Centering Native People in Racial Justice

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“Settler states in the Americas are founded on, and maintained through, policies of direct extermination, displacement, or assimilation. The premise of each is to ensure that Indigenous peoples ultimately disappear as peoples, so that settler nations can seamlessly take their place. Because of the intensity of genocidal policies that Indigenous people have faced and continue to face, a common error on the part of antiracist and postcolonial theorists is to assume that genocide has been virtually complete, that Indigenous peoples, however unfortunately, have been 'consigned to the dustbin of history' (Spivak, 1994) and no longer need to be taken into account. Yet such assumptions are scarcely different from settler nation-building myths, whereby “Indians” become unreal figures, rooted in the nation’s prehistory, who died out and no longer need to be taken seriously.” – Decolonizing Antiracism by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua

Decolonial Community Work

Anishinaabe Aki is our home territory as Anishinaabe people.  Anishinaabe includes Ojibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. However it also includes Oji-Cree, Mississauga, and Nipissing peoples.  Our home territory is colonially known as Michigan, Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario, parts of North Dakota and parts of Manitoba. Through colonization and the fur trade we have an additional unique identity in our territory.  Métis people are a group of Indigenous people who are federally recognized in Canada but not the United States. This identity is unique to the Great Lakes because of the French and Anishinaabe relationships.  My ancestry is Ojibway, Métis, Nippising and Huron.  Our Métis ancestry has been mixing since the late 1700’s on Mooniingwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island, Wisconsin).

Not everyone can identify as Métis as it is unique to the Great Lakes and other settlements such as Red River in Manitoba.  Understanding Métis ancestry is key to understanding and moving forward with centering Native people in racial justice work.  Doing racial justice work in Anishinaabe Aki is acknowledging Métis ancestry and how colonization has impacted our people for a very long time. 

This is what decolonial community work is about.  It is more than looking at race through a Black and White lens.  So often in racial justice work First Nations, Native and Métis people are left at the margins. You are either Black or White.  This is a colonial concept that is racist in itself towards our people who span every skin tone, eye color, and hair color.  There is no one look to Native people.  When you are mixed race you are no longer one race.  Blood quantum is a tool of genocide however Tribal governments adhere to strict blood quantum standards that were set up by the US government.  These standards are not the way of our people.  It is about family and community not what a colonial structure dictates.   

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Moving Beyond the Black and White Racial Binary

 “As I shall discuss, because the Black/White binary paradigm is so widely accepted, other racialized groups like Latinos/as, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are often marginalized or ignored altogether.  As Kuhn writes, "those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all.“ – The Black/White Binary Paradigm of Race: The Normal Science of American Racial Thought by Juan F. Perea

The Black and White racial binary defines only Blacks and Whites as key players in the pursuit for racial justice.  This binary produces and promotes the exclusion of Native American and Métis people.  This narrative is harmful for the healing of our people across Turtle Island.  It is important to move beyond the great harm of the Black and White racial binary in racial justice work.  In my work to bring racial justice work to Northern Michigan and to our Anishinaabe communities I have been disappointed.  In the eyes of everyone is the United States we are made to be hyper invisible and when we bring up the harsh realities we face we are ignored, discredited, or silenced.  It doesn’t help that in racial justice work we are made to be even more invisible.  We can use the term “invisible minority,” to describe this harsh reality.  If racial justice work fails to address colonization then this maintains settler colonialism and violent occupation and therefore maintains the racial binary.  

Additionally, this paradigm defines as well as limits the set of problems when talking about race and racism.  The United States is obsessed with this binary to maintain settler colonialism.  Ignoring the lives and voices of Native people is purposeful erasure and invisibilization.  This erasure comes in the form of statistical genocide in documents like reports, media, academia, and doctor forms.

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Colonization Never Ended

What you won’t hear in mainstream or alternative news is that colonization never ended.  If it ended we could properly address historical and generational trauma in our individual lives, families, and communities.  Instead we deal with racism, mascots, stereotypes, and discrimination from the majority culture in addition to the issues within our own communities.  Because of generational trauma these issues include: health disparities, youth suicide, abuse in all forms, and addiction plague our communities.  We have experienced incredible land and culture loss that doesn’t get validated by the majority culture.  We are supposed to be thankful for the little bit of land we now have called reservations.  Empowering our people and healing our communities in the face of these great injustices is critical.  However strengthening our communities is not enough when structural racism and oppression exist.

