Above photo: Gabriella Marks.
Traditionally, indigenous communities did not measure time in a linear way. Everything was cyclic.
All motion is cyclic. It circulates to the limits of its possibilities and then returns to its starting point. What is not resolved will reappear on subsequent rotations around the sun.
Now, as we settle into the winter months, comes the time for reflection and introspection. We may be grateful for the victories of the past year, but we must also build strength and energy for what is to come. We are still in the darkness of the tunnel and cannot see the light ahead. Behind us is 245 years of a failed colonial project. Ahead of us, unseen, is the future. The tunnel is not infinite. When you cannot see the light, it does not mean the tunnel is endless. It means you are in a curve. We must keep moving forward. Our velocity will be our salvation.
The murder of George Floyd in May sparked a mobilization not seen across Turtle Island in many years. It enraged and energized people and organizations from east to west; Lenape territory to Multnomah land, and everywhere in between. Police stations were occupied and burned as the abolition movement gained strength and power. Statues were toppled. Monuments were removed. The racism honored by history would not stand in this time of cleansing. The fires of rage and righteous indignation swept like a tidal wave across the continent. Fire is cleansing. It burns the detritus that smothers the land, allowing for rebirth; allowing for sunlight to reach the earth. The ashes that remain nourish the new life. And the cycle continues…
But rage and wildfire are unsustainable. They must be followed by regeneration and time for growth. What grows now is up to us. We are the caretakers of the land; we are the farmers. Time and history have shown that what creates crisis cannot solve it. The solutions and answers we seek exist with we, the people. A new President in Washington is not the answer. Replacing one anachronistic administration with another will not save us. A Native woman as Secretary of the Interior will not heal the earth. In order for our planet to live, capitalism must die. This nation, founded on genocide, created on stolen land, must be laid to rest. And we must build a new reality, based on indigenous values and principles.
As COVID-19 swept across Turtle Island, it laid bare the systemic environmental racism and inequity which has long plagued reservation lands. Our Diné and Pueblo relatives suffered higher rates of infection and higher mortality rates than any other population in the Southwest. In August of 2020, the CDC found that in 23 selected states, the cumulative incidence of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Native people was 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites. Multi-generational households, lack of running water and access to both food and healthcare contributed to the spread that devasted communities from Chinle to Zia Pueblo. But in the midst of all of that suffering, light still shone. It came from women, youth and LGBTQ-led organizations who stepped up to supply aid and assistance. Albuquerque Mutual Aid, Fight for Our Lives, McKinley Mutual Aid, Santa Fe Mutual Aid, YUCCA, The Red Nation, K’é Infoshop, Navajo & Hopi COVID-19 Relief, Three Sisters Collective, Santa Fe Indigenous Center, to name only a few, have worked tirelessly to show support and solidarity to relatives in hard hit areas. This is how we will survive. When the people move, we must move with them. The government did not save us, will not save us, has never saved us. The government has only ever tried to destroy us. Our existence is resistance.
The beauty of resistance was evident when the statue of Juan de Oñate was removed from Ohkay Owingeh land near Alcalde. Native people and manito relatives called for its removal, which happened just hours before a planned protest. When the protest became a celebration, relatives came to show gratitude, to sing and dance. We placed red handprints on the pedestal where the statue of the murderous, rapist once stood. We placed red handprints to honor our ancestors and remember their sacrifices.
In O’gha Po’oge, occupied Santa Fe, the removal of two racist monuments exposed what can only be intrinsic in a city build on the genocide and erasure of indigenous people. The racism that was revealed is violent and virulent. Indigenous women, femmes and LGBTQ folx experienced threats, intimidation and privacy violations by not only right-wing white- supremacist groups, but by Hispanic and white people who cannot see the bigotry and ugliness within themselves. There were lamentations and cries of “outsiders destroying our city” which would be laughable, if it were not so pathetic. How can Native people be outsiders on our own land?
In the last few years, we have seen environmental depredation, economic ruin, devastation of our public education system, and large-scale homicide by government neglect. White-supremacy and racism have become further emboldened and normalized. Science has been relegated to the shadows. People are going hungry and unsheltered in higher numbers than ever before in the history of this colonial project. We are standing on the edge of the abyss. And we are tottering.
But there is also beauty and hope for the future. The love and support for community evidenced by so many during the pandemic was a joy to experience. Camps were established to fight against the border wall in the homelands of the Kumeyaay and Tohono O’odham peoples. Mni Luzahan and Warriors of the Sunrise camps arose to shine light on the continued theft of native lands.
The toppling of statues; burning of police departments; creation of autonomous zones; renaming part of the street outside of the White House Black Lives Matter Plaza and many other actions that took place this last summer are evidence of a changing paradigm, a new narrative.
This new narrative will be framed by just two words: Land Back.