Limits & Capabilities of Idle No More as Open Source Protest

Earlier I described Idle No More as an Open Source Tribal Insurgency. Admittedly, I used the word “insurgency” because it sounded good. A better word would be “protest” or “movement.” I’d like to provide a little context for what exactly this means and what precise elements of Idle No More make it an Open Source Protest. First off, I did not come up with the concept; John Robb is the analyst/thinker who identified the Arab Spring uprising and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movements as a unique and new sort of method of protesting. (No, I am not going to try to tie Idle No More to these other movements by anything other than some of their tactics. Their ideology, purpose, and people involved are completely different.) Here’s a few key components that John Robb described as what makes a movement “Open Source” in his article OCCUPY WALL STREET (the theory.)

  • A promise. A simple goal/idea that nearly everyone can get behind. – this was simply to “Occupy Wall Street in OWS. Everyone hates Wall Street, let’s go tell them.
  • A plausible promise. Prove the promise can work. – in OWS the successful occupation of locations across the country actually worked (for a while, at least.)
  • A big tent. Everyone is invited.
  • Let everyone innovate. Don’t create a leadership group.
  • Support anyone in a leadership role that either a) grows the movement or b) advances the movement closer to its goal. Oppose (ignore) anybody that proposes a larger, more complex agenda or those that claim ownership over the movement.
  • Copy everything that works.
  • Spread the word of the movement as widely as possible.

These are the essential ingredients for growing a viral movement. One of the biggest critiques I’ve heard of Idle No More is that it has an unclear message. The mass media is still in the mindset that movements need to have a laundry list on their agenda; or support some specific political platform on the left or right. In an Open Source Protest the message is actually quite clear and simple; it’s the plausible promise. I will outline my analysis of what each of these bullet points for Idle No More is. Bear with me; you might not like what I have to say if you think the movement needs to support some broad agenda; or your agenda. For the record, the movement is not following what I think our agenda should be. But that’s okay. These sort of movements are not about one person.

  • A plausible promise: Whatever the initial reason for the movement’s beginning and whoever started it doesn’t matter. The movement is now about forcing a meeting between Chief Spence and the Harper Administration. The various proposed pieces of legislation in the Canadian Government and the original founders of the movement are certainly the origin and the spark that started the movement, but a long, complex bill is not really simple enough to ignite an open source movement of this sort. In OWS the plausible promise was simple: Occupy Wall Street and don’t leave. In the Egyptian Arab Spring Protest the plausible promise was simple: remove the dictator from office. So too is Idle No More’s plausible promise: Force a meeting with hunger striking Chief Spence and the Canadian Government. Yes, there are other issues being talked about. But this is the single plausible promise that everyone is getting behind now.
  • A big tent: Though the movement is spear headed by Natives; any and all are invited to join. This is the key to getting broad based support. The movement is taking on local flavors as local events showcase local displays of indigenousness according to each respective tribes’ customs, regalia and songs. Non Natives have been welcome to attend in support.
  • Let everyone innovate: I’m not 100% sure when and where the first flash mobs occurred, but it works. Shopping malls in particular have been targeted. This was an ingenious idea. It is the introduction of indigenous expressions of culture in a place of rampant consumerism. The contrast has been stark making these flash mobs stand out.
  • Support anyone in a leadership role that either a) grows the movement or b) advances the movement closer to its goal: The movement has been spear headed on a local level by anyone who can muster a drum group and enough Natives to gather and support. This is the meat and bones of a true tribal organizational model. Leadership is extremely fluid in a tribe. It depends on the particular task at hand and who can best accomplish that task. It is how we traditionally waged war, hunted, built, moved camp, established new village; everything was lead this way. In this model of leadership, leaders are not appointed or elected, they are discovered based on their ability to move the tribe toward it’s goals. Same with Idle No More. Anyone able to contribute to the effort is followed. A very specific example has been Andy Everson’s contributions of graphic design, which he has provided free of charge and free for all to use in whatever capacity they wish in this movement. Local people download his graphics and go into their own pockets to print banners and signs. Below is one of his popular designs.
    Idle No More - by Andy Everson

    Idle No More – by Andy Everson

  • Copy everything that works: The tactics of Idle No More have spread like wild fire. These are simple tactics an ideas that can go viral very quickly. Every tribe has it’s own songs. Every tribe has a lot of drummers. Every tribe has a shopping mall or other regional consumer market place. Every tribe has access to the internet. Before you know it every tribe is flash mobbing shopping centers, singing, and posting pictures on social media. Our collective efforts are magnified 10 fold. I imagine that we will soon be marching down major streets and Friday Canadian Consulates across the US will be flash mobbed.

