Four indigenous women answer ten questions on politics and activism. Carolina Arellano, Shaylon Stolk, Donna Hale-Wolcott, and Ruth Oskolkoff respond in honor of Indigenous Persons Day.
1. What does being Indigenous mean to you?
Carolina: Being Indigenous to me means that I have rejected assimilation and have begun my journey back to an indigenous lifestyle. It means walking as a warrior for all Indigenous peoples of all nations advocating for them and helping them to share their stories. It means putting into action to journey back to my roots and stepping out of Empire. I am not in my homeland, so I employ the practicing of honoring the earth by working on building a food forest so I can share food with my friends and neighbors. Incremental political change is not going anywhere and yet the water is getting dirtier and the soil as well. I decided to focus on what was within my power” and that is to clean my land and make it flourish as much as possible. It also means being cognizant of what my consumer choices really mean. Acknowledging the harm in every consumer choice I make and taking action to reduce my impact or to not contribute at all. It means keeping Empire in its various forms away from my work so no one can profit off it.
Shaylon: I love the GÃ idhlig word “duchaich,” which usually gets translated as “native” or “indigenous,” but those translations don’t do this beautiful word justice. It means you are part of a reciprocal network of rights and responsibilities that maintains your relationships with your kin, your indigenous government, and your homeland. To me, this seems like an integral part of being an Indigenous person ” this is not to diminish people who are reconnecting after being removed from their cultures because of colonialism, it’s that this state of reciprocity and loving attachment(s) to one’s homeland(s) and people(s) is the goal of reconnection. For me, being Indigenous means embodying this for my parents’ respective Scottish and Wayuu societies” understanding my role in the “big picture” of how our societies run, practicing traditional crafts, making myself accountable to our legal and social systems, and advocating for my people.
Donna: Being Indigenous means to me being proud, strong, a fighter and warrior, compassionate, caring for and respecting Mother Earth and loving our Creator. My practice is learning on a day to day basis about my culture, family history and educate myself on personal tribal tradition. I participate with my children and partner in many different local gatherings, events and cultural practices such as going to pow-wows, smudging ourselves at home for cleansing, learning new skills such as weaving, making jewelry” and enjoying Indigenous food.
Ruth: My Alutiiq father never taught me anything about our culture. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to learn and develop a frame of reference that explained differences in thinking between the traditional Native culture and the western mindset. That Native thought is all about attunement, harmony, and working with others with respect. Working for everyone not just for individual interests. I went through a period in my 30’s where I studied NW Formline Design and participated in a Native dance group. That was amazing and I was lucky to learn a great deal. Now my primary focus is on being a mother and political activism which leaves little time for anything else. However, I’m still impacted by the differences in the two worlds” even as an activist. Even in activist groups.
2. What does it mean to “walk in two worlds?”
Carolina: It means dealing with extreme poverty the majority of my life. I was raised out of it for about seven years before the 2006 recession hit us. Walking in two worlds is torturous for me at this point. I no longer want to charge anything, spend an hour connecting to wi-fi, spend my time rebooting, etc etc etc. I don’t want empty conversations over alcohol with flashing lights around me. I don’t care about the stock market. I don’t care what comes and goes around me.
I grew up in the hustle and bustle of tourism in Orlando, FL and I’m at a point in my life I probably will never step foot into one of the theme parks again because they are so offensive. I have had the blessing of going to learn about Morocco this last year and visited twice. I can see the gentrification of it on behalf of Westerns and it makes me sick to my stomach when I am there. Watching our plastic cover their ground and our golf courses and resorts irrigated with the drinking water for those folks makes me want to beg for forgiveness. I see the same mistakes being implemented that have harmed and killed folks in Orlando and it’s become torturous to my soul. I now live in the middle of the rivers, wetlands and swampy areas, far from the tops of the Andes where I was born. My local lifestyle now includes medicine from the region, actively working to adapt to my climate and a diet that focuses on local produce. Although I’m from Bolivia, I never eat quinoa in anything. I can distinctly remember my Uncle bringing it to us when he visited and those few cups of it would be spread out in our meals until his next visit. I am horrified to see it clearances on our shelves or in snack food! In 10 years, there won’t be any food item they won’t try to fry and make it palatable to us.
Shaylon: For me, it’s about the need to code-switch between settler norms and Indigenous norms, and to be beholden to both a settler legal system and nationality and Indigenous legal systems and nationalities. A lot of times, those two systems are locked in conflict, and it can be exhausting to try to stay loyal to my Indigenous cultures and nations and still survive day-to-day within the settler-colonial capitalist system. It’s also amazing to me how little information travels from Indigenous social networks” both online and in real life” into the “mainstream.” We are required to be fluent in settler news, culture, language, and politics to survive, but have to explain the most basic facts about ourselves over and over again. For example, I was a scholarship student at a very elite school, and I had to inform a number of people there that Indigenous South Americans exist, and that we’re not a single culture.
