Uniting Native American Tribes in Canada and Montana

By  Kelly Conde

On a cold January day, Bryson Myers played the flute beneath a cottonwood tree on the edge of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He wore a wool hat and a shin-length wool Pendleton blanket decorated in Native American design. Propped next to him was a sign. It read, “Idle No More” in large, handwritten letters. The song he played was one he composed to spread awareness about what’s going on next door.

Idle No More spawned from outrage felt by Canada’s First Nations people over a bill that restricts their rights to regulate the use of their land. Though the bill was the catalyst, the movement quickly took a broader scope. Along with First Nations sovereignty, it is about protecting the environment — a fight that came to the forefront after tar sands exploration ravaged Alberta.

Just south of the Canadian border on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, people like Myers are making an effort to support Idle No More. Their connections to the movement are deeply rooted — many on the reservation have relatives in nearby Canada. However, the impetus to support Idle No More goes far beyond kin. Many recognize that the pillars of the movement are addressing the same struggles Native Americans face.

That includes Myers, who is attending college on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He split his childhood between the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, west of Fort Peck, and the Star Blanket reserve in Canada.

“The minute I knew that the majority of this movement started with my people in Canada, down to the reserve where I was at, I was like ‘Well, I’m going to join this,’” Myers said.

photo by Eric Oravsky
photo by Eric Oravsky

The movement gained momentum with the help of peaceful protests, known as flash mobs. Natives and non-natives swarm a public place to perform Cree influenced round dances and sing traditional Native songs. Myers appreciated how the gatherings accurately portrayed his people as nonviolent.

“The way I was raised, and to see what’s happening, I can honestly say it’s going about it the right way,” Myers said.

The peaceful nature of the movement also appealed to Adriann Ricker, who grew up on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. But what made her want to get involved were the issues the movement addresses — issues that parallel those affecting her people.

“A lot of what they stand for is issues that we are facing and we will face,” Ricker said, citing the Keystone XL pipeline as an example.

To show her support for the movement, Ricker organized an Idle No More gathering on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which has a membership of about 10,000, roughly 7,000 of whom live on the reservation.* In mid-January, through posters, Facebook posts, and advertisements in the local newspaper, Ricker brought people together for two nights of protests. On the second night, 50 people showed up to dance, hold signs, or observe.
“A lot of people were intrigued by it,” Ricker said. “It got the conversation going over here.”

One person in attendance was tribal council member Tommy Christian. Christian is half Canadian; his mother is from the Wood Mountain Reserve. He showed up to represent and support his Canadian relatives.

“Up there, they legislate these laws that impose and infringe on sovereignty and so Idle No More is bringing those things to the forefront,” Christian said.

To Christian, Ricker, and Myers, Idle No More goes far beyond the Canadian-American border. And thanks to their efforts, awareness on the reservation is spreading.

“We are in a time when we have to take ownership of who we are as a people and fix things on our own,” Ricker said.

To Ricker and her fellow activists, it’s no less than an awakening.

*This is a correction from the original version, which stated that the Fort Peck Reservation has a population of 200. It is the town of Fort Peck that has a population of 200.