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Native Organizers Celebrate Solidarity, Grieve Losses and Work to Reduce Harm

“We’re connected to each other and these liberation fights across the globe,” says Ashley Crystal Rojas.

Part of the Series

“We’re connected to each other and these liberation fights across the globe,” says Indigenous Justice organizer Ashley Crystal Rojas. In this episode of Movement Memos, Rojas and Morning Star Gali talk with host Kelly Hayes about Native solidarity with Palestine, how Native communities have reclaimed the “Thanksgiving” holiday, tools for harm reduction, and how Native organizers are supporting Indigenous victims of violence and their families during the holiday season.

Music by Son Monarcas, Isobel O’Connor, Andreas Boldt & TraceWay

TRANSCRIPT

Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about solidarity, organizing and the work of making change. Today, as many people around the country celebrate Thanksgiving, thousands of Native people in California will be gathering on or near Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay to participate in the Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony. The tradition commemorates the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement’s occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, which inspired acts of Native resistance around the country. The Sunrise Ceremony also offers a counter-narrative to the myth of Thanksgiving — which indulges fantasies of peaceful coexistence between colonists and Native people — by instead celebrating the survival of Native peoples who are still with us, in spite of the genocidal violence of settler colonialism. The Sunrise Ceremony honors Indigenous grief, and Indigenous survival, while uplifting the beauty of Indigenous ceremonies, dance and lifeways.

This year’s Sunrise Ceremony is happening as Indigenous people in Palestine are enduring an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe amid a month dominated by genocidal assaults waged by the state of Israel. Many Native people in the U.S. have taken action, in recent days, to declare our solidarity with the people of Palestine. In addition to marching and taking disruptive action alongside our Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish allies, some Native people have organized Indigenous solidarity actions. One of today’s guests is Morning Star Gali, a friend of the show who recently supported the organizing of an Indigenous Solidarity with Palestine Action in Oakland.

Today, we will be hearing from Morning Star and Ashley Crystal Rojas, who are both organizers with Indigenous Justice, an organization that is working to end the incarceration of Native people in jails, prisons and group homes across the state of California. The group also seeks to free what it calls “our Salmon relatives” who are impacted by dams on California rivers, and to free the remains of Native ancestors, which are “locked away in [the] basements of universities.” Indigenous Justice organizers view all of these pursuits as anti-carceral efforts, organized in the pursuit of Native liberation. The organization has also engaged in work around harm reduction to address the overdose crisis in Native communities.

Morning Star and Ashley are also celebrating a major victory in their work toward Native survival, as San Francisco prepares to launch a first-of-its-kind pilot program offering guaranteed income to a group of Native survivors of violence. Morning Star has also seen recent victories in her work with Save California Salmon, as years of organizing have yielded the world’s largest dam removal project, which will ultimately allow the Klamath River to flow freely for the first time in over 100 years.

In spite of these victories and celebrations, and the hopes they fuel among Native people, Indigenous people in North America also have a great deal to grieve. In 2021, the APM Research Lab found that Natives had the highest rate of COVID mortality of any group in the U.S. Indigenous people face a continued crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives, whose deaths are often under-investigated and under-counted by officials. Amid a national overdose crisis, Indigenous people also experienced the highest rates of overdose deaths in 2020 and 2021. In fact, shortly before we recorded this conversation, Morning Star shared with me that she was grieving the loss of a young person in her community who died due to a fentanyl overdose. The high rates of addiction and premature death in Native communities can likely be attributed, in part, to the fact that one in four Native people lives in poverty — the highest rate of any group in the United States.

All of this suffering, along with the high rates of incarceration and family policing that Native people experience, can be tied to the violence of settler colonialism. Fortunately, our continued existence is evidence that we have the capacity to survive and defy the violence of settler colonialism. Today, we are going to talk about some of the work Morning Star and Ashley are doing to help Native people survive and defy that violence, and to make another world possible, for Native people and for us all.

If you appreciate this episode, you can support Movement Memos by signing up for Truthout’s mailing list or by making a donation on our website, at truthout.org. Truthout is a union shop and reader and listener-funded organization, and we can’t do this work without you. So thank you for believing in us and for all that you do. And with that, I hope you enjoy the show.

