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Indigenous Rights And A New Wave of Social Change

   /   Aug 18th, 2011National, Photos & Videos, Southwest

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Every Thursday, thanks to a content partnership with brother-sister duo Journey of Action, we’ll be exploring Gen Y changemakers–and how they fit in with the rest of the world.

This video isn’t the kind of thing we normally feature on Dowser. We’re open to solutions from any sector–business, citizen, non-profit. But normally, we look for innovative ideas with the potential to create system-wide change.

The punk/rock activist band featured in this video, Blackfire, is a bit more traditional.

The sibling trio uses music to advance the rights of the Navajo Nation. This is art activism, and it is not new. See: Food Inc., The Cove, Fenetre, The Western Front, A Modest Proposal, AdBusters, Mideast Tunes (which curates music that some point to as a new driving force in the Arab Spring), or Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution- a television show that faces for a healthy-food crusade improving students’ test scores and changing health policy in the UK.

(Seriously, watch that last one. It’s Jimmy Kimmel.) ((And while we’re on the subject, Cool Hunting has an excellent, three-minute interview with Mr. Oliver. He’s been doing this work for twelve years.))

Blackfire’s cause – Native American and indigenous rights- indisputably deserves the attention. Despite a flurry of protests in the 1960s and 1970s, and a slew of policy changes from Congress, today’s state and national legislation often still threatens Native American culture. The UN General Assembly didn’t adopt the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People until September 2007. And it wasn’t until December of 2010 that the United States officially endorsed the document.

Still, Blackfire uses the same means (social protest) as Native Americans did in the 1960s. It’s an old tactic to address a persistent issue. Not the kind of strategy Dowser normally covers.

So why did we choose this video? Because Blackfire’s music represents the resurgence of social protest that’s dominated the news since early this year. Its context is a vital new wave of social change.

“We started our band because the issues impacting our community as Diné people and as indigenous people here in the U.S. were being completely ignored, from coal mining to forced relocation and further environmental degradation,” says one Blackfire member. “The corporate media wasn’t telling that story, so we took up arms through music. That’s been our main way of communicating the need for change, the need for dignity, and the need for respect.”

We’ve seen this same need in the Arab Spring, in the unrest in London, in Israel, in the Phillippines and in America on Twitter and even, somewhat, in the Tea Party. Though few condone the violence of the London riots, the unemployed youth that comprise the bulk of rioters have even bluntly stated that one of their motivations is to get people to listen to them.

Perhaps this video isn’t social entrepreneurship, according to typical definitions. And perhaps it’s not a particularly innovative model.

But the frequency and significance of protests over the last few months indicates a fundamental power shift that social entrepreneurs, or really anyone interested in changemaking, must study. As op-eds around the web have noted, the boundaries between social enterprise, citizen activism and public policy are shifting.

The Atlantic has even launched a whole new blog on the topic, Notes From the Foreign Policy Frontier. Its author, politics Prof Anne-Marie Slaughter, pointed out on Foreign Policy that the Arab Revolutions, and its global ripple effects, are only the beginning of a much larger shift in how people organize and affect change. That’s why we included this video.

Plus, it’s beautiful. Blackfire has an impressive track record of results, and offers fascinating insights at the intersection of environmentalism and indigenous rights.

So enjoy, and remember: the times they are a-changin’. And sometimes, cliches are such because they work.

**Also check out Journey of Action’s adventures in snow bathing with Blackfire. The process is a spiritual act for the Diné.

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