We Can’t Confront Fascism Without Addressing White Settler Colonialism

Why Indigenous resistance is central to the fight against white supremacy.

Jen Deerinwater August 15, 2018

Police escort white supremacists led by "Unite the Right" organizer Jason Kessler (holding flag) during a rally at Lafayette Park opposite the White House August 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

The white suprema­cists did­n’t come to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. on August 12. They were already here, occu­py­ing the White House, capi­tol, Supreme Court and fed­er­al agen­cies. The white inva­sion brought white suprema­cy to Tur­tle Island, and peo­ple indige­nous to this land have been suf­fer­ing from it for more than 500 years. Wash­ing­ton, D.C. is the col­o­niz­er’s cap­i­tal — and the scourge of set­tler colo­nial­ism, and the racism and oth­er ills it brought here, haven’t been addressed by those in power.

The white invasion brought white supremacy to Turtle Island, and people indigenous to this land have been suffering from it for more than 500 years.

On August 12, 2017, white suprema­cist Jason Kessler’s Unite the Right” ral­ly in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia turned vio­lent and left many injured and one anti-racist activist, Heather Hey­er, dead. Over 300 white suprema­cists marched with torch­es and sur­round­ed stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia to oppose the removal of a con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment. The vio­lence that was so bla­tant­ly on dis­play last year led the city of Char­lottesville to deny Kessler per­mits for his fol­low-up ral­ly. Kessler filed suit against the city, but even­tu­al­ly dropped the charges to focus on his ral­ly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The Unite the Right 2ral­ly took place with dis­mal num­bers of approx­i­mate­ly 30 peo­ple aligned with Kessler. Police, jour­nal­ists and counter-pro­test­ers far out­num­bered the white nation­al­ists who failed to fol­low their own ral­ly and march sched­ule. Kessler and crew arrived in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. ear­li­er than expect­ed and closed their ral­ly 30 min­utes before it was even sched­uled to begin.

The ral­ly was held in Lafayette Park where a stat­ue of Andrew Jack­son stands. Jack­son was a slave own­er who mur­dered thou­sands of Natives. He used our skin for bri­dle reins and is best known for order­ing the forced removals of south­east­ern tribes to then-Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry, now present-day Okla­homa. It’s fit­ting that Kessler’s ral­ly took place next to this stat­ue and direct­ly across the White House that sits on stolen Pis­cat­away land that was built by African slaves.

The colonizer’s capital

At a press con­fer­ence on August 9, that was lack­ing Native rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. May­or Muriel Bows­er stat­ed, We have peo­ple com­ing to our city for the sole pur­pose of spew­ing hate. … We the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. unequiv­o­cal­ly denounce hate, we denounce anti-semi­tism, we denounce the rhetoric we expect to hear this Sun­day.” Bows­er also went on to say that the Dis­trict hosts bil­lions of vis­i­tors every year who come, among oth­er things, to vis­it the monuments.

The cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance of Bow­er’s state­ment is hard to miss. The mon­u­ments, such as the Jack­son stat­ue, are a nod of glo­ry to Native-mur­der­ing found­ing fathers and gen­er­als. The col­o­niz­er’s cap­i­tal sits on Pis­cat­away land that was seized through bro­ken treaties and Native geno­cide, a geno­cide that is cel­e­brat­ed every­day in the cap­i­tal through the use of Native mascots.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. is home to the racist R*dskins foot­ball team. Many Dis­trict employ­ees wear R*dskins para­pher­na­lia while on the clock and have their work sta­tions cov­ered in this anti-Native hate speech. Mean­while, the Dis­trict does not direct­ly devote any agen­cies to serv­ing the local Native pop­u­la­tion. If one’s knowl­edge of Natives were based on the treat­ment we receive in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., one would be left to believe we’re all dead and noth­ing more than gar­ish red, fool­ish car­toons giv­ing rain dances and war cries for the enter­tain­ment of the non-Native gaze. The may­or’s office was unavail­able for comment.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. is home to rough­ly 40 law enforce­ment agen­cies, includ­ing fed­er­al and mil­i­tary law enforce­ment. Dur­ing the press con­fer­ence, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police Depart­ment (MPD) Chief Peter New­sham stat­ed that law enforce­men­t’s goal to pre­vent vio­lence was to keep the two groups sep­a­rate.” This state­ment implied that any vio­lence would­n’t be a result of the vio­lence that white suprema­cists — or police offi­cers — bring to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., effec­tive­ly shift­ing blame for poten­tial prob­lems on counter-pro­test­ers. Newsham’s state­ment that we’re not about vio­lence in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” is deeply iron­ic, giv­en the vio­lence the MPD unleashed on J20 protesters.

New­sham also said that prop­er­ty destruc­tion would not be tol­er­at­ed and that law enforce­men­t’s num­ber-one role is to make sure noth­ing gets bro­ken, and nobody gets hurt.” The fact that nobody gets hurt” was the sec­ondary goal is important.

But there was one group that law enforce­ment kept safe: Kessler and his group of white suprema­cists were giv­en spe­cial law enforce­ment escorts with pri­vate train cars from Vir­ginia to a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. train sta­tion next to a major hospital.

