ABOUT MELANIE K. YAZZIE ///
Melanie K. Yazzie (Diné) is an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies and American Studies at the University of New Mexico. She is also the 2019-2020 Cultural Desk for The Red Nation, a grassroots organization committed to the liberation of Indigenous people from colonialism and capitalism. She is also the guest editor (along with Nick Estes) of The Funambulist 20 (November-December 2019) Settler Colonialism in Turtle Island.. Learn more on her contributor page.
If you have the means to do it, you can donate to The Red Nation Solidarity Fund.
This is a virtual passing of the hat. As we embrace each other over screens and physical distance during this storm, we need your help in weathering it so that we can fight back and win.
The Red Nation membership is facing increased hardships. Like many working poor across the globe, some of our members have lost employment and are facing housing shortages and lack of life-sustaining medical supplies.
Our membership is also engaged in life-saving and critical mutual aid to our Indigenous communities. But we need a little help so that we can continue serving our communities in this critical time of need.
Ahéhee’. Pilamayaye. Dawaa’e. Thank you.
ABOUT THIS DAILY PODCAST SERIES ///
As many of us are confined in many places of the world, we wanted to provide you with a daily podcast in partnership with Radio Alhara emitting from Palestine. Our ambition for it is to not add to the saturation of information we are currently experiencing but, rather, to propose a daily extension 15-minute of our political imaginaries.
The concept is very simple. Every day, we ask one person the same question: “what is for you a moment of true decolonization?” The answer can be a historial moment or something they witnessed; something heroic and grandiose, or rather discreet and mundane; a durable blow to the structures of colonialism or a short instant of liberation.
While we are recording this podcast in privileged conditions of confinement, we keep in our thoughts the multitude of people around the world who do not share similar conditions or have no choice but to risk being affected by the pandemic because of criminal policies that have to do with neoliberalism, carceralism, or colonialism
We thank you for listening and wish you and your loved ones the very best wherever you are.
(music by hooksounds originals)
NB. The Funambulist daily podcast is also played every day at 3:30PM, Palestine time, on راديو الحارة Radio Alhara, a new radio produced from locked-down Bethlehem and Ramallah, along with another 15-minute production about worldwide solidarity, created specifically by The Funambulist for the purpose of this show.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT ///
Decolonization is something that colonized and oppressed people throughout the world have configured and reconfigured for decades and perhaps centuries. We’re part of a global tradition, a very vibrant, diverse global tradition of decolonization and national liberation struggles.
I’m speaking here from Tiwa territory, otherwise known as Albuquerque, New Mexico. And as folks may or may not know, The Red Nation, which is an Indigenous feminist and revolutionary socialist organization that I helped co-found in the fall of 2014, we started here in the Tiwa territory in Albuquerque, and the American, the so called American Southwest. And even though we’re an international revolutionary organization, a lot of the work, sort of the way we’ve cut our teeth, is through local organizing on indigenous liberation issues.
So there’s a campaign that I wanted to talk in response to a murder, actually of a Dine or Navajo relative that happened four years and one week ago, on March 27 2016 in a reservation border town in Arizona, a border town that borders the Navajo Nation. A 27 year old Navajo mother, her name was Loreal Tsingine, was gunned down by a white police officer in the reservation border town of Winslow, Arizona. If folks don’t know, reservation border towns are kind of notorious spaces of settler colonialism and white supremacy in like the larger configuration of the United States, and we’ve done a lot of work on border towns on reservation border towns. And what typically characterizes the treatment of Native people in these kinds of towns is kind of a hyper anti-Indian racism. And the way that that’s manifested, it’s the way that police treat native people, the way that native people are corralled and contained constantly in these spaces removed from public space. And what happens in border towns, they’re kind of like an incubator for the larger project of settler colonialism, because they’re actually frontier spaces. And so what most people think of in the United States is that frontiers don’t exist anymore, that the project of the settlement and the consolidation of the United States is a complete project from sea to shining sea, that settler-national narrative. But border towns, because they border Native nations which are still governed according to kind of customary native legal and political authority, and where there are large numbers of Native people who are citizens of these indigenous nations, that the jurisdiction of these nations is actually completely different, it’s different from the United States. A border town, you literally cross the border from the Navajo Nation into Winslow and Winslow is part of the settler jurisdiction of the United States, it’s considered just a city, like a normal town, within the United States and within the state of Arizona. But because it borders the Navajo Nation, there’s this friction, any kind of border, any coming together, right of two different political and legal kind of authorities in two different kinds of jurisdictions, particularly in a settler society, it creates kind of a higher level of violence, because the larger order of settler society dictates that native people should not be here, that we should be disappeared.
