Christmas shopping season was in full swing on December 17th, 2012 when the sound of drumbeats and singing broke out at the crowded Cornwall Centre shopping mall in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Surprised onlookers craned over their shoulders as they rode up escalators while an indigenous round dance circled around the Christmas tree in the center of the mall. Idle No More, a movement comprised of First Nations peoples and non-Native allies, had just launched its signature tactic.

The next day, another round dance took place at the West Edmonton mall in Alberta, Canada – one of the ten largest malls in the world. The Idle No More action covered all three floors of the mall, as far as the eye could see. In the United States, one thousand people launched a flash mob round dance at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. On December 20th, two thousand protesters gathered at Midtown Mall in Saskatchewan. The movement spread; by December 27th, there had been more than 100 round dances in Canada alone. No one could go shopping without remembering and acknowledging the First Nations . . . and finding out why they felt it was time to be Idle No More.

Idle No More began in Canada and was launched by three First Nations women and one non-native ally in response to a piece of legislation introduced by the Harper government (Bill C-45) which eroded First Nations sovereignty. The name came from a teach-in led by co-founders Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam, and Jessica Gordon.

The round dances were just one of many tactics used by Idle No More to advance indigenous rights, environmental protections, and other key issues. Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat launched a hunger fast to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Blockades of rails and roadways occurred. Other types of demonstrations and actions happened in cities across Canada and worldwide.  The round dances had a powerful effect as they interrupted “business-as-usual” at the height of consumerism’s holiday season, promoting traditional indigenous culture and values and evocatively declaring the continued existence, resistance, and resilience of the First Nations.

A robust social media outreach brought the message to millions, streaming videos of actions, amplifying the voices of First Nation peoples, and flushing racism and discrimination out of the woodwork to be seen and, hopefully, transformed. Several of the goals of Idle No More were met in the initial stages of the movement, and far greater work remains to be done. The movement had a galvanizing effect on people that broke through public consciousness in startling ways.

An article on the round dance flash mob tactic on Beautiful Trouble summarizes it neatly: “Organizers had hit upon a way to combine social media and flash mobs — both highly popular forms of activism among young people — with traditional music and dance in a way that bridged generations and cultures, creating space for building a sense of community. The round dances symbolized the movement’s core tenets of peace and unity, while sending the simple message: “We are here, our culture is strong, and we will not be silent in the face of destruction.”

Watch a video of the West Edmonton Mall Round Dance on December 18, 2012.

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Photo Credit: By Moxy – Idle No More Protest in Ottawa, Canada. Own work by Michelle Caron, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times.