It is April 2015. I receive a message on Facebook informing me that there is to be a town meeting in Gallup, New Mexico, a particularly violent reservation border town (see map on page 12), where the residents will unveil an anti-panhandling campaign. The campaign is entitled “Change in my heart, not in my pocket.” It encourages consumers not to give money to panhandlers. Locals express their rationale for this campaign by questioning the wisdom of handing money to a problem drinker who is only going to buy another drink. But they also express their fears of being accosted by panhandlers who are seen as annoying and threatening. One architect of the campaign, Chuck Van Drunen, says he started to question if it really was compassionate to hand over a dollar to a homeless person and proposed that it was more compassionate to donate to local charities that feed and house the homeless and, perhaps, such a strategy might do more to improve the panhandler’s life. Van Drunen worried, “If you say, ‘Here’s a dollar,’ the reality is you may have helped contribute to their death that night.”
I am both curious and full of dread because I know that when Gallup talks about “panhandlers” and the urgency to contain them, who and what they are really talking about are my Diné people who walk the town’s streets. Settler towns like Gallup were established to exploit Native lands and labor for the benefit of settlers. The dispossession and expropriation of Native lands are upheld by a jurisdictional authority that benefits capitalists and settlers. The intention is to literally eliminate all life — water, bodies, subterranean elements, plants, or animals; in other words, all that Indigenous life is dependent upon — for the benefit of settlers. Border towns like Gallup fear Indigenous peoples in “their spaces” and simultaneously peddle their profit-making enterprises, many of which are exploitative and sustain Indigenous poverty.