Morning Star Gali: [Speaks in Native language, before transitioning to English] Thank you so much for having us on again for “Movement Memos.” My name is Morning Star Gali. I’m a member of the Ahjumawi Band of the Pit River Tribe. We are located in Northeastern California. I currently serve as executive director of Indigenous Justice, which is a new role within our organization. For the past 15 years, I have been serving as the California tribal liaison with the International Indian Treaty Council and I also work with Save California Salmon. My pronouns are we/ours and I also use she/her interchangeably.

Ashley Crystal Rojas: My name is Ashley Crystal Rojas. I use she, they, or ella pronouns, and I have the super huge privilege of serving under Morning Star Gali at Indigenous Justice. I am a policy director in leading programs and operations. And for the past 10 years, I have served my community through adolescent health and adolescent community organizing, youth organizing, with a particular emphasis on multi-system-impacted young people, young people impacted by incarceration, foster care and other systems of oppression, with lots of work in the school-to-prison pipeline area. And my particular favorite scope of work has to do with substance use and harm reduction and mental health and healing.

KH: On November 4, Native people drummed, chanted and sang as prayers and demands for the people of Palestine were uplifted outside the Federal Building in Oakland. Hundreds of people converged for the intergenerational, Indigenous-led protest in solidarity with Palestine. Like Palestinians, Native people in the U.S. have been subjected to eliminationist violence and ethnic cleansing. Like Palestinian communities, our peoples know the pain of dispossession, forced relocation, and having the means of survival, such as food and water, restricted by oppressive forces. Even today, 48 percent of households on Native reservations do not have clean water or adequate sanitation. While Native people in the U.S. and Palestinians are living in different stages of colonial struggle, the systems that oversee our oppression are supported by the same colonial feedback loop, as Israel deploys tactics gleaned from Native genocide and Jim Crow, and, in turn, offers the Western world modernized tools and models for the surveillance, control and disposal of marginalized people. Given this inter-relationship of struggle, Native people in the U.S. and Palestinians are natural allies in the struggle against settler colonialism.

MSG: It was really an honor to support the organizing for that rally. I estimated about 700 to 800 folks that were there. Other estimates from organizers were around 1,000. It was at the Oakland Federal Building. We had scheduled it as a two-hour rally, approximately from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. We arrived at 4:00 p.m. to hundreds of people present, and we stayed until well-past 7:30 p.m. It was blocked off when we arrived. There is a very violent presence of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), which is also an ongoing challenge and issue as I also work with the Anti Police-Terror Project, which has been challenging the OPD for over the past 15 years now. So we arrived to barricades and gates so that we were not able to enter in. We did enter through those barricades. We were told if we didn’t leave by 5:00 p.m. that we were all facing arrest.

We did plan this as a family-friendly event. We had a number of elders and children. It was very intergenerational. And so for those forces to put us at risk, in that way, I shared that this was an act of resistance for us to gather in that way, that there are acts of Indigenous resistance happening all over the world. We are seeing that play out currently and the efforts for a free Palestine are very much connected to our efforts in freeing Turtle Island. And so to be in solidarity, this was not just a one-time event. This is very much a visible presence and solidarity efforts that have been ongoing.

I coordinate the annual Sunrise Gathering that happens on Alcatraz Island, and so for the past 15 years that I have coordinated that, we’ve always had the efforts around solidarity statements that have been shared by our relatives at AROC, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. We had representatives from Palestinian Youth Movement, and it was just really beautiful to be there and to be in a joint effort of prayer and unity and solidarity, and to show up for our relatives in a time of need. We are planning for next week to have a feed for them. We’re going to host some lunches and dinners and a couple of events just recognizing the need for respite care and to just really be there to show up in that way.

ACR: I would just say that as an Indigenous community in California on Turtle Island, we understand and have been surviving the same systems that Palestinians have been struggling against for the last 75 years in their liberation fight — settler colonialism, global racial capitalism. And the visceral way that social media and media has brought the Palestinian fight forward and allowed us to see what genocide looks like in progress, in front of our eyes, co-signed by Western powers, by the United States and other folks who are not only funding, but championing a genocide, it’s inarguable that we have to stand in solidarity with Palestine in this moment.

