Occupy Wall Street Stirs Up Radical Ideas in Indian Country

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Indian Country Today

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement may be the most significant social movement in the U.S. since the pre–Iraq War protests in 2002, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets in some cities. But OWS has more in common with the activism of the civil rights era than the antiwar protests because it exposes the imbalances of American society, and while Native people are acutely aware of those imbalances, many of them are questioning the terms of the OWS debate—they wonder, for example, what it really means to “occupy” Wall Street, or any place else in America for that matter?

As many Native bloggers and activists have pointed out, Wall Street is already occupied—it was (and is) the territory of the Lenape and other First Nations. That’s why some Native activists see decolonization as a more appropriate framework for any discussion of the current economic crisis. This has been expressed in many ways throughout Indian country. In Albuquerque, the OWS movement based on the campus of the University of New Mexico that had been calling itself “Occupy Burque” voted to adopt a new name: (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, linking corporate greed to the theft of Native land.

In early October, the Albuquerque (un)occupation movement enjoyed vigorous participation by the community, fueled in large part by energetic students skilled in the art of street activism. A blogger on the website DailyKos.com identified only as “evergreen2” noted that New Mexico, which is one of the most diverse states in the nation and is one of only four U.S. states with a majority-minority population—that is, less than 50 percent white—has a “very strong and vocal indigenous population” for whom the term occupy is problematic: “For New Mexico’s indigenous people, Occupy means 500 years of forced occupation of their lands, resources, cultures, power and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.”

LO RES FEA Photo UnOccupy HI RES IndigenousPPlsDay 2011 270x350 Occupy Wall Street Stirs Up Radical Ideas in Indian Country

Indigenous People’s Resistance Day 2011

The message is clear: While the OWS movement decries the corporate state which for decades has politically and economically disenfranchised the bottom 99 percent, there are some stunning differences among those 99-percenters. Alyosha Goldstein, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, argues in a recent article published on Counterpunch.org that the OWS movement would do well to remember the messages of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign—that poverty and inequality were directly related to conditions of colonialism, racism and militarism. The coalitions that formed within a diverse spectrum of the poor and people of color coalesced during a six-week encampment in Washington, D.C. that became known as Resurrection City. Goldstein writes that “the disparate circumstances that motivated people to participate in the campaign produced multiple perspectives that could not be adequately expressed in a single set of demands—something that perhaps The New York Times today would deride as a ‘lack of clear messaging.’ But the form of the campaign itself—with its multiple contingents and numerous demands—underscored the irreducibility of its parts to a unified whole.”

The legacies of slavery, war and international trade agreements that favor corporations over people reverberates today in the widespread social displacement and poverty for African Americans, Mexican Americans and the ever-growing numbers of other ethnic minority populations. For them, the American Dream has turned out to be more mythology than reality. And the same is true for American Indians, and has been for more than 500 years now. Any American Dream—real or imagined—built on Indian lands obtained through violence is a constant reminder of the historical reality of colonialism and, from an indigenous perspective, shifts the terms of the OWS debate.

Put another way, perhaps OWS isn’t radical enough. Journalist and best-selling author Christopher Hedges, for example, believes that liberals who once stood for values like civil rights and equality for all have been co-opted by the corporate state “by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did.”

Hedges argued in a column on TruthOut.com that “hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement. This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed.”

Invoking the M word is enough to send most liberals scurrying, but for others it heralds a welcome return to the radical politics of the civil rights era. For Indian country (and arguably all Indigenous Peoples) Marxism can send a mixed and confusing message because of varying interpretations of Marx’s writings. His early work is often criticized as being Eurocentric and espousing a view of the inevitability of the development of the nationalist state, which assumes the necessary (if unfortunate) subjugation of Indigenous Peoples. However, his later work, after he had done an in-depth study of Haudenosaunee societies, reflects his admiration for American Indian cultures and their superiority to the industrialized West. For Marx, capitalism’s biggest threat was its obsession with turning land into private property, a conversion the West accelerated by dispossessing Indians of their lands. Since colonialism paved the way for capitalism to flourish in the New World, a Marxist critique of capitalism can be instructive for Native communities. Pointing out that colonialism made possible the institutions of today’s corrupt capitalist system naturally leads to a talk of decolonization. In the Bay Area, Native activists and intellectuals have seized upon this as part of their campaign to Decolonize Oakland.

