Knowing Ways in the Digital Age: Indigenous Knowledge from Idle No More to The Unplugging


  • Kimberley McLeod


Since 2012, Idle No More has existed as a grassroots movement broadly promoting Indigenous Sovereignty, empowerment and recognition within Canadian society. While the movement relies on many in-person, real-time events, like round dances and protests, much of its organizing and visibility has been through new technologies. The movement uses the hashtag #idlenomore on social media sites to spread news, events and promote particular political causes. Sarah BayCheng argues this kind of digital presence marks a form of participation where “people do not participate by being there; people are 'there' by participating.” In the case of Idle No More, it works to extend the movement's focus on “Indigenous ways of knowing” into digital spaces, where participants can engage with the movement even when they are geographically separated.

Idle No More's integration of technology into the movement reflects the prominent role new media can play in facilitating participation and distributing information. However, many critics counter this kind of optimism about the power of new technologies, and social media in particular, by pointing to issues such as the co-option of information, barriers to access and the increasing privatization of the web. Algonquin playwright Yvette Nolan considers the tension around technology as a form of connection and disconnection in The Unplugging. In this article, I investigate The Unplugging in the context of Idle No More's strategic use of participatory technologies to consider how the play exposes a crisis for “Indigenous ways of knowing” as there is wariness about what should be shared. I argue that, while Nolan veers towards a stance that embraces open sharing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, her play also complicates popular debates about the political utility of social sharing. Nolan highlights the personal and subjective nature of knowledge sharing, and points to an array of pressing issues relating to how we use technology, who gets access and whose voices get amplified in various online spaces.