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Indigenous Action Highlights British Museum’s Role in Colonialism

by Hrag Vartanian on January 14, 2013

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A photograph of the Idle No More UK flashmob in the British Museum. (photo by Rehan Jamil, courtesy Idle No More UK)

Last Friday, January 11, Idle No More London staged a UK solidarity action in London’s British Museum. Standing in solidarity with the Idle No More movement, which originated last November with the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities in Canada, members of Idle No More London chose the museum that is widely believed to be the largest repository of colonial artifacts in the world as the site for their protest action.

The UK action, which coincided with an important January 11 meeting between the Canadian government and First Nations people, included a rally outside the Canadian High Commission and, according to one of the organizers who spoke with Hyperallergic via email, “a ‘flash mob’ — an action without official permission” that is pictured above. This was the London group’s first protest action.

The UK event was organized, according to their statement, by Tawantinsuyu Nation, commonly known to English-speakers as the Incan nation of present-day South America.

Their press release reads:

Idle No More London sends its solidarity to all peoples taking part in actions and protests across the world. Idle No More calls on people to join in a revolution that honours and fulfils Indigenous autonomy that protects the land and waters.

As part of the London action, a number of videos by participants were made and posted on YouTube. In it the protesters take aim at the British Museum as a symbol of the injustices that First Nations and other indigenous peoples face.

“This museum is not simply a building in artifact, but an active agent in the international framing and performance of colonialism and empire,” Deepa Naik says in her videos statement [posted below]. “Two of the most unfounded and damaging ideas to be supported have flourished here. The idea of the categorization of human culture with the European preeminence, and the subsequent idea that still permeates today, though challenged, the notion of civilized and uncivilized.”

Amaru from Tawantinsuyu Nation [pictured in the video below] is asked by the videographer in this video what the British Museum means to him. “Here they store stolen artifacts from our people. They have a whole section dedicated to the Americas, and these are objects they have stolen from our people. And just like these objects that they have,” he says while pointing to totem poles in the background, “so precious to our people, we need our land back as well. We need our objects from the British Museum, but we also need our land back [from] where they promote America, Canada, United States, etc.”

“The movement will hopefully inspire people across the world to take hold of their inherent rights, become awake, their spirits awake, and to idle no more,” says Brian Solomon [pictured below], who hails from Northern Ontario, in his video statement.

The Idle No More movement began last year as a response to efforts by the Canadian government’s desire to pass omnibus Bill C-45, which aboriginal groups say, threatens many established treaties and their vision of sovereignty, among other things. The Idle No More tumblelog is documenting the growing organization’s actions around the world.

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