From the Red Power Movement to Idle No More

A former member of the American Indian Movement looked back at the days of Red Power and said, “I didn’t think of it as ‘a string of successes’ at the time, but I guess that’s what it was.  It was a time when you questioned things, when what you hadn’t really thought about became pretty obvious. It was a time when you could make a difference.

Red Power stands for mass, united, militant action. Red Power, like Black Power, set off a wave of action and a level of consciousness in both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities, which has never really ended. Before we get to the parallels between the Red Power movement and Idle No More, let’s look at the international context in which it took place, some of the key events of the older movement, some of the debates that arose during this period, as well as the legacy left behind by this movement.

Most scholars date the movement as roughly between 1969 and 1978, covering events that took place in North America. The end of the 1960s marked the end of the post-war economic boom, and the beginning of a series of recessions. When the economy is in crisis, the corporations and the governments that serve them need to obtain their profits in increasingly aggressive ways. In Canada, the search for new sources of oil, gas and electricity, led to a head-on collision with indigenous communities.

At the same time, there was inspiration from anti-war and liberation movements. As one historian of the movement described the Alcatraz occupation: “The occupation and the Red Power Indian activist movement that followed in its wake took their places alongside the civil rights movement, the black power movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the many other movements dramatizing the grievances of and demanding rights for women, Latinos, Asians, gays, the poor, and the disabled.”


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