The MPD behaves with such cal­lous­ness that, while I was cov­er­ing this sto­ry on August 12, an MPD offi­cer came with­in a foot of hit­ting me while he drove his motor­cy­cle onto the side­walk, unan­nounced. A friend yelled just in time for me to move. MPD and oth­er law enforce­ment agen­cies were out in full force across down­town Wash­ing­ton, D.C. that day, con­sti­tut­ing an intim­i­dat­ing and unhelp­ful pres­ence, to say the least, espe­cial­ly for mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties that expe­ri­ence high rates of police violence.

The vio­lence of white supremacy

Law enforce­ment con­cern for pri­vate prop­er­ty and white suprema­cists over Native lives is just anoth­er day of set­tler colo­nial­ism. The Indige­nous peo­ple of this land have suf­fered from white suprema­cy the longest, with the harsh­est out­comes on Tur­tle Island. Natives’ rates of high­er edu­ca­tion are the low­est in the nation. Only 17 per­cent of Natives have obtained an Asso­ciates degree or high­er in 2016, com­pared to 54 per­cent for white stu­dents. Oglala Coun­ty, South Dako­ta, home to the Pine Ridge Reser­va­tion, is one of the poor­est coun­ties in the Unit­ed States, with a pover­ty rate of 40.7 percent.

Native women suf­fer the high­est rates of vio­lence of any racial group in the Unit­ed States. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Insti­tute of Jus­tice 2010 Find­ings From the Nation­al Inti­mate Part­ner and Sex­u­al Vio­lence Sur­vey, more than one in three (39.8 per­cent) Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alaskan Native women have expe­ri­enced vio­lence in the last year and more than four in five (84.3 per­cent) have expe­ri­enced vio­lence in their life­times. More than one in two (56.1 per­cent) Native women have expe­ri­enced sex­u­al assault in their lifetime.

The vast major­i­ty of this vio­lence is inter­ra­cial, which is an anom­aly in the Unit­ed States. Nine­ty-six per­cent of Native women report­ed that their sex­u­al assaults were inter­ra­cial, where­as 91 per­cent of non-His­pan­ic white women report­ed their assaults were of the same race. The num­bers for inter­ra­cial attacks are sim­i­lar for every type of vio­lence that Indige­nous women in the U.S. face: domes­tic vio­lence, sex­u­al traf­fick­ing, stalk­ing and mur­der. On some reser­va­tions, Native women are mur­dered at 10 times the nation­al average.

Natives die sig­nif­i­cant­ly younger than any oth­er group in the Unit­ed States, even in so-called third world coun­tries. In 2014, the life expectan­cy of Natives in Oglala Coun­ty was is 66.8 years — the low­est in the Unit­ed States. As Indi­an Coun­try Today has point­ed out, this is low­er than the life expectan­cy in Sudan (67.2), India (66.9), and Iraq (67.7). This dis­par­i­ty is due to a num­ber of fac­tors, includ­ing the poor qual­i­ty of med­ical care we receive.

The only health­care avail­able to Native peo­ple liv­ing on reser­va­tions and trib­al vil­lages is Indi­an Health Ser­vices (IHS), a fed­er­al pro­gram that’s con­sis­tent­ly rat­ed as the worst health­care provider in Amer­i­ca. IHS is also gross­ly under­fund­ed: In 2016, Con­gress allot­ted $4.8 bil­lion for IHS, which amount­ed to approx­i­mate­ly $1,297 per per­son. For com­par­i­son, each per­son incar­cer­at­ed in the fed­er­al prison sys­tem receives an aver­age of about $6,973 in health­care each year. There also aren’t enough health­care clin­ics or hos­pi­tals to serve reser­va­tions and trib­al vil­lages, which forces many peo­ple to trav­el hun­dreds of miles for spe­cial­ized care or sim­ply go without.

Urban Natives don’t fare much bet­ter. In Wash­ing­ton, D.C. there isn’t a sin­gle IHS facil­i­ty and the lack of cul­tur­al­ly com­pe­tent care I’ve received as a patient has been so severe that I’ve been sub­ject­ed to hate speech, offen­sive and intru­sive ques­tions regard­ing my Indi­gene­ity, and refusal of care by non-Native practitioners.

Natives also fair the worst in the crim­i­nal legal sys­tem. We are more like­ly to be killed by police then any oth­er eth­nic group. Native men are admit­ted to prison at four times the rate of white men, and Native women are incar­cer­at­ed at six times the rate of white women. Our youth don’t fair any bet­ter in the sys­tem. In Min­neso­ta, Native girls are 18 times more like­ly to be incar­cer­at­ed than white girls. Native youth are also giv­en the worst pun­ish­ments and placed in adult facil­i­ties at high­er rates than oth­er groups.

The hyper-era­sure that we suf­fer from does­n’t exclude us from the vio­lence of white suprema­cy. In fact, it keeps set­tler colo­nial­ism, and in turn, white suprema­cy, in place. The peo­ple and elect­ed offi­cials of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. have only added to our harm with­out the slight­est recog­ni­tion that they are ben­e­fit­ing from the wide­spread vio­lence we have to nav­i­gate every day on our land.

Jen Deer­in­wa­ter is a bisex­u­al, Two Spir­it, dis­abled and mixed-race Tsala­gi — a cit­i­zen of the Chero­kee Nation of Okla­homa. Her web­site is www​.Jen​Deer​in​wa​ter​.com.
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