As Morning Star said, the action that was hosted was intergenerational. We had elders there providing not only medicine through song and drumming, but in the narrative of their understanding of what it means to survive and what it means to fight for your existence, to fight for your visibility, and to fight for your truth to be told. You know, I read somewhere that Palestine is freeing us in this moment and it’s providing us a lot of opportunity to lift up the structural harms that have been caused globally through settler colonialism and, as a global community, stand up against these forces as they attempt to not only force a narrative but completely decimate families, children, communities, bloodlines [and] cultures so that they can take claim to land. We know that Land Back is a fight for us here, and it means land back everywhere, land back for Indigenous people across the globe.

KH: The annual Sunrise Ceremony is another site of solidarity between Native people and Palestinians. It’s also an important example of the ways in which Native people have reclaimed this holiday and created our own traditions around remembrance, togetherness, grief and celebration.

MSG: So I’ll just provide some of the background information: It was from 1969 to 1971 that there was a 19-month-long occupation on Alcatraz Island. Just as Ashley mentioned, the conditions that our relatives in Palestine are faced with today in terms of not having access to clean drinking water, not having food systems, having the ongoing human rights violations — these were conditions that our relatives were facing 50+ years ago. And so making that connection and understanding that when our communities are not able to survive under conditions of being afforded basic human rights and the right to food, the right to drinking water, the right to housing and education, that’s when these efforts of organizing take place. And so the 19-month-long occupation of Alcatraz — it’s LaNada War Jack that says Alcatraz is the spark that lit the flame of Indigenous resistance. And so when we’re talking about Land Back movements, when we’re talking about Indigenous resistance movements, we saw it all across the country in terms of those efforts to reclaim land and reclaim what was ours to begin with.

It was probably in 1975 when there were honorings of this occupation that took place, and so it was a Sunrise Gathering. It’s how I received my name — through the ongoing Sunrise Gatherings that were led by Bill Wahpepah. Bill Wahpepah opened an office of the International Indian Treaty Council. was founded in Standing Rock on the Dakota Reservation in [1974], and so this coming year will be the 50th anniversary of that. And so in recognizing that history, in reclaiming these days of what is now known as Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving — others call it Thanks-taking, a National Day of Mourning, whatever it is that you feel comfortable in calling it — we’ve reclaimed it as ours. It’s not a day anymore that celebrates a genocidal holiday. The same goes for Indigenous People’s Day. And so for the past 15 years, I’ve coordinated these events where we bring together anywhere from 2,000 to over 5,000 people that will gather on the island.

And so on November 23 this year, I will say, in light of a pending government shutdown, that we do have contingency plans in place if we’re not able to gather on the island due to a federal shutdown, and that Alcatraz is now under the National Park Service. But given that, we will still gather together in prayer and solidarity. We will have relatives from all over Turtle Island that will be there with us to offer in song and prayer and ceremony. We’ll have a number of dance groups that will be there. And so we have a three-hour program that starts right at 5:00 a.m., as we board the boats. Anywhere between 4:00 to 5:00 a.m., we transport over 5,000 people to Alcatraz Island and we will gather there and, at the Sacred Fire, offer those songs and prayers.

It is very much, again, an act of resistance. It’s an act of celebration. It’s an act of ceremony and the opportunity to gather together in that way and just help to debunk not only the myth of Thanksgiving, but to join together in a way that is prayerful and is healing for our community, for our families, and for us individually.

KH: Native people have also joined together, in the last year, to celebrate the ongoing removal of dams that have long been catastrophic for the people of the Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa Valley and Yurok nations, among others. Salmon-dependent communities had long relied on salmon as a source of cultural and physical sustenance, until dam projects prevented the salmon from following their traditional migration paths. Just as my people in the Menominee nation have a life-giving connection with wild rice, many Native nations have a sacred relationship with salmon, which has, at times, shaped entire societies. In 2023, after years of organizing, the removal of four dams in the Klamath River began. The removal of the first dam, a 33-foot-tall diversion dam known as Copco 2, was recently completed. The remaining dams are slated for removal by mid-summer next year. These removals have bolstered the hopes of Native peoples who have organized for many years to make the return of salmon to the Klamath River possible.

