The Red Nation is building solidarity

August 30, 2018

The Red Nation’s recent conference was an opportunity to discuss the struggle among Native peoples and its implications for the left, report Brian Ward and Ragina Johnson.

MORE THAN 400 people made their way to historically Pueblo and Diné (Navajo) land, modern-day Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the third annual Native Liberation Conference, hosted by The Red Nation on August 11 and 12. The Red Nation is a radical organization of Natives and non-Natives organizing for Native liberation and the liberation of all.

The success of the conference follows directly from the unfolding of the largest wave of Native resistance since the 1960s and 1970s, including rise of Idle No More in Canada, the fight at Standing Rock and against other pipelines, and the #NativeLivesMatter movement.

These developments have contributed to an uptick in the questioning of the very foundations of the U.S. nation-state, which was formed as a settler-colonial state that extracted wealth from lands stolen from Indigenous Nations and the exploited labor of African slaves.

Indigenous activists stand in solidarity at the Third Annual Native Liberation Conference
Indigenous activists stand in solidarity at the Third Annual Native Liberation Conference (The Red Nation)

These two sources of economic power were crucial to the early development of American capitalism and the eventual rise of the U.S. to its place atop the global capitalist system.

The growing resistance needs organization — in order to sustain the movement and help guide its direction. During the last big upsurge of Indigenous struggle in the 1960s and 1970s, groups like the American Indian Movement became the organizational expression of the Red Power movement. Today, we see a similar development with the founding of The Red Nation.

The Red Nation started in July 2014 after two Diné people, Cowboy and Rabbit, who had given up their home for a night to house a Diné family in need, were murdered by two white people in the community. Throughout the Southwest, this is referred to as “Indian rolling” — which is when non-Native people go around town and torture and kill Native folks on the streets.

The formation of the The Red Nation in opposition to anti-Indigenous violence — from non-Native people and from police — bears a striking resemblance to the origins of the American Indian Movement, which was also founded to fight police brutality.

The Red Nation has also organized against the Entrada, an annual celebration in Santa Fe to commemorate the re-colonization of the Pueblo People after the Pueblo revolt of 1680 kicked out the Spanish for 12 years; for the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day; and much more.

The organization is membership-based and open to Natives and non-Natives alike. The Red Nation opted not to become a non-profit, preferring an organizing based on grassroots, democratic organizing. Its elected leadership includes Natives and non-Natives.

THE CONFERENCE opened with a reading of The Red Nation’s principles of unity, which reads in part:

We are anti-capitalist and anti-colonial. We are Indigenous feminists who believe in radical relationality. We do not seek a milder form of capitalism or colonialism — we demand an entirely new system premised on peace, cooperation, and justice. For our Earth and relatives to live, capitalism and colonialism must die.

This statement of principles deserves to be read in its entirety, because it conveys why today’s growing left should be inspired about the project of building an anti-capitalist and socialist current in the U.S. — one that takes Native liberation and solidarity seriously.

By framing the conference with this statement, the organization started with a clear conception of who it is and what it stands for — in order to position the group to grow and build. Its membership has doubled in the last year.

The focus of this year’s conference was solidarity, and to that end, The Red Nation brought many Palestinian activists to the conference to discuss the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and the need for unity between Native and Palestinian communities with their shared history of struggle against settler-colonialism and capitalism.

Crucially, the struggle for Palestinian liberation not only means opposing Israeli apartheid, but also landing a blow against U.S. imperialism.

Nick Estes — who is Kul Wicasa, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and a co-founder of The Red Nation — moderated one of the panels about Palestine and explained why Palestine is a central issue for The Red Nation:

We are afraid what is happening to Palestinians is what happened us...In the 19th century, about 90 to 95 percent of our population was exterminated. We had no international community to turn to. We had nowhere to flee. We were incarcerated in boarding schools. We were put on reservations. We were starved to death just the same way that is happening to Gaza. We were forced to sell our land...

This isn’t just about [Israel] hating Palestinians for being Palestinians, it’s to take the land. It’s to eliminate the Native population...There’s a profit motive.

ANOTHER PANEL featured elders and activists from the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation, who have been fighting resource-extraction corporations for decades.

Melanie Yazzie — who is Diné and the recently elected chair of The Red Nation — discussed the importance of this historic struggle and her joy at hosting elders from the Black Mesa resistance in order to connect the new radicalization with the veterans of the struggles of the 1970s.

“The struggle against forced relocation is really a forced removal up on Black Mesa and the communities like Big Mountain where our relatives come from,” she said. “[This is] one of the primary struggles of indigenous resistance that ignited, as least in this region we call the American Southwest, the spirit of resistance in the 1970s.”

Melanie went on to talk about the fabrication of the conflict between the Diné people and the Hopi people over the land. “That conflict was generated and manufactured by capitalism and by the U.S. settler-state because Peabody coal came into the region and wanted to mine,” she explained.

There were also panels to connect African national liberation struggles, the historic Irish liberation struggle, the fight around ecological and treaty justice in the greater Chaco Canyon landscape, and the struggle to abolish ICE with The Red Nation’s struggle to end the Entrada.

In addition, the International Socialist Organization hosted a panel, featuring the authors of this article, entitled “Solidarity Will Win: Socialism and Indigenous Peoples.”

Each room of the conference was named after different political prisoners — the Free Little Feather Room, the Free Red Fawn Room, the Free Leonard Peltier Room, the Free Mumia Abu Jamal Room, the Free Khalida Jarrar Room and the Free Tony Taylor Room.

PERHAPS MOST exciting was the infectious feeling of solidarity throughout the event. It didn’t matter who you were — if you were down for Native liberation and opposed to capitalism, there was a broad understanding that we were all on the same side.

Added to that is The Red Nation’s clear intention to build up its organizational capacity. The Red Nation has revamped its organizational structures by instituting an elected leadership and forming Freedom Councils (chapters) to prepare for growth. And the conference’s last session explained how to join The Red Nation.

Currently, The Red Nation has three chapters: in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Window Rock, Arizona (the capital of Navajo Nation); and Gallup, New Mexico (a border town of Navajo Nation with a majority Native population). But the conference included folks from around the country, including Oregon, Colorado, Wisconsin, New York, California and more.

The conference was inspiring and a further indication of the radicalization taking shape around the country and the world. The Red Nation, which is growing based on explicit class and liberation politics, promises to be a dynamic current within today’s growing left.

Its commitment to organize a grassroots, dues-paying membership is rooted in a larger political understanding of the world and the struggle needed to transform it.

This is an important break with the liberal nonprofit framework that has dominated the left in recent decades. The left’s power depends on the formation of more bottom-up organizations to create open spaces for political education, debate and the fostering of solidarity.

We look forward to deepening this relationship, supporting actions initiated by The Red Nation and helping their conference grow even bigger in the future.

Further Reading

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