But decolonization is not part of the OWS movement, which is why Native people must demand that they are included in this public dialogue now swirling around OWS. Decolonization is inevitably connected with capitalist exploitation, especially when Native lands are at stake. The Keystone XL Pipeline is a recent example of Indigenous Peoples alerting the public at large to problems created by capitalism in the context of colonial domination, and in a way that was significant for everyone concerned. In early November, people in Vancouver, British Columbia, led by First Nations people, marched in a protest against the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine on the Unuk River in Canada. One banner read defend the land—frack capitalism, a reference to the environmental risks posed by the mining practice of fracking. Also in November, a summit of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Hawaii sparked large protests and counter-summit meetings held by Native Hawaiian intellectuals and academics to address the abuses of transnational trade agreements in Pacific Rim and Asian nations and their impacts on indigenous populations. Many Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) raised the issue of U.S.’s illegal annexation of the Hawaiian Islands and demanded that lands be given back.

While it’s unlikely that Hawaii will be returned to the Kanaka Maoli and the Kingdom of Hawaii restored anytime soon, such demands from Indigenous Peoples demonstrate their tenacity and commitment to justice in a capitalist world build on colonial exploitation. If OWS aspires to bring on truly radical change, it should take a cue from Indigenous Peoples and rethink the idea of occupation altogether.


To Occupy or Decolonize? That is the Question… Is there an Easy Answer?

By Davey D., Hip Hop & Politics

Here’s some thoughts to the debate around the use of term Occupy vs Decolonize that’s been taking place at some of the Occupy sites Most recently here in Oakland.

The term ‘Occupy‘ is a loaded word that has long been problematic in many communities of color. To put it simply many have long felt they have been the victims of Occupation…. Those of Native background understand that Occupy has led to genocide.  During the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the past we’ve heard term Occupy as one that rallied people together..This was especially true with the Black Panthers who noted that the police were ‘occupying forces in our community….With all that being said, in the end, one can see why there’s been a push for name change..

On the flip side, many feel that this a movement that is growing and folks know the name Occupy..Like it or not, its an identifiably brand now. From here to South Africa there are over 1300 Occupy Movement sites and damn near all including the ones in South Africa use the term ‘Occupy’.. The question arises why change the name midstream?

The attempt of those in the Occupy Movement was not to use any term that would be incendiary… If anything the term was used to signify reclaiming space, taken over by the 1%… In the case of Wall Street, it was recognizing that those financial institutions had been cut off to the 99% and hence there was a need to ‘Occupy’ that space in all dimensions..

In a recent discussion someone once noted that we have long taken terms once offensive and changed the meaning, why can’t the same be applied to Occupy. In the past folks have fought vigorously to take offensive terms like ‘Queer‘ in the Gay community and flip them. The word ‘Nigger‘ has been argued to no longer be an offensive term but now one that is a term of endearment. Efforts to shut down those words have been met with scorn, ridicule and folks claiming those taking offense are out of touch.. Can that happen with the term Occupy? Can it be flipped?

There is no ignoring the fact that the word Occupy cuts deep in many communities and last week in Oakland there was a push to change the name.. from Occupy to Decolonize.. A vote was taken and 63% voted yes to name change vs the 37% who opposed. 90% is needed for a measure to pass at a General Assembly in Oakland.

In Seattle a similar discussion unfolded last month.. The proposal to change the name was also defeated, but a statement was issued which can be found here.

In New Mexico similar discussions and proposals were put forth as outlined here.

One of the concerns raised was that folks who came out to push the Decolonize proposal in Oakland were not regular attendees of GAs.. However, many if not all are long time activists in the community who been fighting the 1% long before there was any sort of Occupy Movement..

Also from the footage shown in the video below, many have been down at GAs in the past and in support of Occupy Movement..So it’s not like we have a group of folks who just showed up on the scene..What wasn’t shown in the film were those who don’t want to change the name.. Contrary to popular belief, quite a few were people of color who are down at GAs all the time.. so it’s not an across the board black or white issue..

The other criticism is most people don’t understand what the term Decolonization means… I know from talking to students in my class it’s not a term that most are aware of… Does an unfamiliar name kill the momentum of a movement just started? Why not take a bold stance, change the name and use this as a learning opportunity? After all the term Occupy within two months has become part of the American lexicon, can’t the term Decolonize follow the same trajectory?

In any case, this is an important discussion and hopefully it continues with the aim of building community, raising awareness and opening hearts and minds.. Will such discussions at time be contentious? Absolutely, but what political discussion in the city has not been?

It was just last month that folks in various Occupy sites had to grind it out around discussions of  Violence vs Non violence and the diversity of tactics.. One result was folks getting educated to what Anarchists are about. One got to understand that among those who identify as Anarchists/ Black Bloc there’s a politic, various perspectives and a movement that’s been around for long time and is not centered around simply breaking windows.  In short people were able to have their horizons broadened.. And yes, the debates were testy, the discussions not always pretty, but necessary..

