On Friday, July 17th, a coalition of Black and Indigenous organizations and activists has called for a solidarity rally in Chicago, with specific demands for defunding the police, investing in communities, and ending the history that honors the enslaver and colonizer Christopher Columbus.
The rally is the first of its kind in Chicago in recent memory to explicitly call for solidarity between two groups that have already been collaborating and building struggle, but now have the opportunity to make real demands and push the movement for Black lives and Indigenous sovereignty forward.
On June 1st, one week after the beginning of the uprising, Indigenous women gathered in ceremony at the site where George Floyd was murdered. Over asphalt painted with messages of solidarity, heartbreak, and unconditional love, jingle dress dancers in full regalia and ribbon skirts formed a circle around powwow singers on drums. The rhythmic clashing of jingle cones, the singers and drums, the eagle feathers and scarves each dancer lifted to the sky, carried the prayers and medicine for George Floyd and his family. But it was not just for Floyd, it was also the other victims of Derek Chauvin, like Wayne Reyes, the Leech Lake Ojibwe man who was shot and killed by Chauvin and 5 other cops in a flurry of bullets in 2006.
The Jingle Dress dance, gifted from Creator to the Ojibwe people during the last major pandemic in the United States, the 1918 Spanish Flu, holds the Ojibwe teaching that sound carries medicine through the air. The sound of the rows of cones on the dress itself, the drummers and singers that accompany, the sight of Inidgenous people gathering and dancing for the sake of healing, is a small part of what it takes to resist. To lift people’s hearts, to help them to breathe, to keep on fighting and living.
Then, like today, people needed a way to rest their bodies, uplift their spirits and be present amid the despair and constant fear of pandemic and the horrors brought forth by racism and capitalism. Music and dance continue to erupt out of protests, new anthems have been born, and give the movement energy to carry on.
Minneapolis has seen waves of revolt against the police from Black and Indigenous people. The American Indian Movement was formed there in July 1968, growing out of resistance to police brutality. One of the first programs created was a people’s patrol against the police inspired by their collaborators and comrades in struggle, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
There are clear reasons why police violence has been an integral part of organizing. Black people are the disproportionate victims of police murder, making up 32 percent of victims killed by police while only making 13 percent of the population. Indigenous people make up the highest rate of police killing of all ethnic groups–despite the widespread underreporting of deaths by way of misidentification of Indigenous victims as Asian or Hispanic. Whether it’s on the street, in homes, in schools, or left exposed and neglected in jail cells, times when police are called upon to interact or control Black and Indigenous people, there is an undeniable risk of violence and death. As long as police exist, Black and Indigenous people will never be safe.
Black and Indigenous struggle have taken on similar tactics, and have learned and grown from each other since the many decades from the Civil Rights movement to the first recorded rebellion of the enslaved of 1521 of African Wolof and Indigneous Taíno peoples who rose up against Christopher Columbus’ son–Diego Colon. Slavery and Indigenous genocide arose together and have been resisted since their origin.
What does freedom look like?
In the long task of movement building there is always the lingering question of what the world after revolution would look like, and understandably many have been unsure what an equitable, just society could look like.
The ongoing mutual aid systems that have popped up across the country in response to Covid-19 have shown us that we can build ongoing networks of support that redistribute wealth, labor and food regardless of whatever capitalist Democrat or Republican tries to horde resources away from us.
We also see glimmers of it in the historic Supreme Court ruling of McGrit v Oklahoma where astonishingly the conservative Trump-appointed Justice Gorsuch ruled in favor of honoring the treaties and deemed that 47 percent of the state of Oklahoma is now under tribal sovereignty.
What does it mean to take back the land? What does it mean to re-occupy space as colonized and displaced people?
We’ve seen spurts of re-occupation throughout the last century.
From Philadelphia’s MOVE, to Chicago’s Freedom Square, most recently the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, to the highway takeovers of the early Black Lives Matter movement, Wounded Knee and Alacatraz, and of course Standing Rock. When working-class Black and Indigenous people take power, we often do so by building a thriving community and providing ourselves the resources the state never allowed.