“To get a clearer picture, Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, looked at data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected from medical examiners in 47 states between 1999 and 2011. When compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. By age, Natives 20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 were three of the five groups most likely to be killed by police. (The other two groups were African Americans 20-24 and 25-34.) Males’ analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 shows that Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.” –  The Police Killings No One Is Talking About by Stephanie Woodard

Statistics are faulty and not 100 percent accurate because of many Native people may identify or be misidentified as Hispanic, Latino or White.  The latter misidentification is “Other,” which is racist in itself. 

Centering Our People & Strengthening Our Communities

Colonization never ended on our lands, lives, bodies, and communities. It is beyond time to change the narrative around racial justice and the work that needs to be done. Decolonization is more than a hashtag – it is work. To make deep, meaningful, and lasting change the burden shouldn’t be on the shoulders of Native people alone to address racism. We need to address racial justice with the support of settlers and settlers of color. If our people are centered in this work then our lives and communities are strengthened. The movement for racial justice has always been.  All daily actions are critical in the face on this tremendous burden we have to bear as Native people. The frontlines are our lives. Our existence is resistance. When we heal, when we choose sobriety, when we speak, when we rise – we are resisting.  This is how we reclaim what was rightfully ours and build the beauty of our culture back into our lives. 

--Cecelia Rose LaPointe (Ojibway/Métis), MA is owner of Red Circle Consulting and Waub Ajijaak Press. She is an author, poet and writer and her work can be read here:

Further Reading: 

The Black/White Binary Paradigm of Race: The Normal Science of American Racial Thought by Juan F. Perea. 

Decolonizing Antiracism, by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua.

The Police Killings No One Is Talking About by Stephanie Woodard. 

Appeared in - Cultural Survival and Native News Online

Poem: Ode to the Conservative Woman Who Helped to Heal Me

The dim lights behind the curtain near the factories,
You are closer to the low hum and rumbles,
Closer to working class struggle of sounds that snuff out your dreams,
Sounds that silence your screams,
Sounds that perpetuate division,
Across the small town – rez town,

The door opened,
I greeted her and sat down,
She said she should couldn’t stop crying,
She showed me the book that she was reading,
The Verbally Abusive Relationship,
Expanded Third Edition,
How to recognize it and how to respond,

The dim light,
Curtains drawn,
Low hum working class sounds,
Mold and mildew smells,
How to respond? 

I too was frozen

She cried in her bedroom,
She said she couldn’t stop crying,
The love she felt,
It never went away,

I too was frozen

How to respond?
But to close the door,
To listen to the low hum,
Watch the steam rise from the factories at night,
The food bank corn,
The Kmart shoes,
The tears soiling sheets, 

She too was frozen

The conservative woman in Manistee, Michigan,
Aninshinaabe Aki,
Was this woman,
Was me,

The book I emphasized as resources to others,
I sat gazing out the window,
Crunched up in a ball,
Sipping tea,
Laying my asema on the snow,
Dim lights flickering,
Bad wiring for the working poor,
The factory smoke,
The low hum on the land, 

The door I shut numerous times,
The pinnacle of this moment,
I couldn’t stop crying,
She couldn’t stop crying,                                                

I was frozen,
She was frozen,
We were frozen,
But we were healing together.

Poem: I Went to the Racist Work Environment

No one supports for real

It is the fashionable “activist” thing to say you went somewhere,
That you went to Standing Rock,
That you got that “badge,”
That you are a part of a “movement,”

White Liberals Always Abandon You,

Some White liberals are happy bullying you,
They are racist but “God-colonial-willing,”
They will go to Africa instead of seeing you,
They have 60 plus acres of stolen land,
Resources and access to more things than I ever,

White liberals eat and hoard,
Hoard and eat,
Devour our land,
Always hungry for more land “conservation,”
In a do-gooder-feel-good-gold-star-kind way,
I am White and a liberal shouting from the Manistee National Forest,
I done did good you see me and my colonial might,
Meanwhile pushing-hiding the Ojibway/Metis Two-Spirit,
For colonial fame and unearned fortune, 

