A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of The TRiiBE Guide: Heritage Edition. Subscribe to The TRiiBE. Click here >>

When the pandemic hit the United States in 2020, Chi-Nations Youth Council (CNYC) worked to redistribute nearly $10,000 into Chicago’s Native community that spring. 

Soon, CNYC shifted its focus from mutual aid to direct action. Chi-Nations helped organize the Black and Indigenous solidarity rally held on July 17 which led to the removal of three Christopher Columbus statues. 

Since its founding in 2012, Chi-Nations has been advocating for the abolishment of Columbus Day alongside ongoing calls for the removal of racist monuments and mascots. As an auntie of CNYC, I was asked to help write the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Ordinance submitted to Chicago’s City Council by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, the first Latinx alder to represent the 33rd Ward.

You can read a version of this story and more in the Summer 2021 issue of The TRiiBE Guide: Heritage Edition. Join our newsletter to find a free copy of The TRiiBE Guide near you. Cover photo features Kannon Purnell, the 5th great-grandson of 19th century Chicago abolitionists John Jones and Mary Richardson Jones.

As the rally took place on unceded lands, people gathered at the center of Grant Park on 301 S. Columbus Drive. It was kicked off by performances and speakers, including Bobby Joe Smith III, a Black and Lakota artist and professor.

“Black and Indigenous folks are the most dangerous union to the stability of America because we know we are not Americans. We are older than America.We understand that the premise of America is our subjugation and erasure,” Smith said to the growing crowd in the park. “That is why when others bemoan [of] strange and uncertain times, we see [it] as an opportunity to tear down a system that has always been violently abnormal, amoral and unsustainable.”

The relationship between Indigenous and Black people has always been complicated by the interference of white supremacy. 

The United States government actively played a role in erasing the existence of Afro-Indigenous identity through the paper genocide of blood quantum enrollment — which requires a person to have a certain number of “full-blood” ancestors to be considered a member of an Indigenous tribe — and the “one-drop rule,” which considered anyone with a single Black ancestor to be Black. Stolen land and stolen labor built this country. 

The demand for justice within our settler-colonial systems is a call for immediate change and the abolishment of oppressive powers. Indigenous and Black movements toward collective liberation call into question the validity of the settler state that has targeted our communities. Indigenous and Black movements have always worked in relation to place. In order for there to be liberation on Anishinabek Land, Chicago, we must view Indigenous sovereignty as tantamount to Black liberation.

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Over nearly 100 years, the U.S. ratified approximately 368 treaties with various Indigenous communities. And since 1871, the U.S. has violated every one it signed. At the foundation of American-Indian treaty-making was this fundamental truth that tribes are independent nations that hold rights to self-determination. 

But the very notion of Manifest Destiny — that American settlers were destined to expand across North America — was conceived to reinforce the ideology that western conquest was ordained by God to expand American imperialism. 

Expansionism under Manifest Destiny upheld the belief in the natural superiority of the white/Anglo-Saxon race and justifies the appropriation of Indigenous land. These beliefs continue to support militant white nationalist identities while relegating Indigenous and Black people to the fringes of society. 

As Indigenous and Black communities navigate the politics of our settler state, our collective movements ground us to where we come from — the land. The return to land-based practices must center the history of the land itself in order to strategically build community power toward the goals of rematriation and reparations.

With each broken treaty, Chicago transformed into the frontlines of colonial occupation and resistance.

“You say of us that we are treacherous, vindictive and cruel; in answer to the charge, we declare to all the world with our hands uplifted before high Heaven, that before the white man came upon us, we were kind, outspoken, and forgiving. Our real character has been misunderstood because we have resented the breaking of treaties made with the United States, as we honestly understood them,” Simon Pokagan, an author, activist and member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, wrote in 1833. 

“Your own historians, and our traditions, show that for nearly 200 years, different Eastern powers were striving for mastery in the new world, and that our people were persuaded by the different factions to take the war-path, being generally led by white men who had been discharged from prisons for crimes committed in the Old World,” he continued.

When the second Treaty of Chicago was signed in 1833, it granted the U.S. all lands west of Lake Michigan to Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago. In return, the treaty promised various cash payments and tracts of land west of the Mississippi River. Despite these promises, the U.S. government never paid for the lands it usurped. 