The discussion is the term Occupy vs Decolonization is just as important in fact it may be even more because of the sheer numbers of people who live in cities like Oakland who are affected by 1% economic policies who are being urged to join the Occupy Movement, but have hesitated because the a bothersome term..

What I personally have found problematic is how folks have been dismissive of this concern.. There have been some, that have expressed indifference and impatience with both the proposal and discussion. Some have suggested that this is slowing momentum and they didn’t show up to be apart of Occupy to debate name changes.. I say that’s the fault line where everything comes to halt and we work it out.. That’s where the real work needs to be done. Wall Street and their 1% cronies are not going anywhere…

Healing and understanding how that 1% and its tactics of divide and conquer has resulted in class privilege and lots of negative presumptions is something that needs to be addressed immediately and for as long as it takes…To not do so will have us all fall victim to some of the same tactics that netted us behind the proverbial 8 ball in the past.

One of the strength in the Occupy Movement has been the forging new relationship and building new alliances. That’s not something that can be easily packaged and explained in a neat 30 second soundbite that we all immediately get, but as those relationships take hold, folks involved start to understand the importance of them and how its essential for any and all work moving forward.

We often talk about having a world devoid of ism and schisms..Many find that desirable. In order to get there will require some long hard soul searching discussions. Its the birthing pains of new world..That’s the challenge before us lets embrace it with courage and whole lotta love.


your occupation is nothing new,

you’ve been occupying since 1492.

so now that you’ve found something to occupy you
answer this, zhaaganaasheg*, who’s occupying who?

native roots of resistance are deeper than the streets,
and aren’t fed by the marginal soil these movements give us,
what keeps us comes from within, direct line to the deep heart
of us, power comes from the land, not these castles of sand.

if we expected the white middle class to struggle on our behalf,
and turn their organizational ship 180 degrees toward decolonization,
we might as well just ask them to turn that ship
right back to europe but hey, at this point,

that’s like asking someone who shit all over your livingroom
to just leave, instead of telling them to clean up the mess that’s left.
and down on wall street, bay street, main street we the 99%
saw the 1% step on this turtle’s back and call their own what can’t be owned,
and it’s at that point the games began.

not when they started foreclosing your homes cos believe me,
they already foreclosed ours and that’s exactly what keeps making it possible
for them to pull the same moves, what they did to us, they’re doing to you.

you say you want a revolution…

but the game won’t end if the rules stay the same, and the number one rule is
“ssssshhhh…don’t talk about revolution too loud..the Indians will hear you..”
because we have thoughts of revolution too, and they don’t involve any further occupations,

cos we have dreams beyond colonization. but you don’t want to hear about that.
so this is not our movement, and the roots of biskaabiiyang* go miles further down
than today’s pounding of feet on pavements, whose streets, our streets, the words
jarred my nish ears and jammed my nish heart, whose streets indeed.

so stay out in the streets, fight the power and keep it real
this ain’t a call to pull back or a bid for inclusion
but a revolution turning a blind eye to genocide is a revolutionary illusion
so fuck white power on wall street, and the border pigs too
cos the earth and her movements are gonna get you.

your occupation is nothing new,
you’ve been occupying since 1492.
so now that you’ve found something to occupy you
answer this, zhaaganaasheg*, who’s occupying who?

By Jen Emm, from POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE. To contact Jen Emm email her at indigenouscollective@gmail.com. Artwork by Erin Marie Konsmo of Toronto, Canada.

Waziyatawin Speaks to Occupy Oakland

Waziyatawin is a Dakota writer, teacher, and activist committed to the development of liberation strategies that will support the recovery of Indigenous ways of being, the reclamation of Indigenous homelands, and the eradication of colonial institutions.

Waziyatawin comes from the Pezihutazizi Otunwe (Yellow Medicine Village) in southwestern Minnesota. After receiving her Ph.D. in American history from Cornell University in 2000, she earned tenure and an associate professorship in the history department at Arizona State University where she taught for seven years. Waziyatawin currently holds the Indigenous Peoples Research Chair in the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Her interests include projects centering on Indigenous decolonization strategies such as truth-telling and reparative justice, Indigenous women and resistance, the recovery of Indigenous knowledge, and the development of liberation ideology in Indigenous communities.

She is the author, editor, or co-editor of five volumes including: Remember This!: Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives (University of Nebraska Press 2005); Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities (University of Nebraska Press 2004); For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook (School of Advanced Research Press 2005); In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors: The Dakota Commemorative Marches of the 21st Century (Living Justice Press 2006); and, her most recent volume, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland (Living Justice Press 2008).

Waziyatawin is also the founder and director of Oyate Nipi Kte, a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery of Dakota traditional knowledge, sustainable ways of being, and Dakota liberation.