MSG: It’s been really beautiful and really exciting to witness and participate in the efforts of the four dams that are coming down. I believe it’s the Copco 2 dam that was just fully removed. Once the dam removal efforts began, the water started turning back to its natural state to beautiful, blue waters. It’s not the muddy, murky waters when the dam was in place. I think that there were a lot of concerns about sediment and runoff and what that would mean for local communities. It’s just been a really, really beautiful experience, not only the 20+ years that the dams were advocated for in being removed, but to now witness that taking place in real time.

I’ll also share that the Yurok Tribe put out a statement of solidarity in support of Palestine and calling for a ceasefire. And so for the Yurok Tribe — the largest tribe in California with the largest land base — for them to lead the efforts on that has been really beautiful to witness, and they’ve also led the efforts in terms of salmon restoration [and] in terms of the California condor restoration. You can go to californiasalmon.org for more information, but we have some really amazing youth organizers and just really great education that’s taking place around salmon restoration and dam removal efforts.

There’s this symbiotic relationship with the salmon, and so not having the salmon in our river, in the Pit River, for over 100 years now has created physical health effects of high diabetes rates, for the lack of access to traditional foods, as salmon was such a big part of our traditional foods and sustenance. But yeah, taking my kids out there, taking all of our kids out there to learn how to clear out the fish traps, to learn what it means to grow and steer a traditional canoe, so that when that time comes, that they’ll be ready and that they’ll have that preparation and know that even though the salmon aren’t currently in our rivers at this time, that they know how to prepare salmon. They know how to fillet it and smoke it in our smokehouses. They understand what it means to dry the salmon and just the cultural practices that are involved in those traditions so that it’s not lost at this time.

And so, I know that for the Klamath Dam removal efforts, they have been taking school buses of young kids over there to witness this historical event, to witness the progress of the dam removals so that they understand and can see for themselves what was taking place with the dams keeping the salmon from being able to swim up, from being able to fulfill their lifecycle. And now, having our rivers free, having the land free in that sense, what it means to go back, and all of the propagation for planting the native plant species that were once there and what that repair looks like. Again, it’s healing in motion, healing in action, and just really beautiful for our youth to have that role and to be a part of it.

KH: Another project that could be described as healing in action is a pilot program that Morning Star and Ashley have worked toward that will bring a guaranteed income to some Indigenous survivors of violence in the county of San Francisco. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, “More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than one in three experienced violence in the past year.” According to the nonprofit The Red Road, “only 38% of those victims were able to access legal, medical, or other support services.” Trauma, including trauma caused by violence, increases a person’s risk of developing depression, suicidal thoughts and substance use disorders. There is also a strong correlation between violent victimization and homelessness. Having repeatedly witnessed cycles of trauma, psychological struggle, housing instability and substance use, Morning Star and Ashley believe that Indigenous survivors of violence are desperately under-resourced.

ACR: We’re really looking forward to what will be a really strong year of leading the first-of-its-kind pilot for guaranteed income for Indigenous survivors of violence. The efforts are really born of the loss of a sister named Jessica Alva in the city and county of San Francisco. Her death was ruled a suicide and there was lots of evidence to suggest that it was not, and it went uninvestigated so far as anything more than a suicide. And although there were lots of efforts on behalf of the community to hold both the justice system accountable and the community accountable, we have maintained that fight for justice in keeping Jessica’s name alive and continuing to work with her children and her extended family, her sister. And through that effort, have worked with the city and county of San Francisco and the Department on the Status of Women to develop the first-of-its-kind, that we know of, nationally-guaranteed income program for Indigenous survivors of violence. And this means that over the next year, 10 Indigenous survivors of violence will receive $1,000 a month.

And it really is an example of what it looks like to invest in folks’ wholeness journey, their wellness journey, to continue to build bridges to cultural strengths, to ceremony, to community, and to resource folks. And this is resource without agenda. We’re not dictating how they can spend this money. This is about meeting their needs and trusting them to know their needs and to know how to take good care of themselves and of others, and just being there as support. We’re really excited for this because it really is an example of what it means to show up for people outside of punishment strategies that might look like care, but just reinforce colonial harm, right? We’re not mandating that folks go to treatment. We’re not mandating that folks are sober. We’re not mandating anything other than a request that we be in relationship with one another, that we can continue to take good care of each other, that we can continue to walk together as everybody is getting well.