Donna: Walking in two worlds would be myself in the typical urban white world which believes in expected norms in everyday life. Trying to live in society as an average person and follow basis rules and laws vs. living in the Indigenous world which is more peaceful and appreciative of our earth. Following our cultural believes and behaviors that many times conflicts with that other world.
Ruth: For me it means there is a world that is generally accepted by the Western mind and specifically that means capitalism, which is exploitative by nature. Then there is a world of nature and that natural world which seems to be about survival and the nature of people which really does seem helpful to others. More social. I feel privileged to know I don’t need to be heartless and cruel and only out for greed. That there is another base position to take. A different resting place. So, when I go into the heart of the beast” it is only to visit. Many times a day, I return to the world I call home that is humane, and where we are all working together.
3. How do you describe yourself politically?
Carolina: I was raised by very conservative family and parents. My father worships folks like Bill Gates and Donald Trump. My father is anti-union and often would threaten to shut down his hotel before he’d let a union come in. In Bolivia, they have their very first Indigenous president ever and yet my family doesn’t support Evo the campesino. I was a registered Democrat when I finally registered to vote to try get Bush Jr. out of office. I became politically active with Occupy via planned direct actions. I saw Occupy as the first opportunity to discuss our direction towards a New Depression based on the mergers, acquisitions, spinoffs and divestitures I saw at my job. It was Occupy Wall Street that gave me my first decolonization conversation. I organized as Green Party and helped Jill Stein’s campaign office in Florida.
I am now registered NPA and will never register with another party. I no longer will vote since I do not see any meaningful direct action out of any of the parties. We have to boycott capitalism and consumerism to get our radical change, but too many think once their guy gets into office then they can relax. Recreating political campaigns that are modeled on capitalist system becomes empty after a while. All the wasted paper and materials eat away at your soul.
Shaylon: I think of myself as socialist-flavored center-left, but in the current political position my views are apparently classified as “far left,” so I will accept “leftist” as a label as well. I don’t vote in Wayuu elections because I’m a patrilineal clan member and we’re a matriarchal direct democracy. In Scotland, I vote SNP, which is a democratic socialist party and describe myself as a socialist-flavored Jacobite (to clarify, our modern position that since we can’t have our original Indigenous government back, we should throw monarchy out altogether). However, those aren’t particularly relevant political alignments outside of Scotland and some parts of the Wabanaki Confederacy/Canadian Maritimes.
Donna: I would consider myself socialist activist” a special activist who believes in the social-ruled world. First consideration is fighting for social world such as including all kinds of people from different walks of life. Have a purpose to help others to better their lives within our society to be able function to their fullest. A system that support people based on society as a whole vs. based on political parties ” Democratic or Republican, for example.
Ruth: I’ve evolved from standing off on the side watching the world burning to being proactive and joining the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Extinction Rebellion. I feel compelled to take action now.
4. What do you find most appealing about socialism? The most difficult?
Carolina: Socialism to me is just a different face of Empire. I worked in employee benefits for almost 20 years and even if we got Medicare-For-All, I have huge problems with it. I had Marketplace coverage for a decade before ACA was passed. It’s still a huge give-away to the corporations. The insurance companies can negotiate better rates ” not only for Prescriptions, but also for doctors’ visits. My one doctor’s negotiated rate under my employer insurance was $47, but under Medicare it is $67. I can no longer get my cheapest medications covered under prescription; I must pay out of pocket or find a more expensive prescription.
When Americans look to Socialism, they tend to look to European countries but don’t acknowledge how much royalties are still paid to European countries from Africa. Another discussion we never get to have. Quotes are always vague about the richest man or man with most land, well it’s the Queen of England. The Queen of England has the most land to restore the peoples of the world. These types of vague conversations tend to trouble me as well.
Shaylon: The idea of collective responsibility and the lack of privatized capital really resonates with me. I come from two Indigenous cultures (Scottish and Wayuu) that have the concept of land, objects, or property collectively belonging to a group to be used for the common good. The idea that we can use our shared resources and contributions of individual talents to create a society where everyone’s basic needs are met is something that already exists in my cultures, so it feels very natural and sensible to me.
That said, socialism seems to assume an industrial society based on non-Indigenous European ideas about “production” and “progress.” I don’t like the industrial growth model, and don’t necessarily think that assuming we’ll be primarily a society that churns out plastic crap we don’t really need is a way forward. We don’t need “growth,” we need a society where no one is left without water, food, shelter, and human connection.
Donna: The most important and appealing part of being an Indigenous socialist is that overall it is based on holistic society, and not segregated based on conservative or liberal beliefs. Respect fits better” with taking care of our environment, and matches more with Indigenous beliefs as compared with other political party belief systems.