She can be found online at waziyatawin.net

Occupying Solidarity with Indigenous Rights

By Krystalline Kraus, rabble.ca

When I first heard of the Occupy movement, the first thing that popped in my head was: “Wait a minute, North America/Turtle Island is already occupied; it has been occupied for the past 400 years.”

So in case you’re wondering, the answer is no, I don’t like the title of this movement and the least I can do is refer to the different cities involved as Occupy cities, as opposed to occupied cities because, well, like I said, they are already occupied.

I also use the term “are” in that last statement as opposed to “were” when referring to this land’s occupation status since racism and colonization in Canada is not something of the past, but an ongoing, destructive process that Canadians need to admit to.

As an activist who walks in both worlds here — allied with both the Indigenous rights struggle and the anti-capitalist, Occupy movement — it’s been a challenge. Let me explain why. Because this struggle is about more than just the use of a word: “occupy.” Forgive me for my honesty.

I feel sad that as a “movement connected,” we did not foresee how problematic the term “occupy” would be when referring to land on which settlers live — and where the 99 per cent plans to demonstrate — since this land has been occupied for the past 400 years. With this truth intact, how is it possible for us to occupy already occupied land?

I am disappointed that an understanding of Indigenous issues within the Occupy movement wasn’t entrenched enough in our hearts to flag the word “occupy” as problematic when it was first suggested by the Canadian activist and publishing group Adbusters. But this is not the first time the movement has been called to account for its marginalizing of Indigenous issues. For more on this, please see Zainab Amadahy’s article: Why indigenous and racialized struggles will always be appendixed by the left

And for anyone from the Occupy movement reading this to simply claim that a cobbled-together “solidarity statement” is alone enough to apologize for this oversight, I’m sorry, you’re missing the point all together. For it is the 1 per cent who treats Indigenous issues as a necessary oversight to making money off the tar sands or a government’s refusal to deal with land claims and/or acknowledge unceeded territories. Let’s not act like them, shall we? Solidarity means real work on ourselves to decolonize ourselves and decolonize the movement.

It’s nice to see the movement embrace First Nations concerns, it’s another thing to humble yourself to do the necessary bridging work between the two communities. It’s not enough to say you support Indigenous land claims and that you know how to say “thank you” in an Indigenous language, if you’ve never been on a reserve or worked with urban Aboriginals on their turf.

We can together read the work of B.C. activist Harsha Walia in her article: Letter to the Occupy Movement where she eloquently and humbly wrote:

While occupations are commonly associated with specific targets (such as occupying a government office or a bank), Occupy Vancouver (or any other city) has a deeply colonialist implication. Despite intentionality, it erases the brutal history of occupation and genocide of Indigenous peoples that settler societies have been built on. This is not simply a rhetorical or fringe point; it is a profound and indisputable matter of fact that this land is in fact already occupied.

We can also together read the work of Indigenous rights activist Shiri Pasternak who provides much needed context of Indigenous struggles in her article Occupy(ed) Canada: The political economy of Indigenous dispossession in Canada when she asks:

The political economy of Canada rests on claims of ownership to all lands and resources within our national borders. So, what, in concrete terms, does it mean to talk about Occupy(ed) Canada to express the demands of the 99 per cent?

In fact, in my heart I know two things:

1. I want to decolonize the movement.
2. I want to stop the ongoing colonization of North America.

This said, one of the reasons why I back the Occupy movement is that is it an anti-capitalist movement. And colonialization is one of Mama capitalism’s best handmaidens.

Remarking on the Occupy Wall Street movement, financial inequality and the 99 per cent, Robert Desjarlait writes:

As far as financial inequity is concerned, we, the red and the brown peoples of the Americas, have suffered financial inequity ever since the oppressors first invaded our shores. Socio-economic inequity began with the subjugation of our lands through treaties.

In an open letter to the Occupy movement, John Paul Montano writes that as an a person of Indigenous descent, he does not feel included as part of the 99 per cent the Occupy movement claims to embody, because the crucial link to colonialism is missing.

On September 22nd, with great excitement, I eagerly read your ‘one demand’ statement. Hoping and believing that you enlightened folks fighting for justice and equality and an end to imperialism, etc., etc., would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you — that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land.

I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land — never mind an entire society.

There are bright examples of where the issue of colonization has had a prominent place within Occupy’s heart. I am proud to be a part heartbeat here in Toronto, as we stand on the Indigenous land of the Mississauga of the New Credit.

Let me call to your attention.

Occupy(ed) Canada is a place to share decolonization viewpoints with other like-minded activists involved in the Occupy Canada movement because “this land is already under occupation. CANADA IS AN OCCUPATION.” There is also a sister site on Facebook called Decolonize Vancouver.

