The latest round of attacks by the openly white supremacist Trump government against indigenous people — and their resistance — is at the forefront of current radical consciousness. A United States district judge recently ordered additional documents relating to the Dakota Access Pipeline to be released to the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies, involved in a years long lawsuit to prevent the construction of the oil pipeline through reservation land. In another push to prioritize capitalist extraction companies over indigenous rights and environmental concerns, in 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Bear Ears National Monument by 85 percent. Bears Ears has the distinction of being the first national monument created by a coalition of indigenous nations. It is a site of historical and cultural importance. The protracted legal struggle is the result of both the courageous continuous resistance of indigenous peoples and the imposition of a national government bent on total extraction and displacement. A united Black and Indigenous front is necessary to oppose the New Confederacy’s ideologies, policies, and practices. Radical movements must continue to be in solidarity with indigenous nations, organizers, leaders, and elders in the fight against both the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fallout from nuclear colonialism. In response to continued attempts at settler-colonialism, our movements must reaffirm the indomitable rights of oppressed nations and indigenous peoples to self-determination.
From inception, the United States had been an imperial(ist) project, one grounded in bourgeois democratic ideals and the unmitigated violence of settler-colonialism. When colonizers first set foot on this land, indigenous peoples, cultures, and societies had existed and thrived for thousands of years. European colonizers were the vanguard of the violent creation of early capitalism. For the colonizers, the seizure of land was a prime objective. The enslaved Africans were the ideal workers of this land, and women and oppressed genders prime targets for violent conquest, and indigenous people as a whole a fundamental “obstacle.” This obstacle was to be overcome through genocidal warfare, removal from ancestral lands, privatization, and enclosure of property, and later, attempts at cultural assimilation.
Once Native Americans had been violently removed and the land taken by individual colonists to develop cotton plantations, Black slave labor constituted both the preeminent source of and the gravest threat to primitive accumulation. Chattel slavery was the largest source of wealth on a global scale and was essential to the creation and maintenance of early capitalist economies and western modernity. Because the “Old Southwest” constituted the land base of the white southern settler elite, imperial warfare against indigenous nations cleared the way for rapid land grabs and violent enclosures. This imperial project made way for massive plantations to be worked by enslaved Black people. Colonizers waged a dual strategy; while colonial governors and state officials waged war against indigenous nations, merchant elites and slave owners sought to break the will and humanity of dignified enslaved Black people. The imperial goal was clear: deal with the indigenous peoples by total eradication and deal with Black people through constant violence and dehumanization.
A History of United Resistance
In the face of this imperialist cascade at every point in US history, indigenous peoples resisted genocide, terror, and attempted forced removal. Radical movements today must foreground the historical gravity and political relevance of Black and Indigenous resistance. From Little Bighorn to Red Cloud’s War, from the 1969 Occupation of Alcatraz to the 1973 Battle at Wounded Knee, there exists a long and rich history of Native American resistance to and defeat of imperialist aggression. So too, must radical movements look to the legendary examples set forth by the insurrection at Stonewall and the liberation of hundreds of enslaved Black people during General Tubman’s Combahee River raid. The religious propheticism of Shawnee Tenskwatawa inspired his brother Tecumseh to embark on the creation of a unified Indian nation-state. The legendary military victories of the Haitian Revolution inspired David Walker’s righteous call for worldwide Black revolution in 1829. And while both Walker and Tecumseh met early ends, the names of these leaders continue to inspire us today. Radical movements must support and affirm the right of Black and Indigenous peoples to determine the best way to honor all that is sacred and determine how best to move towards an emancipatory future.
North Carolina is also home to significant historical roots of Black and indigenous solidarity. In 1957, James W. “Catfish” Cole, a perennial leader of Ku Klux Klan chapters in North and South Carolina, sought to defeat the Black Armed Guard, a cadre of Black veterans of the second world war led by Robert F. Williams. Monroe would be the site of an armed battle between the Williams-led Black Armed Guard (who had just been granted a charter by the NRA) and Cole and the Klan (who had staged a rally in Monroe against the NAACP.) The Klan was routed and driven out of town. Defeated and humiliated, Cole decided to turn to a different target — Lumbee Nation. After several racist speeches and cross burnings, “Catfish” Cole decided to stage a rally in Robeson County, where he estimated “30,000 half-breeds” lived. His aim was to drive them out of town, by fear preferably and through violence if necessary. On the day of his planned rally in 1958, Cole had expected 5,000 Klansmen to attend and less than 50 did. Lumbee forces mobilized 10 times that amount, and the Klan was defeated again. Cole was driven from town again and humiliated on a national scale.
Today’s New Confederacy
In stark contrast to this vision for collective liberation stands the New Confederacy, the regime whose power and ability to implement its strategy increased in size and scope with the dramatic victory of their presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump. Trump’s victory in 2016 signaled the rise of an inchoate yet insidious US-based social movement made up of a fractured yet powerful coalition of center-right neoliberals, Christian theocrats, and white nationalists. The New Confederacy was able to seize the national government by capturing state governments across the country. Similar to its political predecessor, this new confederate strategy is rooted in the fact that state governments can govern up and down; states can act to both nullify federal power and crush local rebellion. A crucial component of this New Confederate alliance is the corporate fossil fuel industry. This section of capital bases its profit margin on the continued extraction of fossil fuels and catastrophic agricultural practices, both of which deeply diverge from indigenous practices and rituals that hold land and life as sacred. In a historical moment where our climate systems are disintegrating, we cannot afford continued extraction — extraction that the current President is personally invested in. Upon his seizure of national power, President Trump immediately sought to continue the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline which, among many hazards, threatens the water and life of indigenous people.
Red nations and Black peoples also share a history around water. The Dakota call “Mni Wiconi” means water is life, and for Black people this has been true since before modernity. General Tubman used the water to hide chin deep in frigid lakes on her first (and subsequent) journeys to and from freedom. In the 1820s, Walker’s incendiary pamphlets (calling for international Black unity and a Christ-inspired violent overthrow of chattel slavery) were hidden in slop cloths, which were then shipped down the Atlantic coast from Boston to the booming port cities of Richmond, Charleston, and New Orleans where they were widely read by Black people both enslaved and free. Water has proven to be both a tool to use and a terrain to navigate for our movements in the fight against oppression.
Today, Black people’s access to water is severely limited. The environmental catastrophe of Flint, Michigan is ongoing. Conservative estimates place the number of children exposed to lead near 12,000. Even with 15 criminal indictments, well over 2,400 lead service lines are still in place as of May of 2019. Community organizing and the power of social movements forced the governor of Michigan to decide against accepting a major fellowship at Harvard University. Beyond the example of Flint, radical movements are contending with threats to our water. To list just a single example, the reactionary general assembly of North Carolina continuously refuses to address the ongoing water contamination crisis in Eastern North Carolina, home to large numbers of rural Black workers and Lumbee people.
It cannot be ignored that we are living during a climate catastrophe, an extinction level event that can be directly traced back to the forced removal of indigenous people and forced destruction of entire ecosystems. With the capture of a united federal government, and with more state governments under its control than at any other moment in US history, the New Confederates feel emboldened. As radicals, it is our task to identify the enemy and cohere the alliance of social forces that must lead millions in the struggle for transformation. That enemy is the New Confederacy, and that alliance is oppressed nationalities and the multinational working class.
There is no social transformation without Black and indigenous self-determination. Radical movements must affirm this historical truth, support these struggles, and remain in solidarity.