    Idle No More, Sechelt, Sunshine Coast, BC. Photo Keetah Bryant

  • Spread the word of the movement as widely as possible: word spread extremely fast. Support pictures have been coming in from all over the world from as far as Morocco and as close as indigenous territory in Mexico:

    Forest defenders from Cheran, Michoacan is solidarity with the Idle No More Movement from Canada. via El Enemigo Común

So what does all of this mean? It means that Idle No More is beyond the control of any one leader or appointed leadership group. This is very much like the Wars of the Great Plains where no single Chief or headman had the authority to negotiate peace or direct warriors en masse. Instead individuals and gangs of braves followed innovative leaders who could gather enough warriors and execute a successful raid. This is one of the features of our tribal organizational model that made us so successful at resisting the expanding frontier; even while facing a numerically superior force that was equipped with more technologically advanced weaponry. This is what brought down the Roman Empire as Germanic tribes picked apart it’s frontiers. This is why nomadic barbarians on the Asian Steppes were so successful at sacking established civilizations.

Within the Idle No More movement there have been attempts at gaining control; which have proven unsuccessful. Even Chief Spence herself has gone unheaded, particularly when she called on Band Council Chiefs to take control of the movement. The Chiefs themselves have attempted to take control and make this about them, but that too has proven unsuccessful. This is one of the tenants of an Open Source Movement; upport anyone in a leadership role that either a) grows the movement or b) advances the movement closer to its goal. Oppose (ignore) anybody that proposes a larger, more complex agenda or those that claim ownership over the movement. Zig Zag at Warrior Publications has provided some of the most comprehensive coverage of this process as everyone tries to make heads or tails of this movement.

I’ll even admit that I have expressed some criticism of the movement for not being about what I want, which is the establishment of traditional tribal and clan based territorialism in Indian Country. A number of activists across the continent share my vision (see Idle Some More and Indigenous Reoccupation of Ancestral Lands.) What activists of this sort need to realize is that Open Source Protests are a tactic to achieve specific goals and actions; they are not the ideology itself. So Idle No More is an Open Source Protest in the context of a pro-Democracy, pro-government participatory indigenous culture that is about being politically aware and active about a specific piece of legislation. The plausible promise for now is specifically about forcing a meeting between Chief Spence and Harper while the general promise is about defeating a bill. If we traditional tribal/clan activists want to make it about us, we will simply fail. Anyone who tries to redirect the movement at this point will be ignored. So what should we be doing? Dare I say we should be supporting this? Of course! Even though I don’t believe that the political process of our colonizers is valid, legitimate or even capable of changing our fundamentally oppressed relationship we should recognize this sort of movement as the beginning rumblings of an empire on the decline. We are entering a new era where the role of Nation States will take a back seat. This should be evident in that some tribesmen huddled in caves on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border (and now in Mali) are taking on the global liberal-capitalist empire with success (whether you agree with them or not.)

So rather than trying to take control we should be contributing and realizing that tactically this is a blueprint for how to achieve the goals of a genuine resistance. At some point the Canadian and US Governments are going to fail to bring home the bacon for our people (did they ever?) and people will realize that this system is failing us. At that point we will need Open Source Movements not within the context of a pro-Democracy, pro-colonizer government participatory culture. Instead the context will be a pro-tribal sovereignty & territorialism, pro-traditional clan/band organizational model culture. Within that culture and overall ideology will be specific goals and tasks; specific plausible promises. So one example for my tribe, the Tlingit, would be the cessation and successful defeat of a multi-national mining operation in our traditional territory that has the backing of the state to dump mine tailings in salmon spawning grounds. “Stop the Mine” would be the plausible promise around which people would swarm. Leaders would be followed based on their ability to innovate and move the people toward their goal. These tactics would be copied and spread fast as tribes began confronting colonizing forces on their own lands. This is how Open Source Movements works, and why Idle No More is uncontrollable.


About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
This entry was posted in activisim, Building a Tlingit Nation, Decolonization. Bookmark the permalink.

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