Toronto, ON — I am very proud of my Occupy Toronto community for their honesty and humility as we work together, share and learn new ways of approaching activism from the lens of various First Nations communities (there is no such thing as pan-Indian). I think we have all learned a lot over this past week and a half regarding how to work together, understand and really listen to one another. Taking the time to acknowledge and honour the traditional land we stand on, making safe place for Sacred songs and drums at the site and on marches, and allowing the truth about colonization to be spoken even when it makes us uncomfortable are all promising signs.

New Mexico: In response to concerns over the term “Occupy Albuquerque,” the protest movement has renamed itself “(Un)occupy Albuquerque.” The decision was made in a general assembly meeting of protesters at the University of New Mexico campus. On rejecting the term occupation, it validates the “…500 years of forced occupation of [Native American] lands, resources, cultures, power, and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.”

Occupy and Decolonize

By People for Social Sustainability (PSS) San Diego

Like a tsunami, the “Occupy Wallstreet Movement” has been growing bigger and bigger. This leaderless movement has been expanding since its inception.  As this movement of the 99% against the greed and corruption of the 1% gains exposure throughout the world, many social issues are being brought to the forefront.  People in general are starting to take a serious look at how the top 1% continually exploit and hoard the resources of our earth.  Now more than ever before, people are beginning to see what’s going on and seek alternatives to the current materialist society we live under.  People are looking for things that are beyond the old philosophies and so called solutions of the past.

For the first time since the protest era of the 1960s people are starting to care about the world around them.  People are waking up to the harsh realities of the current system and that something is seriously wrong.  In some places people are even directing their anger directly at the Federal Reserve and the very monetary system which is the cause of their misery.  It’s a fact that governments of the world have sold out the people of their country to the bankers by allowing individuals to fall into debt even more.  In fact the current money system relies on ever increasing debt to create more money, for every person that’s in debt the world wide reserve banking system can create more money.  Basically it is important for the banks to keep us all in debt with credit and loans so they can keep producing more money.

Its because of the growing economic realities created by the materialist system and its physical paper expression the monetary system that people have rallied behind the occupy Wallstreet movement.   As these movements gain momentum however a specific aspect of organization is missing as well as a unified message that is all inclusive.  What this causes from time to time is people of color to feel left out of the process. However even as we can critique the movement on this basis still we must support this movement.  Support that is criticizing yet active and engaging in the movement, can help to bring things forward.  In the current term while we have all this talk of occupy this and occupy that we must also not forget that talk of decolonization is just as important.  The United States is historically a land that has been stolen from indigenous people who lived on the continent centuries before colonists from Europe arrived with rifles and dogma to force onto people.  Let us also remember that in general the social constructs of racism have ultimately intermingled into the policies of the bankers and their front line agents (governments and ceo’s). Let’s be very clear  on this matter governments and ceo’s are the pawns of the banks, who have never ending amounts of debt.  For those who believe ceo’s have the power its truly the bankers who pull the strings of ceo’s, what’s more is the top corporate positions tend to be held by those privileged white individuals with the right connections willing to play the game of global extortion with the bankers.  Its a very old game that banks have been playing with the world, whether we speak of East India Trading Company in the late 1800’s or the various countries which have taken their turn at being parasites over the Philippines, in many cases the feudal relationship between baron states and their vassal states deplete the people of natural resources.  This continues to turn the people of third world countries into modern day serfs and corporations into petit-barons.

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Decolonization and ‘Occupy Wall Street’

By Robert Desjarlait, Indian Country Today

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest has become a matter of debate in Indian country. Some have chosen to be included under the slogan “We Are The 99%”; others, like me, have not. Many of those who support OWS have come up with their own slogan: “Decolonize Wall Street.” But I simply don’t believe that the indigenous nations on Turtle Island are a part of that 99% equation, let alone that the OWS movement is about decolonization.

One protester, Brendan Burke, said: “Everyone has this problem. White, black. Rich or poor. Where you live. Everyone has a financial inequity oppressing them.”

I assume from his statement that Burke only sees things in white and black. Apparently he is color blind when it comes to red and brown.

As far as financial inequity is concerned, we, the red and the brown peoples of the Americas, have suffered financial inequity ever since the oppressors first invaded our shores. Socio-economic inequity began with the subjugation of our lands through treaties. Annuity payments were late and never the amount negotiated under the treaty. Supplies and food rations that were part of annuity payments were often appropriated by Indian agents and resold for higher prices.

