At Seattle Idle No More Event, A Mix of Ceremony and Protest

Saturday's Idle No More event showed that a beach can be the perfect place for a protest when a movement is drawing attention to the relationship between people and water.
Idle No More Water Ceremony

On a rare sunny March day in the Pacific Northwest, a group of indigenous people and non-indigenous supporters gathered at Seattle's Golden Gardens Park to continue the work of the Idle No More movement. The event featured speeches about the dangers that environmental destruction poses to the native way of life, an enormous salmon puppet, and a water-blessing ceremony.

The event was part of the Idle No More movement, which started in Canada through opposition to the C-45 omnibus spending bill. The bill, which passed in December, changed the Indian Act, amended the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and removed thousands of lakes and streams from federal protection.

Sweetwater Nannauck

Sweetwater Nannauck, one of the event's organizers. Photo by Kristin Hugo.

Speakers from the Duwamish, Suquamish, and Lummi tribes gathered to condemn the bill as environmentally destructive and to voice their concern about a local plan to create a coal export facility in Washington State near the Canadian border. These plans would involve having nine trains per day travel north along the coast carrying coal. The trains, each of which would be 1.5 miles long, would bring the coal to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, which is expected to ship about 48 million metric tons of coal per year to Asian countries, including China. Native communities are concerned that the coal would contaminate local water, on which they depend for their traditional diet, which includes salmon, clams, and other seafood.

The event also included a ceremony, in which Sweetwater Nannauck, one of the event's organizers, blessed containers of water that people had brought from their own regions. Participants walked to the shore of Puget Sound with protest signs, a large banner, and the giant salmon in tow. Drumbeats and chants accompanied the procession, which marched behind Nannauck until she reached the coast and poured her blessed water into the sound. The other participants followed suit with their own water, some of which was brought from faraway places in the state.

Bill C-45 remains a major point of concern for indigenous people across North America.

“We still need to stand strong with [the Canadian First Nations],” Nannauck said. “Because whatever happens there, it's going to go through trains here, it's going to go through our waters here, it's going to affect future generations for many years to come.”


  • Video: She’s only 11 years old, but she’s already been working for environmental justice for a few years now. Here, she addresses the crowd at an Idle No More event in British Columbia.

  • A letter to Canada’s Governor General explains why Maude Barlow–together with Idle No More–are speaking out against the country’s new environmental rules.

  • A divestment campaign led by students is changing the national conversation about energy, creating a market for sustainable stocks, and linking up students with communities facing off against the fossil fuel industry.