That genocide is a project that still needs to be kind of carried out by the United States, so that it can finally kind of claim indigenous lands for itself and complete the project of settler colonialism which it has not done. And so in these reservation border towns, the police function as agents of the state, of the settler state, to really enforce that logic of elimination of indigenous people. What you see in reservation border towns, Albuquerque is also a reservation border town, it’s surrounded by Pueblo Tiwa land, particularly. I grew up in a border town so I’m very familiar with these dynamics. So cops, everyday citizens, particularly white citizens, kind of enact the logic of settler colonialism to contain indigenous presence, because there’s a lot of us in border towns because that’s where we go to bank, to shop, to buy cars, to go out to restaurants, to eat, to sell jewelry, and to engage in economic activity. Our very presence is really threatening to the settler order of things that desires and imagines us to be gone, to be extinct, to have been disappeared.
What happened on March 27 2016, is this white male cop, Austin Shipley, was a police officer in the Winslow police department. He killed Loreal Tsingine when she was walking back from a gas station to the place where she was staying. And there wasn’t much media coverage about it when it was happening. There isn’t much media coverage about police violence against native people in the United States, even though statistically we face the highest rates of police violence compared to other demographics in the country. And so when we heard about it, the circumstances surrounding it were so egregious that we were like we have to respond to this. The Red Nation was like we have to respond. And so we were all based in Albuquerque. Winslow’s about a three and a half hour drive down the interstate I40 from Albuquerque, and so we just decided to start organizing and traveled out there a lot. And I think we held, I forgot when it was, it was maybe days after she was killed by Austin Shipley. We contacted her family. They lived in the Navajo Nation about an hour and a half north of Winslow. We went out to spend time with her family and we decided to hold an action at the police station in Winslow. You know, there was a lot of public outcry about her murder and we wanted justice. I think a lot of the work that you see organizing in the United States around police murders of Black relatives in particular. There’s like this mantra that we say in the streets where there’s like “no justice, no peace.” “Jail, racist police,” sometimes we add that to it. But the “No justice, no peace”, right? Police are supposed to enact justice, right on behalf of the racist settler state in a place like the United States, but there’s like a people’s justice that we never get. We never get people’s justice when police murder and gunned down our relatives in the streets in places like reservation border towns. And so the hashtag for the campaign was just “Justice for Loreal”. And so we came together just a few days after she was killed. About four years ago, probably to the day, we came together in Winslow in front of the police department. And there were a few hundred people there which was very unusual. Winslow’s tiny. It’s a tiny little town of maybe 4 or 5 thousand people. Right there on the interstate.
And there are a lot of Native people, there are native people who came in from other parts of the Navajo Nation, who were really upset about her murder. And we held an action. It wasn’t really a rally, it was more of like a vigil or a memorial, but very political. And one after another, people came up, and were speaking, there’s a lot of crying. People set down candles and it lasted for hours. It was unexpected. It just unfolded organically. The news was there, the president of the Navajo Nation came. There were activists, longtime Red Power activists, who had started the Red Power movement in the southwest in the 70s, also came from the other side of the Navajo Nation, which is like a three hour drive also, to this particular action. And the reason why I’m talking about it as a moment of true decolonization is because all of the elements were there just for that moment. It was a moment, it wasn’t a movement. It was just a moment where, Nick talks about this in his book Red Nation Rising, From Bordertown Violence to Native Liberation, our history is the future, that our traditions of indigenous resistance are intergenerational. And in that moment, it was really all of the freedom fighters, the indigenous freedom fighters from the Navajo Nation, but also in that region came together in this weird place in Winslow, Arizona, which is just literally, just like this dusty, shitty border town, a pass-through town nobody ever wants to stop in. It’s an insignificant space. And we descended upon there for hours and hours that day, to share the pain, you know, to have some truth-telling moments about what life is like for us in these kinds of spaces, the daily racism that our people experience.
