Anti-Indianism and Sexism Have No Place in The Movement: An Indigenous Feminist Perspective

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by The Red Nation Leadership Council

We live in dangerous times.

The racism and sexism of US President-elect Trump and his followers have ascended to the most powerful office in the world. To Natives peoples and all oppressed communities, however, Trump’s election only verifies the last 500 years: white supremacy and violent heteropatriarchy are not aberrations in occupied Turtle Island, they are the norm.

Some attempt to normalize Trump. However, as oppressed communities, we know where this gets us. We have always been the targets, the hunted, those who refuse to go away, simply because we are the reminder of the truth: this nation was built from Native genocide, African slavery, and the horrors of US imperialism.

By default, Natives are frontline communities because we continue to obstruct settler access to land and profit.

The work never stops for frontline communities. The Red Nation (TRN) has been busy with our ongoing Border Town Justice campaign and support and solidarity for the #NoDAPL struggle at Standing Rock. Along with millions, we have experienced great victories along with great sacrifice. The movement has grown, far exceeding expectations.

These exciting advances carry tremendous responsibilities and challenges. They require honest self-reflection and accountability within the movement. At a time when the stakes are undeniably high, anti-Indian racism and sexism within the movement continue to be major challenges to our collective liberation.

TRN believes in the transformative power of Native justice: the taking of power into our own hands and seeking justice for victims of racist and sexist abuse. We have enacted this definition of Native justice more than once since our founding in 2014. It has always worked because it releases survivors from the burden of the violation and places that responsibility back where it belongs — with perpetrators and their institutions of power. It nullifies the violence so that it cannot be repeated in our homelands. It returns us to our humanity so that we can live as good relatives to all our relations.

However, we have not always had the maturity, experience, or power to enact justice on our own terms. As a result, Native women have been harmed. Because we could not adequately deal with certain acts of abuse, more were injured.

This statement is an act of justice informed by experience. It is our effort to take responsibility, assert self-determination, and reclaim our agency as Indigenous feminists.

It is with sadness and rage that we undertake an uncomfortable but necessary form of justice for wrongs perpetrated against Native women by Chris Banks (AKA Christopher Cubillos), the leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s (PSL) Albuquerque branch. (We have also dealt with other PSL members’ sexism, when the PSL refused to address it internally.) To protect survivors, we cannot go into detail about all of Chris’s transgressions, but will merely highlight and generalize some of his and his party’s destructive behavior.

This is not a call-out or demonization of one white man. It is not an attempt to divide the movement. Nor is it a form of red-baiting, all of which we have been falsely accused of. This is a task that we did not choose to carry out. It is unwelcome. It is a task that both Chris and the PSL laid at our feet because they refused to address their anti-Indian behavior and Chris’s patterns of sexism towards our Native sisters.

These patterns have included the recruitment and targeting of TRN leadership for their own party interests, despite our request that they cease such behavior because the loss of strong organizers channels energy away from Native liberation. More than one Native PSL recruit has been so demoralized by the party’s anti-Indianism and sexism that some have turned their backs on the movement altogether. In other words, out of a desire to protect and advance the movement we (and others) have told them “no means no.” Yet, they continued to engage in this predatory behavior as official party policy within the Albuquerque branch. Such behavior invades, penetrates, and extracts without consent because it presumes its own supremacy.

They have also inserted their party agenda into the personal lives of Native women affiliated with TRN without consent. They continued to do so even after we vigorously asked them to stop. In retaliation for pushing back against this unethical behavior, PSL local and national leadership targeted, profiled, and bad-jacketed these women—and those who defended them. They were labeled as “security threats” and written off as “emotional,” “paranoid,” “gossiping,” and “misconstruing” the PSL’s sexism and anti-Indianism.

Although we were told the PSL maintains a zero tolerance policy toward racist and sexist behavior, anyone with a basic understanding of how sexism sounds or feels knows that words like “emotional” and “paranoid” are meant to diminish, dismiss, and disrespect women. These words also cast Native people as “superstitious” (another label the PSL used) and without reason. Such words are common weapons of racist and sexist abuse that function to absolve the abuser of their actual behavior. In capitalist society, this behavior in a workplace and elsewhere is considered inappropriate (albeit common). So why is it considered normal and acceptable in a so-called revolutionary party that seeks to dismantle capitalist power?

As our manifesto states, Native women are at the center of our struggle. As the Indigenous liberation movement proves at Standing Rock and elsewhere, we are matriarchal and women-led. This is not rhetorical, nor is it an abstract concept derived from a book, to be used for activist posturing. It is real. It is powerful, and we take it seriously. We practice it with unflinching commitment in our everyday lives and principles of organizing.

The personal is deeply political. So too are our politics deeply personal.  This is an Indigenous feminist practice, and it is always our starting point.

The PSL continues to portray itself publicly as an advocate for Native people, and presumes that the personal actions of its leadership are removed from their political and public principles. This conceals the actual abuse, silences the victims, and makes it impossible to see that distinctions between public and private, political and personal, are, in fact, fictions created to uphold male dominance, white privilege, and unrestricted access to Native bodies and lands. This is Feminism 101. It is also Marxism 101, which has long held that the development of capitalist society requires a gendered division of labor where men are seen and thought of as the “producers” in the public workplace and women are relegated to the task of keeping the home, the domestic sphere, the site of sexual reproduction. This belief is so pervasive, it is often seen as “natural,” as if it has no history, as if it has always been this way. This is a framework we should not be reproducing. Instead, we should be challenging it at all turns, as revolutionary organizations have been since the nineteenth century and as our ancestors have since the inception of European colonization.

Indigenous feminism, however, recognizes there is a fundamental difference between just keeping women “in their place” for sexual reproduction in capitalist societies and the required wholesale disappearance of Native women in settler societies, which are also capitalist. Sexism and racism are ‘-isms.’ They are what Marx himself called an ideology, a form of false consciousness so cunning, so pervasive, and so normal in a capitalist society, that it is almost impossible to pinpoint as an actual form of domination. In a settler colonial context, these ‘-isms’ operate through a logic of Native elimination that specifically targets Native women. Death is seen as the inevitable, “natural” outcome for Native women. This logic of elimination is so pervasive in settler societies like the US that the police, the military, the law, and other state institutions do not have to enact it in order to achieve it (although they do so with frequency and great force).  Citizens do that work for them, as we have seen with the countless murders and profound violence against Native women at the hands of civilians.

Although it maintains a progressive stance towards anti-racism and feminism, the PSL continues to engage in predatory behavior because it refuses to acknowledge this truth of Native movements: they have always been women-led and -centered. Because of this, TRN has no choice but to condemn this behavior, to warn our Native relatives of these pernicious actions, and to permanently separate from the PSL.

In closing, the PSL is not unique. It simply reflects the world in which we live, the world that created Trump and which normalizes this type of anti-Indianism and sexism. We had a long-standing relationship with the PSL. We attempted to make kin with those we thought had our best interests in mind. We became more intimate and invited this organization into our communities and into our homes, making this separation all the more painful and unwelcome. We do this as an act of justice and as an act of love for survivors, to name and call a perpetrator a perpetrator.

The labor of dealing with rampant anti-Indianism and sexism has been unfairly outsourced to already-vulnerable Native communities. This statement gives it back to where it belongs — at the doorstep of the perpetrators. It is their responsibility to deal with it now. We have done our due diligence. We have labored, cried, and mourned over the loss of comrades and friends. This is no longer our burden.

We have wiped our tears. We release it and move forward in the spirit of our ancestors and the brave defenders protecting our lands and bodies.