Report from Indigenous Action on the recent Indigenous People’s Day of Rage march in so-called Flagstaff.
As the sun set on Sunday, Oct. 11 a crowd of Indigenous folx and accomplices gathered outside Flagstaff City Hall and pitched three tents for unsheltered relatives. The cops came to intimidate but no-one from what we could see was listening to whatever it was they were attempting to convey.
A contingent of a liberal Indigenous group called “Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff” attempted to communicate what the police could not. Something about “change coming from policy,” about not wanting something “bad” to happen to the demonstrators. There was some sort of debate but we weren’t close enough to hear what was happening and decided to ignore the clear attempt at movement policing. After all, the night was emerging and we weren’t there to debate hang-around-the-fort Natives.
A jail support number was shared with the message that “We’re not here because we want any more of our people locked up in the system. Our plan is not to get arrested and if they try, to make sure we don’t let that happen.” Some words were said on a megaphone but we’ve learned to tune that frequency out after years of marching, somehow the megaphone ends up in the same hands and our ears are tired of the cheer-leading.
A bright orange banner led the way with the words “Avenge Indigenous Children” referencing the brutal legacy of boarding school violence that has resurfaced with powerful calls for accountability throughout the so-called US and KKKanada. The crowd started a quick march on the sidewalk. Cops on bikes tried to heard us but we were swift. We pushed passed them and quickly with a chant of “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose land? Native land” took the intersection of Route 66 and San Francisco St., which is the busiest intersection in the downtown area. Cop cars rushed around. Traffic downtown was fully stopped. The drummer started a round dance song, and at first it seemed some of us weren’t sure do dance or stand there with banners. But we took our time. The beat was steady and echoed off the walls of this colonial settlement that our great grandparents are older than. Banners reading, “Colonialism is a Plague,” “Indigenous Resistance,” “Land Back,” and many others were carried in the dance that was held for about 20 minutes or so. At some point the crowd gathered around an obnoxious and controversial statue of a white railroad worker (which obscures the reality of forced Chinese labor and the advancement of waves of colonial invaders via the rail system).
The statue was enhanced with red paint. Some in the crowd used banners to provide tactical cover then moved on. Cops followed and tried to get ahead of the crowd. A series of massive smoke devices were set off by someone. The streets of downtown “Flagstaff” looked overrun by angry ancestors emerging from the smoke chanting “Fuck Columbus, fuck the police!” It felt like the nightmares of colonizers coming to haunt the futures they have stolen. By pumping millions of gallons of recycled shit water on the sacred San Francisco Peaks. By attacking Indigenous unsheltered relatives and leaving them to freeze in the winter months. By arresting what amounts to half the Indigenous population every year. By doing absolutely nothing when Indigenous womxn have gone missing or were murdered, Vanessa Lee. Ariel Bryant. Nicole Joe. We screamed their names and asserted our rage. We weren’t there to debate, plead, or negotiate as the pacified Natives who tried to make rooms in their chains for us. We were there to celebrate our dignified rage (as the Zapatistas have so beautifully named this anger that is a powerful component of the centuries of resistance against colonialism). Another busy intersection was taken and a round dance ensued. Some colonizers yelled something and we’re quickly told to “Fuck off.”
There was a moment when the marching stopped in a central part of downtown, a relative who had been there every fierce step of the way spoke, (pieces of her words from memory here): “Ariel Bryant was my best friend. She went missing and the cops told me not to look for her. She was found dead and nothing has been done. I’m here for all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans, and two-spirit relatives.” Another relative who said they were from Tsé Bit’ a’í spoke about a Diné elder named Ella Mae Begay who has been missing for months now. “No one is taking this seriously except her family and some community members.” They said stepping out into the streets to rage for missing relatives was a powerful experience. Last year there were more numbers out (less people due to protest burnout? Fuck activists anyways). But this year the spirit and fire was just as fierce. We had friends not come out ‘cause they got cases. We had other friends who just are done with protesting and focus on direct underground actions. (Which we were inspired to see the colorful redecorating occurring in other spaces throughout the town).
Overall the politicians, cops, settlers, and sellouts were all afraid of how fragile the facade of their colonial structures really are. The officially recognized and formal Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamations and “celebrations” lets them off the hook for accountability and the reckoning that is long overdue. Sometimes its the alchemy of catharsis that keeps us going through the despair of colonially induced trauma and the spiritual and physical brutality we (and the land which also hold trauma) face everyday. What we felt was healing. What we felt was anti-colonial struggle. When monuments (and the systems of violence that uphold them) fall, our people can only come up. Let’s tear them all fucking down. Fuck movement police and “Indian scouts.” Fuck Biden’s proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
– An anonymous hashké Diné