And I remember when Loreal’s, I think it was her grandma was talking she was crying really hard. She was talking about her granddaughter, and what she had meant to the family. It was a clear day, the day that we drove there, there were no clouds in the sky, blue sky. I mean, we have like 300 days of full sun a year in Albuquerque. So just to give folks a sense of what the weather is often like down here in the southwest. Slowly as we were kind of talking as hours went by during the day, and folks kept coming up and talking and kind of releasing their pain, these clouds started coming in. And then as her grandma was talking, it started to rain on us. For Navajo people we gender rain so rain can be male or female or have male and female properties. And it was a female. It was very gentle. It was soft. And it was really hot that day. The emotions, it was very intense. And the sharing of grief was very intense that everyone was doing out in public that day. And so the rain almost felt, it was like a gift, is basically how it felt it was a gift. It was gentle. It felt cleansing, it was almost like what we had shared and kind of released was just being gently washed away. And we weren’t having to carry that load anymore. And we didn’t have to carry the load of that grief, because we never get justice, right. Justice, I think, is supposed to allow you to release grief and to feel like there’s some sort of endpoint to the violence that you experience on a regular basis. And because of the way that settler colonialism works, there’s a permanent kind of invasion. And so the violence literally never goes away. You never get moments, even these small moments of release from the constant inundation of that violence because that’s how settler colonialism operates. That’s how violence operates in a settler society. And I believe it was Chili Yazzie, a really important figure in the history of Navajo resistance and Red Power in the region. He got up after her grandma was speaking. And he said, “That rain that just came, that was a female rain that was a cleansing rain.” And it wasn’t too long after that rain came and kind of cleansed us and carried away the grief that was shared. So the cops had put up a barricade. I don’t know if folks who are listening are familiar with this but in the US, there’s been a pattern of containing protests, particularly during the Trump era where they created, “Free speech zones”. They put up barricades and cones and like caution tape, and in certain kinds of protests you’re only allowed to be in that corral. Basically they corral you and then if you leave the free speech zone, then you can be arrested and like felonies can be dropped on you for disturbing the peace or other kinds of things. This is like a bullshit method of trying to stop people from protesting basically or gathering in large numbers. And so the police had set up a free speech barricade in a containment zone for us around the police station, and it was an interesting transition, we didn’t really know what to expect when we went out to Winslow, after the grief sharing, which ended up itself is a true moment of decolonization and justice, because, again, in these spaces, Native people, we’re in public, because we have to be to shop, to go to restaurants. But in the United States, like Native people aren’t supposed to be seen, we’re not supposed to be heard. We’re definitely not supposed to be like, obviously, indigenous in public. You can think about Native people through the name of a street, or like a headdress that people wear on Halloween, the simulacra of indigeneity. But in places like border towns, where we’re just literally everywhere all the time living our lives, that’s why the violence is so intense, to contain the threat of alive kind of present indigeneity. And so we’re definitely never allowed to grieve in public, you know, we’re barely even allowed to speak in public, in these spaces. And so the fact that we were coming together in large numbers in this place that I don’t think had ever seen this kind of gathering of Native people, and folks were saying radical things and crying and grieving and saying, like : “Fuck the police”. Like this had never happened in Winslow. And so it was in and of itself, that kind of memorial, where that grieving was a really radical, I would say decolonial moment, but then once that kind of was released, and the rain which you know, Loreal’s grandma said it was her, it was Loreal, letting us know, like she was carrying that away for us.
After that moment of release, people allowed, I think, their rage to kind of settle in. And in that moment, we decided to kick down the police barricades, very gently in our gentle Navajo way. I was the first person to kick down the police barricade [laughter]. It was all the women and the children, it was all of the native women and children who kicked down the police barricades. And we all had signs, people had just made their own signs from cardboard and the things they had at home and we rushed to the police station. And it was about 70 or 80 people, again, mostly women and children. Loreal’s family was kind of at the front, and we rushed to the police station. Those cops, all of whom are white men, some Hispanic, were standing inside the police station and they looked scared, they were staring at us. They had locked all the doors, they locked all the windows. And they watched us as we rushed to the police station. The barricade they had created was about maybe 50 feet out from the front of the police station. And I remember the kids got there first to the door, the doors like two glass doors for the entrance of the police station. And they were just pounding. They were pounding on the door and screaming and crying. And her family, I’m getting emotional. The women in her family were just screaming and crying at the door of that police station. And they were just pounding on it and yelling. And I had never seen that before. I had never seen native people be able to just take our own destiny, our destiny into our own hands, where we’re constantly terrorized by the police.
