Idle No More is a movement among North American tribes that takes on the tenor of Occupy Wall Street; it’s peaceful, it’s grassroots, it’s widespread, and it’s fundamentally about speaking out to the powers that be. But the issue driving Idle No More is not economics; it’s treaty rights.
Originating in Ontario, Canada, Idle No More began as a series of teach-ins protesting legislation that would erode indigenous sovereignty. To support the movement, many tribal members within the United States have also held rallies — most recently in California, Oregon and Montana in November 2013, with others occurred in Washington, D.C. and several other states across the country and around the world.
Other shows of support have come from musicians, Native and non-Native alike, resulting in the compilation album “Idle No More: Songs for Life, Volumes 1 & 2.” I listened to the second volume.
The Indian Handcrafts open the album with the fun and energetic rock piece, “Red Action.” Surprising is the fact that their big sound comes from only two band members, drummer Brandon Aikins and guitarist Daniel Allen, who both add their vocals to the mix. They have an equally big message that might be easily overlooked as one bops to the drumbeat: “It shouldn’t be surprising — the spirits here were born for uprising” and “What time is it? It’s time for red action!”
Moving further down the track list, some might find familiar the sounds of Hannah Georgas, a Canadian singer-songwriter, whose vocals often remind listeners of Regina Spektor or Feist. The group Oh My Darling adds a mix of French-folk and bluegrass instrumentals and harmonies with “Champ de Bataille.” And if that weren’t enough variety,NRG Rising taps into the social consciousness of reggae to sing of moving “from darkness to light, pain to freedom, oppression to liberation.”
My favorite track on the album is the last, Melody McKiver’s “Theresa.” The Anishinaabeviolist and violinist has performed and recorded music spanning several genres, classical to folk to hip hop. This song likewise defies genre using classical instruments to pluck traditional Native rhythms, under freeform melodies, that flow like streams in and out of one another. McKiver wrote the song in honor of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who maintained a 44-day hunger strike last winter to bring attention to the poverty of her people and other indigenous peoples. Also a leader within the Idle No More movement, Chief Spence ended the strike after obtaining commitments from Canadian politicians to support aboriginal issues.
The album is free for download at www.rpm.fm.