“Indigenous Solidarity with Black” event reflections, by White-Rose-Tinted, with #5
The Flag: A Tool of Symbolic Erasure and Oppression:
Reflections on the “Indigenous Solidarity with Black” event
Authored by White-Rose-Tinted; annotated, added to, and edited by #5.
Photo is signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
This article was published 7/4/20. Its content has not been altered. Unnecessary letters were removed from the endnote listings, and a name was anonymized for safety.
On June 25-26, in the year 1876, members of the Lakota nation (Oceti Sakowin), the Northern Cheyenne nation, and the Arapaho nation roundly defeated the United States’ 7thCavalry in The Battle of Greasy Grass (aka The Battle of Little Bighorn[[i]], often romanticized in white-washed public education textbooks as “Custer’s Last Stand”). The 7th Cavalry was retaliating for the indigenous tribes’ defense of their land and lives. In its expansionist zeal for gold and territory, the U.S. government allowed miners to breach treaties[[ii]] with the indigenous tribes, invading lands the tribes held sacred, to appropriate their resources – violations still unresolved to this day[[iii]]. This stands today as the only time in which the flag of the United States of America has been seized in battle domestically.
When this flag is made to symbolize the autonomy the state valorizes in rhetoric, while simultaneously denying nations of people that freedom in practice, it is transformed into a tool of symbolic erasure and oppression. Listen to my words and pay my hands no mind. The capturing of that flag by a group of people defending the very freedom it is said to symbolize is a détournement par excellence.
This coupling of the symbolic with the tangible is, and always has been, a vital location of the battle against white supremacy. The state’s refusal to recognize, or outright over-coding of, the symbolic is a weapon in its battle against the lands and bodies it suppresses.
On May 14, 2019, the Oregon government passed HB2625[[iv]]. The official summation of the bill, “[d]irects Department of State Police to study how to increase and improve criminal justice resources relating to missing and murdered Native American women in Oregon and report to appropriate committee or interim committee of Legislative Assembly no later than September 15, 2020”. 1 Women who belong to an indigenous group are nearly three times as likely to be a victim of violent crime as other women.2
While the epidemic of MMIW is not new, the specifics of the lack of acknowledgment or meaningful redress by the state of Oregon was something I didn’t know of until an indigenous woman shared her knowledge with the crowd at the Indigenous Solidarity with Black event on June 28th[[v]]. This lack of recognition of violence and victims of violence by the state is, sadly, par for the course. Preparing a report to be made a year and a half after the bill is passed is a hollow way of addressing an issue caused and exacerbated by the white supremacist culture that births and permeates our state. Another speaker reflected on how gendered violence was not a traditional part of indigenous cultures. This is a scourge created and maintained by the state’s self-serving and self-regulated colonization of the lands and people that existed before it came. The refusal to recognize indigenous autonomy, rightful claims to land and body, in anything but a far-too-late and far-too-performative way is how the state maintains a system of order that serves its own needs and purposes. By claiming all right to investigate and adjudicate-- and then refusing to do so-- it attempts to absolve itself through invisibility by deletion. The state takes our vision from us by colonizing our eyes, our souls.
Another speaker told a story of listening to the song, “Strange Fruit,[[vi]]” as sung by Billie Holiday. Referring to a poplar tree, one normally not thought of as fruit-bearing, the “strange fruit” of human bodies transforms the tree itself into a symbol of white supremacy. Recent deaths revealed that lynching is still an actively utilized form of terror[[vii]]. Yet one white man blocked Congress from passing a bill against lynching.[[viii]]. Part of the violence of the lynching is in the way it changes the setting in which it occurs. The tree is no longer a tree; it is a location of violence. Nature is ripped from our hands and our heads and transformed into a testament to the violence that seethes and surges under the surface “order” of the world of white supremacy. When the very backdrop in which struggle and survival occur becomes complicit with oppression, where is hope to be found? When Mark Fisher says, “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism,” he is speaking directly to this symbolic shift in the realness of the world. When not just the territory but the very idea of the land is colonized, the ability to envision, let alone enact, justice seems a Herculean task. The map becomes the territory.
One message that came through during the event was that this struggle was not just one of fighting, but also one of healing. That marches needed to be more than just activity, but also a location for growth and empowerment. Marches are not enough to bring justice to bear, in a world replete with the ideologies and idiocies of white supremacy. They can however, in addition to their other functions, provide a space to claim for the spiritual empowerment of those marching. They can be a place to process and denude the symbolic violence that has permeated our environs and to cast it out. By claiming space away from the “normal” functioning of society, we can also reclaim it symbolically. Transforming our environs, our trees, into a healthy and vital part of our own liberatory world allows us to heal, to renew our selves spiritually, and to imagine new possibilities for resistance and the world that comes after.
3 Capitalist realism : Is there no alternative? / Mark Fisher Winchester, UK : Zero books, 2009.
[[i]] For specifics on the bands involved and a history lesson on the battle, written by the Sioux nation: http://sioux.org/images/files/Battle_of_the_Little_Big_Horn.pdf
[ii] Here is the diction of the actual Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. http://sioux.org/images/files//Fort_Laramie_Treaty.pdf
[[iv]] Here is the text of that bill. https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/HB2625
[[vi]] Listen to Billie Holliday’s haunting performance here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Web007rzSOI