On Easter Sunday 2016, Loreal Tsingine, a twenty-seven-year-old Dine woman was brutally gunned down by white Winslow, Arizona police officer Austin Shipley. After Tsingine allegedly stole alcohol and cigarettes, Shipley shot her five times in front of multiple people who witnessed the horror of her final moments. Shipley claimed that he feared for his life, after this petite five-foot woman allegedly threatened him with a pair of scissors. Tsingine’s body was left in the streets until the next morning while law enforcement investigated the scene. She left behind an eight-year-old daughter and an angry, heartbroken family and community who demand justice. Meanwhile, officer Austin Shipley returned to active duty.
Loreal’s murder highlights an ongoing epidemic of violence against Natives in border towns, often by agents of the state. “Border town” is a term that refers to towns and cities that are surrounded by tribal land and as a result tend to have a large Native population. In these spaces the presence of Indigenous bodies replays familiar colonial encounters, particularly with the police. Law enforcement actively criminalizes Indigenous peoples who are off-reservation, marking their presence as suspect. According to this spatial logic Native people do not belong in urban spaces and must remain confined to reservations. Settler colonialism is a structure that continually inflicts violence upon the poor, Indigenous, and racialized populations.
Hostile crimes against the Indigenous and unsheltered community are often also committed by the settler population. In the summer of 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, three teenagers bludgeoned to death two Navajo men, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson in an abandoned lot, known to be inhabited by the unsheltered community. The sole survivor, another Navajo man, Jerome Eskeets; recalled being harassed by the same teens that month, but didn’t think to report it because they knew police would not do anything. The three teens admitted to beating more than fifty others, but police did not investigate. Following the tragedy, media reports emphasized that the victims were intoxicated, upholding the “drunk Indian” stereotype and suggesting implicitly that they got what they deserved.
The disappearance of Native people is normalized in border towns. Anti-Indianism is so pervasive, when considering notorious locations like Winslow or Albuquerque because of direct land seizure and genocide. Denial structures the sentiment that settlers belong and Natives do not, a belief that naturalizes white settlement. Albuquerque, for example, sits atop unceded land belonging to the Pueblos of Sandia and Isleta. Following The 1680 Pueblo Revolt, which expelled Spanish colonizers, the Spaniards returned, wreaking havoc, completely annihilating some and shoring up violent domination over others. Subsequent U.S. colonialism continued violent colonial practices, with its genocidal policies against “nomadic” tribes. The more sedentary, the more agricultural Native peoples were, the more they were viewed as possessing “civilization.” The infamous Navajo long walk and Bosque Redondo concentration camp are examples of U.S. extermination policies against “nomadic” peoples who defied imposed boundaries. In other words, violent retribution against Indigenous bodies was centered on bodies’ ability to trespass and to move freely through space. Natives were marked along the lines of either “savage” or “civilized.”
Although ‘awarded’ by Abraham Lincoln with the latter label, the Pueblos continued to experience domination by settler cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Pueblo lands also became the sites where the nuclear industrial complex was born — the infamous Manhattan Project was tested on Pueblo lands at the Los Alamos National Labs — and the oil and gas extractivist industry, both of which have caused tremendous desecration of Pueblo sacred sites and the displacement of Pueblo people. Exploitation of all Native peoples in the area continues under flowery veils that romanticize the diversity in the “tricultural” state. As an act of further erasure, the tricultural New Mexican identity, which claims a “mixture” of Native, Anglo, and Spanish, further marginalizes Native peoples. Nuevo Mexicano identity implies that inhabitants of New Mexico are a homogenous mixture of intertwined Indigenous and settler heritage, a new racial identity that somehow displaces the historic on ongoing existence of Indigenous peoples as distinct political, not racial, entities. This hierarchy that places Indigenous peoples at its bottom is maintained by the state and vigilante acts of violence against Indigenous bodies. Natives are still marked as uncivilized, especially when they resist state violence. The settler thinks to achieve innocence through his good intentions to “civilize” what he considers as backwards people. The only Indian that is appreciated in a settler society is one who showcases their goods, art, and culture, nicely tailored to the liking of tourists.
In spite of this dire situation, Native-led anti-colonial movements are gaining momentum throughout the Southwest, Albuquerque being an important hub. Presently The Red Nation, although recently created, has been on the forefront of some of the most recent victories and struggles. The implementation of Indigenous Peoples Day in the cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe was achieved by efforts led by the The Red Nation and many other local organizations. The push for the removal of Columbus Day and installation of Indigenous Peoples Day of Resistance and Resilience came out of organizing on the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) campus, beginning with the Red Nation backed Resolution 7-S, known to be the most researched and factually rich piece of legislation in UNM’s history. Out of the same piece of legislation came the movement to abolish UNM’s racist seal and to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day at the city level. Although UNM has yet to meet any of the demands made in the past three years, both movements have gained widespread and even international recognition and support. The fight to change UNM’s seal depicting a conquistador and frontiersman bearing sword and gun is currently ongoing. The campaign to abolish the racist seal serves to address a range of broader issues of structural and symbolic violence in the university via a list of eleven demands. Some of what the eleven demands include are the institutionalization of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in UNM policy, the recognition and tracking of “American Indian” as a political identity, not an ethnic group, the construction of an adequate Native cultural center, and tuition waivers for students from all federally recognized tribes.
The Red Nation also led the “No Dead Natives campaign” to address the twenty Native exposure deaths during the 2015-2016 Winter in the border town of Gallup, New Mexico. This is yet another way law enforcement devalues the unsheltered communities. The homeless, mostly Native, are chased out of central parts of the city in winter and relocated to less visible areas where warmth and shelter are inaccessible, the city of Gallup seeing them as disposable and an eyesore for white tourists. The goal of No Dead Natives is not only to assist people by fulfilling immediate health necessities but to demand a system where charity is not a necessity and Native people, homeless or not, are provided fundamental human rights, such as housing and food and the dignity to live in their own lands.
The Red Nation currently has two chapters in Albuquerque and Gallup, as well as a contingent of members working out of Winslow that has primarily aided in organizing actions protesting Winslow police. The network of collaborations between The Red Nation and other organizations in the Albuquerque area has spawned some of the most visible and impactful Native fronted anti-imperial movements the area has seen since the 1970s. By addressing the multiple forms of violence and their intersections in the lives of oppressed Native people, The Red nation carries out direct actions centered on the struggles of women, youth, LGBTQ, and unsheltered people. Gendered violence, racialized violence, environmental violence, and violence against the poor are all things that must be considered when resisting a system that serves to dictate the spaces that Native bodies can occupy and under what circumstances. It is about reclaiming spaces, such as the city, as Indigenous spaces. Environmental desecration of tribal lands coupled with brutality directed at Indigenous people in off-reservation cities creates a clear intent of eliminating Native people. Colonialism is not a thing of the past, but actively structures the present lives and deaths of Indigenous peoples. The struggle for visibility in spaces that have always been Native spaces is resistance. Visible Native resistance shows settlers and institutional powers that there is an active refusal to accept colonial fabrications of spatial arrangements imposed upon Indigenous peoples. Vehement action to reclaim Indigenous spaces is essential to the re-establishment of truly sovereign Native Nation-states that directly challenge the state and its imperialist impositions. (Edited by Nick Estes)