The tragedy at Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag (Sandy Lake) exemplifies the socio-economic inequity of annuity payments. In the fall of 1850, nineteen Anishinaabeg bands from Wisconsin journeyed to Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag for annual annuity payments and supplies. The annuity payments and supplies were late and the people had to wait until early December before they received limited sums of money and available supplies. Trying to survive on spoiled and inadequate government rations while waiting for the annuities, 150 Anishinaabeg people died from dysentery and measles at Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag. Two-hundred and fifty more, mostly women, children and elders, died on their way back home to Wisconsin. This is but one example of the economic inequity that has been part of the indigenous experience in the United States.

OWS organizers have repeatedly stated the inspiration for their protest is the Arab Spring movement. If this is the case, one may ask how did the indigenous peoples of the Middle East fare from the Arab Spring?

In September 2011, Daniel Gabriel, the SUA Human Rights and UN NGO Director, stated: “While the media focuses all its energy on the Palestinian search for Statehood and the ‘Arab Spring’, it is the reduced indigenous populations of the Middle East who continue to lose out. Time and time again, the world demands justice, democracy and freedom in the Middle East, but it fails in its obligation to demand the same for the minority groups like the Arameans. Today we barely survive in our homeland. But tomorrow we may silently vanish from existence.”

If Arab Spring didn’t flourish for indigenous peoples in the Middle East, how can we expect it to flourish here? If the indigenous peoples in the Middle East are barely surviving in their homelands, can we expect the Arab Spring inspired movement on Wall Street to lessen the oppression in our homelands? Will the actions on Wall Street abate our youth crisis, our teen suicide rate, our domestic and sexual abuse, or our alcohol and substance abuse in Indian Country? Will it heal our broken families and communities? Will Wall Street stop the rape and plunder of Mother Earth by the mining, oil and energy interests? Will it halt the ecocide, ethnocide, linguicide, and genocide of the indigenous peoples in North America? If Gabriel’s words offer any insight, then our historical trauma will not lessen but increase. It will increase in the present generation to the Seventh Generation—and beyond.

Then there is the matter of decolonization. The question is: the decolonization of what, of whom? How can decolonization be a part of the process if the occupiers are occupying occupied land?

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(Un)occupy Turtle Island

Occupy movement in New Mexico finds new name out of respect for Native Americans:

By Nicolas Mendoza, The American Independent

In response to concerns over the term “Occupy Albuquerque”, the protest movement has renamed itself “(Un)occupy Albuquerque.” The decision was made in a general assembly meeting of protesters at the University of New Mexico campus.

As the New Mexico Independent reported last week, some of the ’99 percenters’ objected to the association of the word ‘Occupy’ with what one Daily Kos contributor called “…five-hundred years of forced occupation of [Native American] lands, resources, cultures, power, and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.”

Click here to read the full article…

(Un)occupy Albuquerque Connects Corporate Greed to Fight for Native Land:

by Jorge Rivas, Colorlines

The 99 percent movement that’s swept the country has reached Albuquerque, New Mexico. But organizers there have decided to alter the “Occupy” name out of respect for area’s indigenous communities, which have been forcibly occupied by the United States for centuries. Instead, organizers are calling their protests “(Un)occupy Albuquerque” to connect corporate greed with the ongoing fight for indigenous land rights.

A sit-in participant in Albuquerque calling himself evergreen2 wrote a story on the DailyKos.com explaining how the term “Occupy” is problematic terminology for indigenous communities.

“For many indigenous people, the term ‘Occupy’ is deeply problematic. For New Mexico’s indigenous people, ‘Occupy’ means five-hundred years of forced occupation of their lands, resources, cultures, power, and voices by the imperial powers of both Spain and the United States. A big chunk of the 99 percent has been served pretty well by that arrangement. A smaller chunk hasn’t.”

On the DailyKos.com, evergreen2 writes about how they came to the decision:

Sunday afternoon, OccupyBurque spent a long, long time debating whether or not to change its name. Interestingly enough, the issue was not introduced by an indigenous New Mexican. Rather it was introduced by an international person, who said that the term “Occupy” was problematic for indigenous people of other countries who had also been “Occupied” by imperial powers.

Then a number of indigenous people of New Mexico spoke. They spoke with passion of how stung and hurt they were every time they hear the word “Occupy.” They spoke of how other indigenous people around the country also object to this term. They said over and over and over again that they want the term changed to “Decolonize.” New Mexico’s indigenous people want New Mexico and Albuquerque to be “Decolonized” and not “Occupied.” For them, their lands and people have already been Occupied, and thus what they want is for it all to be Decolonized.

As the American Independent notes:

According to the U.S. Census, 4.8 percent of Bernalillo County and 9.4 percent of New Mexicans identify as American Indian. Most likely that underestimates the proportion of New Mexicans with some connection to the Native American community: 3.7 percent of New Mexicans are of more than one race, and 47.9 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic, and both of those categories are likely to contain many people who are of at least some Native American descent.