We can already imagine some of the things within our reach. The freedom to healthcare by reopening Chicago’s west and southside clinics, by turning over the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ flailing Indian Health Clinics and opening properly funded and robust medical centers. The freedom to education by reopening Chicago’s shuttered schools, and building an anti-colonial curriculum that teaches about the original inhabitants of the land, enslavement and Black history. The freedom to live safely without police by providing homes to all unsheltered people, creating community centers that can help conflict resolution and de-escalation skills training. All the things our society is fully capable of providing, but is kept from us day in and day out to produce a wealth that we will never see.
Ultimately, those kinds of goals are what makes us so threatening to US capitalism, because if we can provide resources for ourselves, that means the resources can and should be made available to everyone.
To fully take back the land we must restore Indigeneous sovereignty and stewardship over the land, which is to say Indigenous people’s role and responsibility as human beings to protect and preserve life as we know it for generations to come. Indigenous teachings and history as people of this land for more than 10,000 years has provided rich insight and knowledge no settler society can fully replicate, and that this current society has no vested interest in without profit.
As Black people in the United States and elsewhere throughout the diaspora, taking back the land is a form of reparations. Intertwined in the act of sovereignty, it is a way to provide communities that continue to be looted of people, resources and opportunity, with access to healthcare, food education and safety. No one without a home, no one without food, or anything they need.
When we take back the land we fundamentally transform the relationship millions of people have to the land, and their responsibility to it and each other.
Chicago specifically, looking at the demands that organizers are putting forth for Fridays actions, which continue to grow, you see a rapidly transformed city.
- Defund the police and redistribute funds to communities that need them.
- Rematriating the unceded land east of Michigan Ave to Niswi-mishkodewinan (The Council of Three Fires) people.
- Make the First Nations Garden a permanent space and open more intentional green spaces around the city.
- Abolish Columbus Day and Denounce the Doctrine of Discovery.
- Purge cops from schools and public transit.
- Stop Cop Academy.
- Close Chicago’s notorious Homan Square.
Naming our bonds
Today as the Black Lives Matter movement resurges we’ve seen a flourishing of Indigenous languages. Thanks to Radmilla Cody, an Afro-Indigenous Diné woman, and her search for respectful language to describe her African ancestry we now have the word Naahiłii.
“Na(a)” – Those who have come across.
“hił (slash in the l)” – dark, calm, have overcome, persevered and we have come to like
“ii” – oneness.
Those who have come across, those who have persevered.
“Naahiłii beda’iina’ nihił danilį” Black Lives Matter in Diné.
“Makade-bizaawizijig da-apiitenimidiwag” in Ojibwe.
“Taaqsipait Iñuggutiŋit Nuimanaqtut” in Iñupiaq.
And in dozens of other languages, Black Lives Matter.
We share the experience of racialization being invented on our skin for the sake of forced labor and free land, from the one-drop rule to blood quantum (the fractionalization of “Indian Blood” that tied the amount of Native ancestry to how much land was allotted to you by ways of the Dawes Act)–both of which used laws to racialize and oppress us. We share the history of police being created out of slave catchers and Indian agents, as a way to monitor, intimidate and control our populations. We have had a specific relationship to the land that has gone on to inform what colonialism looks like in other parts of the world. Black and Indigenous people not only have parallels but share history on shared land. We have generations of Afro-Indigenous kin across Turtle Island who are innovating art, music, language, and Nation building efforts. Blackness and Indigeneity never existed as solely dichotomous unrelated experiences, but rather flowed alongside and together as the colonial project expanded across the Northern, Central and Southern continent.
We cannot ignore that the Indigenous people here on Turtle Island and the Indigenous people of the African continent have everything to gain by coming together in solidarity. Black and Indigenous freedom necessitates the freedom of all people.