Because the police represent the state, they represent the settler state on a daily basis, like out in the streets. That’s who we encounter, as like the face of settler colonialism. It’s usually a man, it’s usually a white man. For those women and children to be able to go up. And those men were standing inside watching. They were looking, we were looking at them to deliver that justice, right to take that all of that grief, generations of grief from that violence, and just place it right back where it belonged at the doors of this fucking like settler institution. It was a true moment of justice. And decolonization requires justice. It requires large-scale justice. It requires small scale justice. And we left all of our signs. We plastered the signs up on the door and on the windows to be like, “Look, you need to remember this. Remember this moment when we delivered justice, you know, for our relative and our sister Loreal. And we just left all of the signs up there. We left all of the candles up at the police station. Then we retreated and kind of wrapped up the action.
And I think we went out to Loreal’s family’s house that night. What Navajo people do when someone passes is traditionally, you keep a fire burning for four nights and you have all night long meetings with the families where you talk about the family, you talk about your relatives. And so we went out there that night. It was basically like, a 24 hour long moment of decolonization. I think that delivery of justice, and laying that grief and that pain, and the responsibility for the violence back where it actually belonged, we never get to do that, we just carry it in our hearts. And we take it out on each other. And that day, we go to take it out on the settler state. That was one of the most beautiful moments.
I would say one other thing, we’re like a revolutionary organization, we embrace political education. We do a lot of international work. We do a lot of historical work so we need to understand a lot of things. There’s a lot of study involved, I think, in being an indigenous liberation revolutionary organization. But I think my favorite moments include—those are really beautiful, powerful things. But I think for me, my favorite moments, being an indigenous revolutionary, are moments of solidarity, like true solidarity, like when we were able to raise a lot of money to cover Loreal’s funeral costs. And when we delivered that money to her family, who were just grieving, they didn’t really know what to do. And those moments when you make those true connections with people, and you support people who never get support, they literally are just constantly struggling to live in a racist settler society. And the moments when you offer them true support, and you break down whatever, everyone breaks down in those moments, because they’re such beautiful moments of connection. And I think, to be a revolutionary, to be indigenous, to be socialist, we do everything collectively. And we’re seeing a lot of that right now, I think during the pandemic, is that there’s true compassion, there’s a true sense of wanting to support one another. And it’s those moments when the connection is made, that are my very favorite moments in the organizing, because they’re just true. They’re just honest. And they’re also, I think, truly decolonial because settler colonialism and kind of capitalist social relations want us to be alienated and want us to feel like we cannot be free. They want us to feel like we’re never going to be free, that we’re always going to be in the chains of this system. And in those moments, we unshackle ourselves and we embrace each other. And so when we’re engaged in those moments of connection and radical relationship building and kinship, those are decolonial moments, because we’re refusing the alienation, refusing to die, right, we’re refusing what the system is imposing on us. And so that was also something else about the Justice for Loreal campaign that felt truly decolonial to me.
Thanks for having me on. Thanks for listening, everyone. And thanks for pitching the solidarity funds. Just to give folks just a little bit of quick background on it. So, Red Nation is made up of working class, Native people primarily. And as folks know, the unemployment rates are growing by the day in Turtle Island. And so a lot of our comrades in the red nation have lost their jobs. A lot of them are already living on the edge of precarity in the first place, experiencing houselessness. And, unemployment already just because those are the numbers that Native people experienced anyway, in a place like the United States. And so right now, we’re trying really hard to support all of our comrades in the organization to make sure you know that we survive the pandemic and that we’re ready to come out fighting hard, when, you know, hopefully, when there’s a global class struggle or whatever is coming at the end of this pandemic, when we can actually come back together safely in the streets. We want to make sure that we’re really strong when that time comes. So yes, please donate to the solidarity fund. Thank you so much.