Statement from DeColonize LA, by DeColonize LA

From DisOccupy:

A statement was posted by DeColonize LA yesterday on the UnpermittedLA blog questioning through their shared experiences the ‘leaderless’ claims of Occupy LA and how it has actually functioned to marginalize the more disenfranchised sectors of the 99%. The breaking point came when a flier with names and photos of activists was circulated accusing them of seeking to ‘hijack’ the movement and provoke police. At this juncture, DeColonize LA is shifting focus to form popular assemblies throughout the city instead.

We made several attempts to present proposals, workshops, and discussions at the General Assembly, in small groups, and in one-on-one conversations. Although the overall Occupation movement nationally aspires to use participatory democracy and the consensus process to be inclusive of the people, the efforts by the leadership to maintain informal control have prevented discussion or recognition of patriarchy, white supremacy, classism, heteronormativity, and other layers of oppression that exist in the broader society, which continue to be perpetuated within this “occupation.” Women of color in particular have been silenced. Many of us are tired of futilely trying to explain to middle class white activists that they really aren’t experiencing the same levels of oppression as people of color or the working class or underclass. The constant rhetoric of the “99%” and calls for blind “unity” have the effect of hiding inequalities and very real systems of oppression that exist beyond the “1%-99%” dichotomy and rendering invisible the struggles of a majority of the people in this city.

Click here to read the full statement…


From Censored News:

An anti-colonial contingent joining and supporting protesters at Occupy Montreal

In solidarity with Occupy Wall Street actions worldwide

– Near métro Square Victoria
– This is a family-friendly contingent.

We stand in solidarity with demonstrators in New York, Boston, and countless other American cities, in rejection of this capitalist system and the misery it brings. We also recognize that those cities, like Montreal, are already occupied territory. We stand against colonialism and in support of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island struggling for land, autonomy, and dignity. We stand against patriarchy and racism, and for the self-determination of all peoples. We are also inspired by uprisings for justice and dignity around the world, from Egypt to Chile, from Greece to South Korea.

We fundamentally reject the notion that the police are “potential allies” of our movements, and call attention to the bloody and ongoing history of police impunity and killings in Montreal. We support a respect for a diversity of tactics and a culture of solidarity and mutual aid, not division, within our struggles.

From Mohawk resistance to niobium mining in Kanehsatake, to community solidarity in the face of police repression in Montréal Nord; from anti-gentrification and social housing struggles in Montreal’s working class neighborhoods, to solidarity and support efforts with non-status migrant, this city is vibrant with people’s struggles for justice.In particular, we support two upcoming efforts: the October 22 March and Vigil for Justice for the Victims of Police Killings (info: http://www.22octobre.net); and the November 3 Anti-Capitalist Demonstration Against the G20, Canadian imperialism and the Conservative government, in solidarity with protests in Cannes and with G20 Toronto defendants (for details see www.clac-montreal.net).
This family-friendly contingent is currently supported by members of No One is Illegal-Montreal, the Indigenous Solidarity Committee and Solidarity Across Borders. If your group, collective or organization also publicly supports this contingent, please e-mail solidaritesansfrontieres@gmail.com

INFO: indigenoussolidaritymontreal@gmail.com

An Open Letter to ‘Occupy Wall Street’: A Lenape Perspective

Turtle Island

From In Xinachtli, In Milpa
12 October 2011

Greetings on Colonization Day,

I begin by prayerfully remembering our free and independent ancestors, the Lenape and all the Original Nations and Peoples of this vast Turtle Island (Mother Earth), and of the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America.

As you ‘occupy Wall Street,’ I ask you to reflect: You are on the island upon which our Indigenous ancestors lived and thrived for thousands and thousands of years. Please take a moment to recognize that we, the Original Nations, still exist here on Turtle Island. We have the right to exist as free and distinct nations with full self-determination.

What is the true source of our many grievances? It is the mentality and behavior of greed. The word ‘America’ is the combination of two Latin words ame (a command form of ‘love!’) and rica (riches and wealth). The effects of an insatiable desire for and the pursuit of riches and wealth first afflicted our Indigenous nations and peoples, and now afflict all peoples. Clearly, we need to address and rectify the political economy of greed, and the destruction it has caused and continues to cause.

Language Families of Abya Yala North, Turtle Island

Continue reading

Representing the Native Presence in the “Occupy Wall Street” Narrative

Unsettling America Editor’s Note: In the interest of furthering the discourse surrounding the ongoing legacies of colonialism and cultural genocide, we have chosen to repost this excellent analysis from Native Appropriations regarding various #DecolonizeTogether related images, most of which have appeared on this site. It is crucial to be accountable for the use of any problematic imagery, language, etc., and we hope this will contribute to the ongoing discussion.