This abuse is for real,
I am calling it out,
I am tired of the white liberal festishizing us,
Simultaneously hiding and silencing us,
For the power and might of the colonial control of the wee-town,
They are sinners according to their “God,”

Gchi wiigwam

Tiny houses are racist since we always had the entire land,
Abundance of food,
Abundance of love,

Nothing tiny is who we are as Anishinaabe,
Star knowledge is not tiny,
It is only this new idea of colonial exclusion in which we need to be tiny,
For the sake of tokenizing on a panel,

It is our inherit right to have everything expansive as the night sky,
Decolonization means reclamation of this unparalleled expanse,

Racially Hostile Work Environments

Trying to make it and stumbling into the colonial oppression,
I went to racist work environment on numerous occasions,
I am treated as the other in othering ways,
White liberals turn a blind eye and they go to Africa instead,
They are colonial bastards,

The racist work environment on numerous occasions,
Became numerous occasions,
For millions of First Nations,
On Turtle Island,

The colonial people in their tudor clothes,
Click click click down the hall,
To gossip about that mad Indian,
Pshht – why is she so mad?
I don’t understand – thaha – that Indian should be grateful for these pennies we give her,
Pieces of porridge in a tupperware bowl,
For the corner of the pie,
For the corner of the rez,
For the corner of a book,
For the corner of chaffed identity,

I’m looking for clothes that aren’t colonially chafing me,
As I move about and try to live you see,

Work environments where white racist lips,
Move their colonial mouths,
Adjusting that ugly royal tudor collar thing,
Their colonial mouths moving,
Over board room tables,
White documents by white hands detailing racism,
Pshht – I’ve got white law protecting me,
Fair and just and fair for me,

The work environment,
Defined by the colonizer,
Under colonial wage and labor laws,
As defined by colonial anti-discrimination laws,
As defined by the colonial EEOC,
Now it shall be resolved that discrimination will occur in settler colonialism,

The Non-Community

Every white liberal parades down the street with a “community building” banner,
I didn’t know 500 likes on anti-social media meant community,
I “hearted” your status,
Superficial dopamine sugar highs without the depth of meaning,
The non-community is what is real,
Not everyone wants your version of “community,”
Your version ignored these daily cuts of racism,
And tokenizes our pain,
It is why we walked neared the edge,
But you feel good with your empty words and liberal abuse,
That simultaneously marginalizes us even more,

The land as my arm

My arm endured these cuts,
From these racist work environments,
This is the war machine,
On my body,
On my soul, 

I went to the racist work environment,
I survived war on my body,
And Soul,

This movement is within me,
Within the prayers of our ancestors,
This healing fire and cleansing power,
My voice is reclamation!
My body is mine!
My soul is bright!
I am a warrior!

Poem: Space

Decolonial space,
Sober space,
Land for the return to the Anishinaabe space,
Matriarchal space,
Jingle dress space,
Traditional hunting space,
Manoomin processing space,
Processing generational trauma space,
Because I am tired of the drama space,
We are not invisible space,
No reason to hide space,
Two-Spirit space,
Ojibwe constellation outer space,
Otter space,
Inner space,
Racism free space,

I know what you want,
A healing space,

Rezitorial lines,
It's my river,
I'm tired of all the space you take up,
Move aside patriarch!
It's my space!

Poem: Warrior Within

There is a warrior within that can rise above,
There is a warrior within that can rise above in the face of oppression,
There is a warrior within that can rise above in the face of addiction,
There is a warrior within that can rise above in the face of sadness,
There is a warrior within that can rise above in the face of anger,
Intense rage,
Intense depression,
Intense helplessness,
The warrior knows the heart and soul can rise above,
The feelings of powerlessness,
The feelings of defeat,
The soul can rise,
The heart in pain,
Can heal,
There is a warrior within that can rise above with bravery,
The warrior has always been there,
The warrior can remove layers of shame,
Darkness surrounds the warrior,
The warrior within can sweep aside the darkness,
The warrior is powerful,
The warrior has a voice,
See yourself as the warrior that is present,
And healing,
By your family,
Ancestors from all directions and sides,
The warrior can find strength within,
Remember there is a warrior within that can rise above.