After seven months of silence and working behind the scenes, the Idle No More movement returned to the public domain Wednesday evening.
More than 150 people took part in a drum circle and dance at Memorial Park in Winnipeg, marking the first public Idle No More protest since January. The small demonstration coincided with similar protests in Saskatoon, Regina and Ottawa in an effort to resume its message of unity and empowerment to the aboriginal community.
"We needed a break to re-assess where we were headed," said Crystal Greene, one of the organizers in the local chapter of Idle No More. "But we were still very active, talking about the issues."
Wednesday's gathering opened with Winnipeg Water Wednesdays -- a weekly fresh-water awareness group started up by Idle No More in conjunction with the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Student Council -- trying to bring awareness about the contested Energy East oil pipeline. The proposal would see an existing national pipeline upgraded to feed up to 850,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta to New Brunswick.
The water-protection group is exactly the type of behind-the-scenes work Idle No More has been working on during the movement's hiatus. Officials say there's been dialogue with the national NDP and with the Council of Canadians, too, all happening in the shadows of rail blockades, hunger strikes and other higher-profile protest actions earlier this year.
"The work was being done on a more personal level," said organizer Michael Kannon. "Blockades and everything like that is kind of at the macro level; what really affects change is conversations.
"Really, our biggest concern, what's been our concern since Idle No More started, is what is our relationship with each other? What is our relationship with the levels of government? All of these other side issues, they are great and important, but the core issue is our relations with everyone."
Kannon didn't mince words when asked to give the temperature of those political relationships.
"Stressed, strained. Places like (Manitoba), it's warming. Nationally, it's cooling."
While the pipeline served as the reason to get into gear once again, it's now not the only area of concern for the local chapter. Kannon said the recent disagreement between First Nations people and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights regarding the term "genocide" and residential schools has quietly sparked the aboriginal community.
"More people have started to contact us because of that," Kannon said. "Our planning meetings have quadrupled. The (genocide) issue became important to everyone. Hopefully we can carry that forward."