From Native Appropriations:

I have yet to feel connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement, or even the Occupy Boston movement happening here in my backyard. I consider myself an activist, an at-times radical, and I clearly feel passionately about advocating for voices unheard and on the margins. But, Occupy Wall Street hasn’t appealed to me. There has been a lot of coverage as to why people of color, and Natives in particular, are having mixed emotions about this whole movement–and I agree with a lot of those sentiments. But I even have issues with the language and images being used to represent the Native presence in the movement. I’m not easily pleased, apparently.

Jess Yee (who I’m obsessed with) wrote a fabulous piece for Racialicious pointing out the inherent issues with calling the movements “Occupy….”, namely, that, oh, these lands are ALREADY OCCUPIED and sites of ongoing colonialism. She quotes John Paul Montano, an Anishinabe writer and his open letter to the “occupiers”:

I hope you would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land. I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land – never mind an entire society.

I agree completely. But, being the person that I am, I also feel the need to deconstruct images and language–I’ve got a critical filter that can’t be turned off. So let’s look at the image above, the one that’s being widely used to “complicate” the Occupy Wall Street narrative.

This image (which I can’t find the original source for, so please send it over if anyone knows), was shared far and wide on Facebook, and even made it to the Indian Country Today article that quotes Jess’s piece. From my ventures around the internets, this seems to be “the” image used to push back on the narratives of colonialism in the OWS movement.

But, in my opinion, this image only serves to further stereotype Native people and present mis-information about the land which is currently being double-occupied. We’ve got the red and black motif, the Edward Curtis stoic Indian warrior with the eagle feather and buckskin–who’s clearly from a Plains community, with a buffalo, an arrowhead, and a red power fist. Reads like a list of “10 things to include to make it recognizably Indian.”

Yes it acknowledges Wall St. is on “occupied Algonquin land”–but one problem: Manhattan is Lenape land. So we’ve got the stereotypical Plains imagery to represent a movement that is taking place on the East Coast. Everyone already forgets that there are Nations and Indigenous Peoples in the East, and this just continues to marginalize and erase their ongoing presence in their homelands.

Luckily, I’ve come across some posters that do a better job at representing the issue:

This at least has a Lenape woman (Jennie Bob, picture from 1915), and I like that the message is clear at the bottom: “Occupied since 1625”–because, let’s be honest, I really don’t think a lot of non-Native people even know what “decolonize” means, which makes it easier for them to dismiss the underlying issues. But, it’s still a historic photo, which could be argued puts the issue in the past. I still like it way more than the original (again, if you know the source, let me know).



This poster comes from Oakland, and I like the juxtaposition of the current Oakland skyline with the Ohlone tribal member. No Plains warrior here.

I want to end with pointing out that not all of the “Occupy” movements have marginalized Native peoples and ignored legacies of colonialism. Occupy Denver has taken a bold stance, incorporating a 10 point platform from the Denver American Indian Movement into the overall message of the movement. The points can be read in full here, but here is an expert from the intro:

 If this movement is serious about confronting the foundational assumptions of the current U.S. system, then it must begin by addressing the original crimes of the U.S. colonizing system against indigenous nations. Without addressing justice for indigenous peoples, there can never be a genuine movement for justice and equality in the United States. Toward that end, we challenge Occupy Denver to take the lead, and to be the first “Occupy” city to integrate into its philosophy, a set of values that respects the rights of indigenous peoples, and that recognizes the importance of employing indigenous visions and models in restoring environmental, social, cultural, economic and political health to our homeland.

Lulululu’s to that.  If every “Occupy” City began with that foundation, I sure as heck would be out there with my signs and warrior-activist attitude. But you know I’d be breaking up some faux-“Indian” drum groups along the way. Appreciation without appropriation, folks! geez.

So what do you think? Is it more important to disrupt the narrative with images that non-Native folks already recognize and resonate with? or are the images like the “Decolonize” poster doing more harm than good? And what do you think about Occupy Denver?

Awesome articles you should read:

Racialicous: Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street
Racialicous: Occupy Wall Street: The Game of Colonialism (Jessica Yee’s article)
John Paul Montano: An Open Letter to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters
Unsettling America: Decolonize Wall Street
Tequila Sovereign: Manna-hata (Info about the Lenape history of Manhattan)
Indian Country Today: Indians Counter Occupy Wall Street Movement with Decolonize Wall Street
Indian Country Today: Why I’m Occupying Wall Street
Press TV: Indigenizing Occupy Wall Street (about Occupy Denver)
Occupy Denver: An Indigenous Platform for Occupy Denver (AIM’s 10 Points)

(Thanks to Kannon, who was the first one to point out to me that the Decolonize Wall Street poster was problematic.)