I think that this is a really important example of the direction that the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s work and movement is heading in. We have attended a number of listening sessions up and down the state through the federal hearing process, Not Invisible hearings, and families up and down the state have stated over and over again the resources that were helpful to them in the safe return of their relative or the pursuit of justice for their relative. And what we heard over and over again was that it was community that kept each other safe, it was community that showed up with resources, it was community that fed each other, it was community that organized searches, it was community that made sure that folks weren’t forgotten. And we also heard time and time again that there were struggles with engaging law enforcement meaningfully or with an energized effort, and that although our communities had a willingness to partner or even share information with law enforcement, that the onus of the labor was always on community.

And so what we hope to continue to build evidence for and to continue to reinforce, which we already know, is that we’ve got each other and that when we make our community safer, we can keep each other safer. And that by meeting folks’ basic needs, we can mitigate a lot of the harm that exists in our community, whether that’s DV [domestic violence], IPV [intimate partner violence], substance use, et cetera, any of the ancillary issues that impact the safety of our relatives. We know that it’s by building a stronger community that we can keep each other safe, and so we’re really looking forward to this pilot project and the way that we will hopefully be able to mobilize other folks to further invest into this project so we can engage more families, more survivors. Because people want to be well and can be well. They just need that support and they need that loving reminder that we’re willing to walk with you for as long as it takes, and that we trust you and that we love you.

And ultimately, we know that further resourcing communities, further resourcing families, and particularly further resourcing women will be able to strengthen the wholeness of our communities and the safety of our people.

MSG: It’s been great in terms of being able to move that pilot forward for the guaranteed income. This is a two-year-plus effort that we are finally launching, and it’s just been really incredible to have the detail and the coordination, from having a Native women’s evaluation team to being able to launch this project on behalf of the survivors in our communities. And we have some really great success stories. We won’t ever report that we have a 100 percent success rate. We know we definitely don’t. That it’s up to those individuals that are on that path and sometimes are not on that path. Sometimes they’re not ready and that’s completely up to them, but that we’re here and we’re doing what we can on our end to provide them with that support, to provide those resources, that when they choose to be ready, that help, those resources, and that community is there and available to them.

KH: As a youth organizer, and now as a policy director at Indigenous Justice, Ashley has done a great deal of work around harm reduction. With so many Native people dying of overdoses, this work has never been more critical. Harm reductionists work to keep people who use substances, or who engage in other stigmatized activities, safe and alive, without judgment. While some people characterize such efforts as “enabling” drug use, the fact is, harm reduction enables survival, and ultimately, it is survival that makes healing possible.

ACR: I definitely want to shout out Arlene Brown, who’s been leading a lot of harm reduction work in Native communities. We’ve recently been working with Arlene and the National Harm Reduction Coalition, harmreduction.org. And Arlene and the coalition have developed a Native Harm Reduction Toolkit, really looking at shifting the narrative, but really shifting some values and norms around substance use. We know that the presence of these substances in our communities has been a colonial strategy to further erode our communities, our family structures, our men and women, our elders, to really break that lineage as a weapon of genocide and cultural death. And so there are a lot of well-meaning, but perhaps outdated sentiments around substance use.

I, myself, am sober after a late adolescence and early 20s of really experimenting a lot with substance use, both as a trauma response and as a social norm. But having harm reduction to really sort of keep me tethered to a community, keep me tethered to wellness, as I made my way to my sobriety, and understanding that my sobriety is a sacred gift not just to myself, but to my elders, to my community, to my ancestors. But what I think we forget is that it’s a long and very personal and, also, collective journey to get to that point, and not everybody is going to get there. And we don’t frankly have the resources available to everybody for everybody to get well super quick. And I think that sometimes we’ve also absorbed a lot of colonial-like punishment strategies, like zero tolerance strategies, that aren’t really of our communities, but that we’ve absorbed also from a place of trauma.

