It is difficult for me to not ask that question. I interview for-profit students to ask of them what many of us have asked ourselves when one of those ads pops up at the train station or on late-night TV: why would someone enroll in a for-profit school?
Lately, Native people have taken to the streets malls in demonstrations of Public Indian-ness (“PI”) that surpasses the sheer volume of activism of even Alcatraz and the Longest Walk. There’s a heapum big amount of PI going on right now! Many people, non-Native and Native alike, are wondering what the heck is going with their local Native population and how this so-called #IdleNoMore Movement managed to get the usually muffled Natives restless enough to be Indian in public. I mean, like Chris Rock said, he hasn’t ever even met two Indians at the same time. He’s seen “polar bears riding a tricycle” but he’s “never seen an Indian family just chillin’ out at Red Lobster.”
Now, people can’t seem to get away from us.
And that’s cool, but isn’t that what pow-wows and November is for? People (non-Native and Native alike) can only take so much PI, right? Is that what the Idle No More movement is? An extended Native American Heritage Month, where non-Natives have to act like they’re fascinated by Native culture?
In a word, no. It is much more. Please consider this a fairly exhaustive explanation of the Movement, what it is not and what it is. If for some reason you cannot read the next 1000 or so brilliant words, I can be summed up thusly: Idle No More is not new. Instead, it is the latest incarnation of the sustained Indigenous Resistance to the rape, pillage, and exploitation of this continent and its women that has existed since 1492. It is not the Occupy Movement, although there are some similarities. It is not only about Canada and it is not only about Native people. Finally, and probably most importantly, it (and we) are not going away anytime soon. So get used to it (and us).
Contrary to what some media outlets are reporting, she is not doing this only to protest Bill C-45 or even the deplorable treatment her community has received since declaring an emergency last year. She has vowed to continue her hunger strike until the prime minister, the Queen or a representative, agrees to sit down in good faith with First Nations leaders to rebuild what has become a fractured and abusive relationship. She is staying in a tipi on Victoria Island, which sits below Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Many native people across the country have been fasting to show their solidarity with Chief Spence, including Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. Just search the twitter hashtag #TheresaSpence to get a sense of how much support this woman has from our peoples.
Yvonne Yen Liu. Photo: courtesy of the interviewee.
Like I mentioned at the Facing Race roundtable yesterday, the “No Justice, No Peas” panel left a deep impression on me because it addresses what otherwise great food-movement documentaries like Food, Inc. and Forks Over Knives sometimes touch on but tend to erase entirely: the food workers of color who do the incredible work of bringing the food–both organic and non-organic–to USians’ palettes and gullets and how deeply economic exploitation and racial injustice not only affects their lives but the lives of their families and neighborhoods. (The Storified version of the panel is here.)
I just had to vibe with the panel’s brilliant and passionate facilitator, Yvonne Yen Liu, who’s the outgoing Senior Research Associate at the Applied Research Center (the people who bring you the Facing Race conference and Colorlines) and the incoming Director of the Global Movements at WhyHunger. We chatted about not only how she found her way to food justice but also how that issue intertwines with race, racism, sexism, and labor justice, and how one journalist cluelessly said that the food movement isn’t a social justice issue.
If Arundhati Roy was a rock star and I was at her concert, I’d be that fool who’d shout, “I LOVE YOOOUUU!” from the cheap seats while she was doing her between-song banter.
Well, Roy is a literary rock star. I fell for her writerly riffs when I caught up with her 1997 semi-autobiographical debut novel, The God Of Small Things, a couple of years ago:
May in Ayemenen is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The rivers shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.
The nights are clear , but suffused with sloth and sullen expectations.
But by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the baazars. And small fish appear in the puddles that fill PWD potholes on the highways.
Signs of “Turn the beet around!” (an obvious nod to the fact that most beets in the US, the source of a large percentage of our granulated sugar, are genetically modified), “Zucchini Park,” and “Take back our food!” filled Wall Street as the members and supporters of the #OccupyBigFood movement made their way into Zucotti Park, with myself and the toddler in tow, bringing up the rear.
I’d made the decision to go a long time ago, when one of the supporters left a link in my comments regarding the original affair. That scheduled Saturday was also the date of the first “Big Snow” of the pending 2011-2012 disgustingly-wet-and-blisteringly-cold season, so it was ill-attended (which meant that I wound up out there among the #OWS Tent City.)
The human mic system at Zuccotti Park blasted valuable message after valuable message, meaningful morsel of info after meaningful morsel:
“Corporate entities are ensuring big subsidies for themselves while convincing Congress to cut money from programs like SNAP…”
“The Union that makes up the people that SERVE that food stand in solidarity with the people who are treated inhumanely and are made to harvest that food for pennies,”
“We want a sustainable system that ensures and guarantees access for everyone,”
All things that we stand for here, though it may not be coming from the same angles as those at the #OccupyBigFood rally.
The conclusion of If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise stays a little closer to home than Part 1 did, but, again, Spike Lee succeeds at telling this set of new stories through the connections not just in New Orleans, but throughout the Gulf region, before heading home for an uncompromising conclusion.
This time around, Lee starts his story with an examination of the New Orleans school system, where a look at the efforts to rebuild the Dr. King Jr. Charter School – now the only school in the Ninth Ward – segues into a discussion over the state of Louisiana’s take-over of New Orleans schools and the opening of the Recovery School District.
As the Dr. King School gets a visit from President Obama, and former Chicago school CEO Paul Vallas is brought in to serve as superintendent, we learn the recovery is far from easy: there’s mistrust of both Vallas’ approach and the teachers now working in the district; and allegations that the lingering traumas from Hurricane Katrina are still going untreated, leading to not only health issues but an increase in crime and violence: “The criminals are getting younger and younger.”
The best, most brutal thing about Spike Lee’s If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise is how it flows, showing us not just how the various residents and systems in New Orleans are connected, but how the breakdown of help for it and the state of Louisiana in the wake of both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill has infected the community on a variety of levels.
To do this, Lee brings back many of the residents viewers met in his last foray to the Crescent City, When The Levees Broke; Phyllis Montana-Leblanc (who also appears in Treme) opens the film with the eponymous poem seen above. From there, Lee veers into what might have been used as a “happy ending” for another film: a look at the local celebration of the New Orlean Saints’ Super Bowl win. From there, the bloom off the rose starts falling, and the reality of the situation is brought home by local activist M. Endesha Jukali: “After the Superbowl on that Sunday,” he tells us. “I was gonna have to get up and figure out how I was gonna eat the next morning, how I was gonna pay my bills, how I was gonna be able to survive. I’m not a who dat. I’m a who is that?”