“The only payment for land is land and we can’t allow for [western] institutions to claim they do decolonizing work,” said Adrien Pochel, co-founder of First Nations Garden, and my nephew. Currently, the First Nations Garden is the largest property within Chicago that is managed by Anishinabek and other First Nations peoples.

Mike Chosa and other members of the Chicago Indian Village meet with Joanne Maxwell, who represents Rep. John N. Erlenborn, in negotiating short-term housing solutions for the 110 Native Americans that have been camping at the abandoned Nike missile site at Argonne National Laboratory for the past 20 days. The group is calling for better long-term housing solutions in the Chicago area. Photographer captures images of the protesting group at the Nike site, near 9700 South Cass Avenue, Lemont, Illinois. Archival photo from Chicago History Museum.

In urban areas such as Chicago, violence against Native people is invisibilized. Our existence is tokenized and historicized through performative acts such as President Joe Biden’s proclamation to recognize May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Day without recognizing the state’s role within the epidemic. 

The epidemic of violence against Indigenous women isn’t due to a crack in the landscape of justice; rather, it’s part of a calculated system that targets Native bodies that have been upheld throughout America’s history of policing. Policing in this nation has never been about justice; it’s about subjugation and erasure. The system is not failing; it is explicitly designed to protect the state against Indigenous and Black movements toward liberation.

We see the ongoing impact of Manifest Destiny today within the institutions that were designed to spread American values. The creation of such western institutions is rooted to racist ideologies that help the state maintain control of wealth and resources. In 1969, an activist group which would come to be known as the Chicago Indian Village (CIV) was formed as a result of poor living conditions and unethical eviction practices experienced by Native Americans in Chicago. 

The group came together — erecting the Wrigleyville Protest Camp in 1971 — as a result of the eviction of Carol Warrington, a Menominee mother of six who staged a rent strike to demand her landlord remedy the poor upkeep of her rental property. Despite initially being in support of the protest camp, the American Indian Center INC (AIC) called for the occupation to disperse. As a nonprofit, AIC upholds its purpose of serving the state, restricting radical imaginations to ensure the path of least resistance.

While the CIV was short-lived, disbanding in 1972, the group successfully took over Chicago’s Belmont Harbor for two weeks, demanding affordable housing for Native Americans, a school for Native youth and the redistribution of AIC’s resources from social events toward acts of self-determination for Chicago’s Native Community. 

“All white men are the devil… The Black man is my brother… I’m rising up angry,” activist Pee Wee Taylor told the Chicago Daily News during the Belmont Harbor occupation. A sentiment that is embedded in today’s movements for collective liberation.

In 1972, Chicago’s Little Big Horn High School was opened as a result of Native organizing. “Little Big Horn was established to meet the needs of Indian students,” Lucille St. Germaine, the school’s coordinator, told the New York Times in 1976. “Five years ago, the dropout rate for American Indians was 95 percent in Chicago. Our dropout rate this year was 11 percent, so we must be meeting their needs.”

More than 50 years after the CIV, a faction of the Chicago Native community still distrusts nonprofit organizations when it comes to social change. The slogan “Save a Community, Kill a Nonprofit” is sketched on a plywood board that is to be installed at the First Nations Garden. The piece will be part of an outdoor gallery we created with local artists to reflect on the relationship to land and community.

The Saulteaux artist Justice Marie, who is contributing her art to the space, explains that the slogan is meant to draw attention to how traditional nonprofits uphold a racist system by looking past moral and ethical concerns.

“They [AIC] have a defense lobbyist who is a part of the Chicago Police Department’s Knights of Columbus. We no longer have the luxury to pretend nonprofits do right by us. We need to continue to make our own spaces and build from within the community instead of relying on governing bodies that uphold white supremacy,” Marie said.

As a former member and employee of AIC, I have recently walked away from the organization in attempts to salvage my own morality. During the 2020 election, the American Indian Center installed an “All Life Matters” mural and has yet to address the organization’s anti-Blackness. 

Black and Indigenous futures are dependent on breaking free from the oppressions of dispossession and enslavement. The mechanisms and systems of white supremacy rely on disconnecting us from not only each other but the land itself. Therefore, calls for liberation must work to hold accountable all systems that have profited from white supremacy.

is a freelance contributor for The Triibe.