The hope is that we can bring more folks in to understand that harm reduction isn’t about co-signing or encouraging substance use, but it’s about telling people that we love them deeply. We want them to be alive. And again, that we’re willing to walk with them for as long as it takes as they navigate that journey, ideally as we further resource them to be able to respond to the conditions impacting them, but that our culture, our community, our life ways, our ceremonies, our elders, that is the secret sauce — that’s the solution. That’s the medicine. And we’ve just got to lean into that more than we push folks away, so they know they can always come home. And so I think the hope is that we can get more of our elders, more of our leadership to understand harm reduction as that loving welcome into community that really does save lives, and not so much as a ‘yes to all drugs.’

And I think particularly with the way in which cannabis has shifted in the last couple of years in California, we have a lot of tribes engaging in cannabis production, distribution, sales, et cetera, which really shifts a lot of the understanding around substance use. And young people in particular need a really clear and complete message around substance use, especially if they’re navigating the presence of these substances in their communities, and also shifting norms around use. We’ve got to be able to keep the door open because what matters most is the relationships.

MSG: I’ll just add that, as Ashley mentioned, there’s a lot of campaigns that are currently taking place that are outright, they’re explicit in saying, “Get drugs off the rez,” but they’re talking about cannabis. And no one’s dying off of cannabis use, no matter how we want to debate it and the policies and politics around it. People aren’t dying off from cannabis use. And so being very mindful and intentional around what that means for our young people.

I’ve just come back from serving a term as vice chairperson for my tribe, for Pit River Tribe, and there was just a lot of education that was needed and that I tried, myself, to support. When when we have 55+ youth dependency cases, when we recognize that there are generations of family members that have been severely impacted by substance use, that having the accessibility of fentanyl test strips, having the accessibility of Narcan, having readily available what can save a life, for our young people especially that are so much at risk — we all know that it’s so widespread, but what is being done in those preventative measures? What is being done for us to be proactive in that way?

And just as Ashley mentioned, not pushing our young people away. I know that turns into these political and philosophical debates around welcoming folks in ceremony with zero tolerance policies. But understanding that having that access to ceremony, having that access to cultural teachings, having that access to learning our language — these are all preventative measures and ways that are helping to keep our young people alive, that are helping to keep an entire generation alive at this time. We see it through our organizing efforts with Save California Salmon. We see it through the cultural opportunities in the teachings and in that access to ceremony that is provided. And so really being able to navigate that in a way that is both respectful to what is taking place, but also understanding that there is such a crisis at this time, that there’s been a couple of tribes throughout California Yurok Tribe, around Valley Tribe, for example, that have issued state of emergencies around MMIW [missing and murdered Indigenous women], that have issued state of emergencies around use of opiates.

And so what that means in terms of just, again, providing that education that is not punitive in that way, and really removes those barriers and those challenges and what people’s belief is around substance use, and the measures that are needed in terms of accessibility to not only treatment, but also those preventative measures in place.

KH: As we closed our conversation, Morning Star and Ashley emphasized the importance of interdependence, within and across our communities. Morning Star also underlined the importance of keeping decolonization front and center in these times, as the violence of settler colonialism continues to extinguish human life, en masse, while also ravaging the Earth. While the concept of “Land Back” can be unsettling to some people, it is an idea worth engaging with. If you’re a white person who fears that Land Back means you would be forced out, I urge you to consider that dispossession, and the reappropriation of land, without regard for people’s lives or well-being, or with the express aim of terminating those people, is at the heart of the society you presently inhabit. It is this system that hangs the threat of dispossession over all of our heads, as many of us are one accident or financial setback away from an eviction or a foreclosure. The fact that you can be forced from your home and laws exist to criminalize your unhoused existence — that’s the reality of capitalism. That is not how my people lived before these ways were forced upon us.

Land Back is about Indigenous stewardship, which many scientists agree is our best chance for collective survival in an era of climate chaos. Though you will undoubtedly encounter differing explanations of Land Back from different people, I appreciate the words of B. ‘Toastie’ Oaster, who wrote:

The LandBack movement is less about a mass real estate transaction than it is about sovereignty, recognition of treaties, and, ultimately, the abolition of the United States’ concept of real estate altogether. From many traditional Indigenous points of view, land ownership is an illusion, no more possible than ownership of a rainbow. Land “ownership” is simply a legal concept — one that keeps wealth and power in white families.

