Our guest contributor this week is Ojibway/Métis comedian—turned Idle No More organizer and activist—Ryan McMahon. He reflects on what it is about the rising #IdleNoMore movement that has captured our collective imagination, attention and revolutionary spirit. And how it's taken us from online discussion to a massive mobilization that is literally taking over hundreds of shopping malls, town squares and community centres across Turtle Island—and now the world.
This is the story of how we are reuniting our people through our songs, dances and cultures.
The Round Dance Revolution has arrived.
This was supposed to have been written days ago. When I was asked by RPM to do a guest post I immediately said, “Yes, I’ll write a guest post: Indigenous... music...culture...#IdleNoMore... Sounds great!" And I hung up the phone.
Then I attended the first Idle No More action in Winnipeg and when I got home that night I started writing. Sorta. It was -38 with the windchill that day - so - I think I drank tea for hours and sat under blankets, but, I’m trying to sound responsible here.
I wrote for a few hours that night. I wrote. And wrote. I heard typewriter keys in mind. Much like Hunter S. Thompson, I wrote. Sorta. Like Hunter S. Thompson. Well, minus the whiskey, the smokes and the drugs, so, not like Hunter S. Thompson at all, but, dammit, I wrote.
Now, full disclosure - at best, I’m a below average writer. My words, brain and fingers don’t connect. I can’t articulate myself very well in this medium (I’m writing two books by the way, I bet the publishers are stoked I’m saying this publicly) and I struggled to find a clear sense of what I was feeling.
But I knew I was feeling something. We all were. We all are.
The Idle No More Movement, the politics and the struggle, were providing me with mind-boggling confusion, anger, sadness and happiness. The fact that mainstream media were ignoring the movement as a whole, the fact that one of our strongest leaders is currently on a hunger strike and the fact that I felt like we were Tweeting and Facebooking into a vacuum...everything exasperated my frustration. I struggled to find something that hadn’t been covered yet, when the incredible Métis blogger Chelsea Vowel, my Anishinaabe brother Wab Kinew, and many other journalists and independent media were providing great coverage. So I struggled.
And struggled. No angle. Nothing interesting to say. Nothing informative to add.
Then, two days ago I decided that my piece was going to focus on 'Revolution Music'. I’d call on our Indigenous musicians and artists to find their inspiration in the movement to start building our soundtrack.
We have so much talent in our communities—some of the most exciting musicians on the planet are Indigenous, and I was excited about 'calling them to action'. I talked to many of my musician friends who are working on music right now and, although some are working on new music or have released new tracks recently—there wasn’t much of a story. It seemed like a lazy idea. Maybe it was too obvious. Too simple.
But then it happened.
The Round Dance Flash Mob Explosion
A Round Dance Flash Mob was planned and executed in Regina, SK. The next night a Round Dance broke out inside West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton (North America’s largest mall) during the busy Christmas shopping season.
Then round dances started appearing everywhere: Saskatoon, Ottawa, North Bay, Regina, Prince Albert...the list goes on and on. There are currently round dance actions, traditional song and game flash mobs, and other peaceful music-based actions planned across Turtle Island.
Just look at how many #rounddance posts there are on Twitter.
On Wednesday, we saw YouTube video surface of a group of native brothers and sisters from Minnesota singing the “AIM Song” in the Canadian Consulate office in Minneapolis. Incredible.
The round dance revolution.
It’s happening. Right?
The music revolution is happening. And thank God (if there is a God...c’mon, you know my deal with all that) it doesn’t look like Woodstock. Instead, it’s a beautiful, peaceful and inclusive action. We are being led by our drums.
It’s perfect. It’s accessible. It’s transportable. It’s cheap (hey, we’re on budgets, ya know).
And it's a whole new form of direct action, protest and resistance. As Metro News Saskatoon reported:
With flash mob round dances already occurring in Regina and Edmonton some...say the flash mob has become one of the more effective forms of protest....compared to traditional methods of protest, the flash mob is a more engaging and welcoming way to spread a message.
The rounddances across Canada are amazing. They bring me so much pride and hope. #idlenomore
— Jules (@WinnipegJules) December 21, 2012
Indians are straight up goin into public spaces and taking the f over lol! the WAR DRUMS are beating loud&clear- the chants-overwhelming! :)
— Chase Iron Eyes(@Lastrealndn) December 21, 2012
Imagine having a round dance in front of buckingham palace?
— Chris_T (@chicosez) December 21, 2012
Why This Matters
We are the Indigenous Peoples of this land. We have held unique worldviews and cultural and spiritual practices for thousands of years. So many of these practices included drums.
As kids, we were told that the drum beat represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth. We were told our songs come from Mother Earth. We were told that our communities are only as strong as the sound of our drums.
Then “they” came. And many of our drums went silent. Completely silent. Our songs were banned. Torn from our lives. Forcefully. Violently. But, although they silent for a time, our old people kept their bundles. Some hid them. Some buried them.
Then, slowly, the sound of our drums re-emerged. They started to spread through our communities again. They signalled hope. They signalled our return.
Our drums were being used. And we began to gather again. We danced again. And our communities are slowly regaining their strength.
It's perfect. It makes perfect sense. A Round Dance Revolution. It has reinvigorated and re-inspired our People. It has lifted the spirits of thousands. The act of the “flash mob” can be called “Political/Guerilla Theatre” but it’s not politics in and of itself. It’s a glimpse into who we are. It is perfect.
One Heartbeat: December 21, 2012
At 12:00pm on Friday, December 21st, thousands will gather on Parliament Hill to drum sing and dance—while thousands more will gather in communities across Turtle Island for round dances, songs and prayers in support of all our relations.
Idle No More has called on all Nations to drum and sing across Turtle Island on December 21, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. Central Standard time, for a global synchronized Spiritual Awakening.
We want to honor and recognize the Drum as it represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the heartbeat of our people.
Indigenous peoples call on all people and nations to join us in solidarity in “One Heartbeat” through the Drum as we honor the ways of our Ancestors.
We have much to do to sustain this movement. We have long term and short term planning to get underway. BUT. If we need to #SoundtracktheStruggle: it's already here. Our songs remind us that we’re fighting for the land, our languages, our women, our children and for our lives.
Round Dance Flash Mobs That Have Happened To Date:
Regina, SK Edmonton, AB Ottawa, ON Regina, SK North Bay, ON Saskatoon, SK
Round Dance Flash Mobs Scheduled To Happen This Coming Week:
Sault St. Marie, ON Green Bay, WI Rapid City, SD Kamloops, BC Prince Albert, SK Duluth, MN Fort McMurray, AB Akwesasne Mohawk Territory North Battleford, SK Winnipeg, MB Victoria, BC Vancouver, BC Kenora, ON Moncton, NB Grand Prairie, AB Sarnia, ON Tempe, AZ Hamilton, ON Brandon, MB Burnaby, BC Richmond, BC Denendeh, NWT Halifax, NS Phoenix, AZ Seattle, WA Havre, MT 12/22 Billings, MT 12/22 Missoula, MT 12/23
Now the only question is: where will you be?
Ryan McMahon is an Ojibwe/Métis comedian, actor and writer hailing from Couchiching First Nation. He runs the weekly comedy and current Indigenous events podcast, RedManLaughing.com, and his comedy can be found at RyanMcMahonComedy.com