Two arrests in 'Idle No More' round dance attempt at Mall of America

Idle No More organizers Patricia Shepard and Reyna Crow were arrested on New Year’s Eve after entering the Mall of America following a press conference they held outside of the massive shopping center in Bloomington, Minn. Their arrests came exactly one year after last year’s New Year’s Eve Idle No More round dance at the Mall, in which nearly a thousand Native people and allies flooded the vestibule near the entrance to Sears, drumming and dancing in a circle.

The Idle No More movement originated among Native tribes in Canada at the end of 2012 in response to the Jobs and Growth Act, which was passed in December of that year. The law removed thousands of bodies of water from Canadian government protection and made changes to the Indian Act — actions that opponents said infringed on treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. Essentially, the law reduced the requirements for privatizing Native-owned land. The movement quickly grew beyond Canada, with Idle No More solidarity rallies popping up all over the United States, including one on Dec. 31, 2012 at the Mall of America, which is owned by Triple Five Group, a Canadian company.

On the Triple Five Group website, the company touts “exciting services and opportunities to First Nations in Canada and the Native Tribes of America.” The webpage goes on to list its programs, which include “development of casinos, residential commercial and industrial — on or off reservation,” “Exploration and development of mineral resources” and “exploration and production of oil and gas.”

Plans were in the works from several Minnesota-based Native groups to hold another Idle No More event at the Mall this New Year’s, but Shepard and Crow — along with other Native leaders in the community — recently received letters from the Mall of America threatening them with arrest if another event took place. “The Idle No More group caused disruption to our customers, tenants and employees, and resulted in a significant commitment of time and resources by our security and management teams,” the letter stated.

At a press conference held outside the Mall at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Crow called the letter discriminatory.

“Singling out one particular group of people and telling them that they’re not welcome to have a positive family event, a gesture of friendship and healing in the Mall when so many other cultural groups are welcomed is to me absolutely appalling,” Crow said.

Shepard took issue with the letter’s characterization of the event as a protest. While the Idle No More movement began in Canada, it has grown far beyond its initial purposes, she said, and the planned event was intended to be more about educating and sharing Native culture than protesting.

After the press conference, Shepard planned to bring traditional gifts of sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, maple sugar and water to managers of the Mall of America. “As Anishinabe women, we are the caretakers of the land, we are the caretakers of the water, and we’re also the caretakers of future generations,” she said. “We want to gift the Mall of America management team and let them know that we are not here to protest against anyone, we are not here to cause problems. All we want to do is have the same equal access to the Mall as other flash mobs [that] have been here.”

However, Shepard was arrested after entering the mall. In a video posted by Sarah Little Redfeather Kalmason, Shepard can be heard calling out that the officers are hurting her hands. “You don’t have to squeeze those handcuffs when you’re cutting off my circulation,” she says in the video.

According to Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Vic Poyer, Shepard asked to be taken to a hospital instead of jail, but when she learned that she would just be given a citation, she chose not to go to the hospital.

When Crow followed Shepard into the Mall, a security guard asked her to leave, as well. “The reason I’m asking you to leave this Mall is a result of this event,” the guard told Crow. “This event is not authorized.” The guard continued by saying, “I’m giving you three options: You can go across the street, you can go to a restaurant, or you can go to the Native American Center downtown.”

When Crow refused to leave, she, like Shepard, was charged with trespassing and taken away by the Bloomington Police. At each of the entrances to the Mall, there were security checkpoints where security officers were checking customers’ bags at entry, apparently in an effort to keep out tribal drums or other dance instruments.

“They were checking everything,” said Stacy Saros, who came for the planned round dance. “You can’t bring drums in, you can’t bring staffs in, you can’t bring nothing in here, which is messed up,” she said.

In Kalmason’s video, officers are seen asking a man if he has a drum, and stating that drums are not allowed at the Mall.

“What happened is really disturbing and racist,” said Jordan Kushner, an attorney for both Shepard and Crow, after the arrests. “The Mall of America singled this group out because they didn’t appreciate a Native American group having a cultural celebration.”

According to Kushner, the officers “violently accosted both of the organizers of the event and then arrested them with the intention of trying to break up any kind of gathering than might happen.”

Though numerous legal observers and several dozen Native individuals were present where the Idle No More event was planned to take place, no round dance occurred following the arrests.

(Story by Sheila Regan, video by Bill Sorem)

Related story: NEWS DAY | New Year's Eve Round Dance announced by Idle No More, denounced by Mall of America (Mary Turck, TC Daily Planet, 2013)

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    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

    Bill Sorem's picture
    Bill Sorem