticized the younger organizers for leaving spirituality out of their movement. "You guys got into this battle and all of this fight but you forgot something," Old Coyote recalled Lane saying. "You're carrying your weapons and all of this but you're not carrying your pipes. You're not carrying your whistles. You're not carrying your drums."

The same thing certainly can't be said of the organizers of Idle No More, who've made native drumming into the "people's mic" of their movement. As speaker after speaker took the floor on Saturday and spoke about the connection between spiritual practice and political unity, it grew increasingly clear that Idle No More will be a different kind of movement, perhaps more similar to the Civil Rights movement than to Occupy Wall Street, with which it is so often compared.


James Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. James is the web editor at YES!

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