Land Defenders Take Streets Rejecting ‘Empty Declaration’ of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in ‘Flagstaff’

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This following report was originally published on Indigenous Action Media and details a march for indigenous liberation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

OCCUPIED FLAGSTAFF, AZ — On Monday night, more than 45 people gathered at “Heritage Square” in occupied so-called “Flagstaff” to rally and call for indigenous liberation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Speakers at the rally strongly rejected the recent “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” declaration by Flagstaff politicians as a hypocritically symbolic measure, as Indigenous people in the area continue to face cultural genocide, disproportionate incarceration, homelessness, extreme racial profiling and state violence.

The rally centered voices of Indigenous womxn and two spirit relatives, speaking to their stories of resistance to hetero-patriarchy and state violence. The crowd donned red bandanas with the hashtag #MMIW to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), a movement which confronts the fact that one-third of Indigenous womxn in the so-called “U.S.” are either missing or murdered.

Nicole Joe, who was part of the local Indigenous un-sheltered community, died on December 25, 2017 after her boyfriend, Vaughn Seumptewa, beat her and left her outside in the cold for several hours before dragging her inside an apartment, where she later died.

The crowd called for justice for Nicole Joe, Loreal Tsingine (who was murdered by police in Winslow in 2016), and Vanessa Lee, who was recently found deceased in Flagstaff with no cause of death known at this moment.

“If communities are to put an end to missing and murdered Indigenous womxn, there must be better supports for womxn to leave abusive relationships, as opposed to turning to the current system that is inherently racist against Indigenous womxn, often not believing their stories or put on waiting lists for the same supports non-Indigenous folx receive,” stated Bonn Baudelaire.

Bonn further stated, “We have been resisting this narrative for 500 years. And that’s why we are here today, to see the future re-imagined by the hands of the feminine. So what does it mean when we say Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womxn? That’s what we mean, we’re re-imagining the future, in our own hands. What happens when womxns’ bodies are assaulted? That’s just the same thing as assaulting Mother Earth. Womxn literally recreate life on this earth and when we’re assaulted, we’re assaulting the very core of what it means to be alive.”

Vulnerable stories were shared at the rally from people who are directly suffering from state violence, I.C.E. raids and detentions, and white-supremacist heteropatriarchy. The rally connected the many different struggles of violence against womxn, racial profiling and incarceration, desecration of sacred land, and of un-sheltered relatives, with banners that read “No justice on stolen land” and “Before 1492, no one was unsheltered.”

City of Flagstaff politicians have refused to repeal their notorious “Anti-Camping Ordinance” which has previously earned the city the 10th spot of The National Coalition for the Homeless’s report on “meanest” cities in the so-called “U.S.” Capitalists in Flagstaff continue to outright discriminate and deny services to unsheltered Indigenous Peoples.

Ale Becerra, a representative of the Repeal Coalition stated, “We’re talking about the same issue: which is state violence against communities, Indigenous communities, undocumented folks who are here without proper documentation. We have the same struggle. The State is what we’re up against. We need to learn to recognize that.”

The Repeal Coalition has been demanding an immediate end to the City of Flagstaff’s collaboration with I.C.E. attacks on the undocumented community.

The rally eventually escalated to a march in the streets, blockading various intersections in downtown Flagstaff. A heavy police presence throughout the night, including cops physically grabbing people and pushing them, demonstrated that the City of Flagstaff is only committed to “honoring” Indigenous people symbolically, but will still unleash state violence on them even on “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”.

This treatment came as no surprise as the disproportionate number of Indigenous People arrested in Flagstaff demonstrates a severe issue of targeted policing of the Indigenous community. According to the most recent census, Indigenous Peoples comprise 10% of the population but account for nearly half of all the annual arrests each year. That one in every two Indigenous peoples living in Flagstaff, regardless of age, faces threat of arrest is a serious problem. (Source: Flagstaff Police Department Annual Report 2009-2017)

Chanting “Boycott Snowbowl” and “No Columbus, No KKK, No Fascist USA”, the crowd took to the streets. The sound carried throughout downtown, drawing passersby in to join the marchers. The march lasted for more than an hour, occupying multiple different intersections and stopping traffic throughout the night.

On October 2, 2018 the City of Flagstaff hastily passed a resolution to recognize “Columbus Day” as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. However, this resolution does nothing to change the continued cultural genocide of Indigenous people which the City remains complicit in and profits from. The City of Flagstaff refuses to cancel their contract to sell treated sewage for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks, which are held holy by more than 13 indigenous nations. The ongoing fight to protect the Peaks has lead to precedent-setting legal cases negatively impacting all Indigenous Peoples religious freedom.

There were cops waiting at the rally site before the organizers even arrived, and after the march ended, approximately 20 uniformed cops circled around the remaining crowd, surveilling and trying to identify people. Cops followed people to their cars and took pictures of their license plates.

Despite the intensity of police intimidation and aggression on this night, the marchers held their ground and ended the march with singing the AIM song while occupying the intersection of Beaver St. and Leroux.

As calls for next steps and ongoing actions were made, an “American” flag was set-alight and someone in the crowd stated, “Indigenous resistance will never be state sanctioned. Everyday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day and everyday we have to continue to fight for our existence.”

Organizers call for these immediate actions:

  • continued boycott of Arizona Snowbowl and for the City of Flagstaff to cancel their contract with the ski resort,
  • end to racial profiling & I.C.E. collaboration and further work to abolish police in our communities by establishing community support networks and transformative/restorative justice options,
  • repeal the anti-camping ordinance and all anti-homeless policies
  • donations of sleeping bags and winter clothing for unsheltered relatives at Táala Hooghan Infoshop (1704 N 2nd St),

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