As Oaster reminds us, “LandBack is in the best interest of all living things, human, plant and animal alike.” Which raises the real question: Do we really believe that the world-destroying system that currently governs our lives, that was born of genocide and perpetuates genocide, is the best we can do? Are we satisfied with simply going through the motions of capitalism, white supremacy and settler colonialism as the world burns? Or are we capable of imagining, and perhaps even living, another way?

MSG: So I would say, I think that it’s important to just keep at the forefront the discussions around Land Back, the discussions around Land Back as Land Back includes Palestine, as was mentioned earlier, and what it really means to just be in community in this moment, to be there for one another, to show up for one another in ways. I mentioned earlier that we are navigating through the loss of a young person and on our end, of course, there’s a lot of feelings and emotions, but always just trying to navigate through those experiences of our grief and feeling that we could have done more.

But really, I think what my experience has been in organizing around MMIW and MMIP [missing or murdered Indigenous people] and organizing around supporting families and our communities, the overall goal of attaining healthy communities and having healthy environments and having healthy villages and spaces, again, is that we really have to move away from that narrative of shame and blame. That when we talk about decolonizing, that part of decolonization is being able to ask for that help and support, being able to offer that help and support in a way that does not have any sort of stigma attached to it, and really just being able to show up for one another in that way. So I think that’s just an ongoing personal struggle and community struggle of both asking for and stating what we need in this moment.

And so for us, that can look like, again, hosting a meal for our Palestinian relatives that have been literally on the front lines of this organizing for the past month-plus. It looks like supporting MMIW families through the holidays at this time, it looks like supporting our relatives that are grieving the loss of our young people at this time, and really just showing up for one another in that way.

ACR: I’ll just say the interconnectedness is undeniable. And just like we’re connected to each other and these liberation fights across the globe, we’re connected to the Earth. Like Morning Star was talking about earlier, we’re connected to the salmon, we’re connected to the water. And particularly at this time of year, a lot of folks are gathering with their families, and not only are we connected, but we’re interdependent. We need each other to be well and I can’t be fully well unless all the folks around me are well too, and so to lean in to that interconnectedness, that interdependence, and to just reach out. I think these moments [of loss] are often capitalized on by some of these forces that are working against us to reinforce hyper-individualism or isolation or be afraid of one another. But we need to do the opposite. We need to know that we are each other and we need to move closer together.

Our grief can trick us into isolation, into depression, into these myths of self-care. While we hope you’re taking good care of yourself, we hope you’re letting people take good care of you and taking care of other people too. So this holiday season, as folks spend time together, just remember that we are so deeply connected it’s inescapable, and to lean into that. To grieve together as much as you celebrate together, to be held in the depth of all of that complexity and truth.

KH: I want to thank Ashley and Morning Star for joining me today, and for all of the important work they do. I hope those of you listening and reading learned something from this conversation and that you will consider Morning Star and Ashley’s words as you move through the holiday weekend, however you mark this day.

In my home, we will be eating takeout today and watching “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” with a couple of dear friends. I hope that you, too, are able to share this day with people you care about, that your needs are met, and that you are held in both your grief and your joy. I hope that we can all practice gratitude and appreciate our interdependence, today and every day. I also hope that we can all find the courage to step outside of our comfort zones and challenge injustice wherever we find it, and fight for a more just and livable world. From California to Palestine and beyond, may we all do what we can to challenge the violence of settler colonialism, and to defend life and those who nurture it.

I will also be fundraising this weekend to support Native causes that I believe in, including survival stipends for Indigenous organizers, so if you want to support those efforts, be sure to check the show notes of this episode for more information.

I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember: Our best defense against cynicism is to do good, and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes

  • Indigenous Justice is working to end the incarceration of living Native peoples in jails, prisons, and group homes across California, to end the incarceration of Indigenous Salmon relatives impacted by dams on our rivers, and to end the incarceration of our ancestors’ skeletons locked away in basements of universities. You can learn more about their work here.
  • Save California Salmon is dedicated to policy change and community advocacy for Northern California’s salmon and fish dependent people.
  • To learn more about the fundraising effort in support of Native people that Kelly mentioned, check out this post.

Further Reading:

Referenced:

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