The Red Deal: An Indigenous Manual to Decolonize and Heal the Earth


We conclude this issue with a conversation with occasional Funambulist contributor Jennifer Marley and Demetrius Johnson, both members of The Red Nation. We talk about the Indigenous-made treatise that they released in April 2021, a manual that cannot conceive ecological practices without decolonization and the abolition of capitalism: The Red Deal.

Red Nation Funambulist 1
The monument of colonizer Juan de Oñate has been removed by settlers for “safekeeping.” Pueblo people dance on its pedestal. Celebration turns to ceremony as drums and prayer echo the valley. The statue will stay removed so long as the struggle for Indigenous liberation continues. / Photo by Justine Teba (The Red Nation, 2020) in Ohkay Owingeh, Tewa Territory, Alcalde.

Léopold Lambert: Many of The Funambulist’s long-time subscribers, in particular in Turtle Island, are well acquainted with The Red Nation’s crucial work, but some others in other parts of the world might not, could you tell us a bit about it?

Demetrius Johnson: The Red Nation started in 2014 after the killings of Cowboy [Allison Gorman] and Rabbit [Kee Thompson], two Diné people who were sleeping on the street, here in Albuquerque, and they were murdered by people passing along. In the aftermath of that, The Red Nation and a bunch of other community members stood up for them: they held protests and wanted accountability for those who did that. It’s also like a testament to what Native people experience here, in border towns: Native people, living on their own land, are just treated violently by settlers. The Red Nation’s founding members — two of them were Nick [Estes] and Mel [Melanie K. Yazzie] — started the organization to protect our unsheltered relatives, to protect those Natives living in border towns, or even to just assert ourselves, wanting to live our lives without being discriminated against, without having violence enacted towards us. But since then, it’s grown into something beyond. I joined in 2015. And to see The Red Nation go from something that started from a few people having the same vision of empowering Indigenous people to a huge collective of Native people all across Turtle Island, is a beautiful thing!

Jennifer Marley: I also joined in 2015 and, at the time, we were doing small scale educational events and a few small protests. But it was really during that time that we realized that our primary foundation was in being committed to border town justice. A border town, for readers who aren’t familiar, refers to a town or a city that is surrounded by reservations — not necessarily an international border. We use this terminology to emphasize that our communities are in fact nations and not simply reservations, and it also indicates that these metropolitan areas are in fact, Native land.

In border towns we’re constantly being pushed to the fringes on our own land. From there, we engaged in a number of campaigns that started to gain national, in some cases, even international traction. I remember some of the early campaigns we did that gained a lot of traction were the fight for Indigenous peoples’ Day and then the campaign to abolish the University of New Mexico’s racist seal, which later became a broader campaign against racist imagery. We saw the fight against racist monuments and imagery pick up last year with the destruction of racist Confederate monuments and other imagery around the U..S that happened in mass. And so we consider ourselves as being a part of what would become a national movement.

Some other campaigns were justice campaigns, like the fight for justice for Loreal Tsingine, who was murdered by a white cop in Winslow, Arizona, and Ronnie Ross, who was murdered here in Albuquerque. And it just continued and, as we grew, and during Trump’s administration, we started writing The Red Deal. We put a lot of energy into it and it happened via community coalition. We realized that in order to build a mass movement, we envisioned, we wanted to have a platform that clearly articulated our politics and the ways we would achieve our goals. We wanted to clarify what we’re talking about when we’re talking about decolonization, or what we’re talking about when we’re talking about saving our Earth. And so now, we’re in a whole new phase of The Red Nation: we’ve been putting a lot of energy into The Red Deal and into the establishment of our media project, The Red Media, which will serve as a press and eventually, we’ll start putting out all different types of media. Of course, the organizational work continues on the ground here. And we know it’s going to be a Red Hot Summer, just as we saw last summer, I think we’re gonna see a lot of militant action in the streets pick up again.