FARMINGTON — An international group known as Idle No More organized a “flash mob” of about 100 people at Animas Valley Mall Wednesday evening to raise awareness on issues affecting native peoples in Canada.
About two-thirds of the people were observers and many of those were from the Four Corners region. Twitter and Facebook posts provided the time and location for the event, which started at 6 p.m.
The Idle No More Campaign began in Canada as a response to a sweeping budget bill known as C-45. Participants say that it is imperative that people around the world show their support.
“It’s extremely important because we have this shared history, especially for indigenous nations that straddle the (U.S.-Canada) border,” said Pamela Palmater, a spokeswoman for the movement, lawyer and associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
C-45 was passed by the Canadian House of Commons in December. It changes the way reserve lands are managed. Protesters say that the bill will weaken environmental protections for lakes and streams, have negative effects on native communities and make it easier to sell reserve lands to non-natives.
For some Four Corners residents, the situation is eerily similar to issues closer to home.
“We face a lot of similar issues,” said Joyce Ann, a flash-mob participant who grew up in Shiprock.
A pending water rights settlement between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Department of the Interior could harm locals in much the same way that the Canadian legislation threatens Canada’s First Nations natives, she said.
“You look at the whole process of colonialism, this is about going back to traditional practices,” Ann said. “It’s about those relationships and the grassroots movement.”
The First Nations are made up of the various aboriginal peoples in Canada, similar to Native Americans in the United States.
Chase Sayer is a Cree from Canada’s Saskatchewan province who now lives in Bloomfield.
“A lot of people are getting it wrong,” Sayer said. “We’re just trying to be heard. We don’t want violence. The reason (to participate) is just to show Canada’s First Nations people that the world is supporting them.”
First Nations leaders say that the bill and others coming down the line, will take away their power and put it into the hands of the federal government.
“(The government is) doing it all at once,” Palmater said. “It’s the kind of mass legislation that requires immediate action. These legislative changes to the Navigable Waters Act are sweeping. It will inevitably impact Americans and Native Americans because we share the water.”
There are 14 pieces of legislation in total as well as proposed funding cuts to First Nations governments, she said.
If passed, the package could lead to consequences similar to those of the Dawes Act, Palmater said.
The Dawes Act was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1887. It was intended to assimilate Native Americans into U.S. society.
The act ended communal property holding among Native Americans. It was followed by the Curtis Act of 1898, which dissolved tribal courts and governments. Over the 47 years the Dawes Act was in place, Native Americans lost about 90 million acres of land. Gender roles were also changed as a result of the policy. Whereas communal life had shaped the social order of many Native communities. Men were forced to work the land - traditionally the woman’s role - and the patriarchal model was forced onto many traditionally matrilineal tribes.
The Dawes Act was officially repealed by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
Joanne Martial, of Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, was visiting the Farmington area for the holidays when she heard about the flash mob. She wasn't sure anyone would respond.
“I’m just thankful,” she said of the supporters who turned out Wednesday evening.