Ruth: I think the best thing is that in socialism everyone helps each other and there are no super rich people at the top raking in profits from missile stocks, or earning millions from keeping insulin prices high. That seems more in keeping with the traditional tribal ways where the chief actually gave everything to the people she was serving. I guess the hardest thing is a lot of socialists don’t have this same experience of another way. Because they don’t have another mode, they can come off as difficult and unfeeling as anyone in the capitalist world. This way of respect and kindness has not been ingrained in them since they were little.
5. Does the current political system work?
Carolina: I don’t think any of solutions of the modern states have involved enough stakeholders’ input to fully develop a solution by the people, for the people and of the people. When I listen to climate change arguments or vegans advocating for their lifestyle, it’s empty to me because no matter what choice we all make, the slave labor in the supply chain never disappeared. Our current political system keeps us distracted from the most common man’s issues. We never get to discuss how Black Americans only own 3% of the land instead of needing 5% of the vote to get campaign funds. Or how the Indigenous Peoples themselves have virtually nothing from our government. The political solutions are not available to all peoples and therefore are not radical nor revolutionary. The parties and their leaders swoop, identifying as radical, but only willing to replicate the corporatized political campaign.
They quote radical leaders, but shame the poor with their ideas and the nonprofits they advocate for. Our entire political system and corporatized non-profit system have turned into money laundering operations that benefit stakeholders like landholders, real estate agents and lawyers, NOT the common man walking to work, riding his bike or taking public transportation.
Shaylon: When thinking about the current United States political system, I am utterly outraged by the complete lack of accountability that politicians have to their constituents. Even though we technically have the power to vote them out of office, one has to wait for the election cycle. Plus, political parties know that in a two-party system, people will feel forced to vote for the candidate who is slightly less appalling as a harm-reduction strategy, so the political parties feel safe running candidates who will keep the status quo ” that is, keep giving corporations and rich people big handouts ” rather than running candidates and policy platforms voters actually want.
My other big issue with our current political system is that there’s no way to correct systemic power imbalances around wealth, gender, race, disability and so on. Even supposedly activities, things like voting or activism, are more accessible to the people who already have lots of advantages and don’t want to change the status quo.
Donna: I’m not impressed with the current political system since the majority of politicians are money-hungry, corporate, greedy people who mostly want to work toward their own personal gain within the system. Values based on ways to earn their own advancement, and not much concern for people within the system or issues that impact the people.
Our biggest example would be the current president. He’s more concerned about his own suffering and his family. Just no concern about the people in our country while showing greed, racism and hatred if they don’t agree with his beliefs and unjustified rules ” causing suffering in the process.
Ruth: Being a socialist, I don’t think capitalism can be reformed in any way. I also think that Bernie Sanders is right about getting money out of politics. But that’s only the first step. In my mind, and perhaps others’ too, I equate capitalism with this entire way of seeing reality that is bullying, violent, and oppressive. It’s not just about creating financial fairness but really goes so far beyond. To a world it will not be such a struggle just to survive, where the talents and goals of each person are important and valued. Where we help each other ” not fight to the death.
6. Is being Indigenous difficult in the modern political world?
Carolina: The state represents an illusion of rule of law where it does not exist. The American Economy and the Global Economy only exists because of the hidden slave labor in the supply chain. Let’s say we saved the globe from global warming with renewable energies — how many lives were sacrificed in mines for us to pat ourselves on the back instead of stopping the consumer decisions we make that allow the slavery to continue? These are discussions we never get to have.
Shaylon: First of all, your choices of political parties and candidates, which are already limited by a two-party system in the USA, all consist of people who basically support the US settler government continuing the way it is. It’s difficult to find candidates who won’t throw Indigenous people” in the USA or globally” under the bus at the first opportunity. I have some Native friends who don’t vote, but I don’t feel that’s the solution either. Someone is going to get elected, and some candidates will do more harm than others if elected, and I can’t in good conscience not try to do harm reduction when that’s the only option.
Second, setting aside the settler-state problem, it’s hard to find a candidate or party who fully aligns with Indigenous values. It’s still hard for me to place myself on the “˜left’ or “˜right’ when my positions are issue specific and don’t necessarily match either position.
Donna: Being Indigenous causes many conflicting issues vs. the modern political system; such as the current one of ending the fight to eliminate climate change, or beliefs that climate change doesn’t exist. This shows disregard for respect toward Mother Earth and its creatures and life. Another would be building pipelines for gaining money since oil companies don’t consider how this would impact water, land, etc. in the general areas of the pipelines.
Ruth: It is hard to know where to take part because in fact there is no absolute alignment with everything I value. I’ve had to look at the options locally and find what seems to make the most sense for me. I’ve had to ask” what is critical in a group I belong with and what is not? It’s a tough question and I am not sure there is an absolute answer. I can just find something now that seems to accept me as an activist and holds most of the values I consider important. I overlook some stuff. The Indigenous way of knowing is definitely not the modern Western way of knowing. I live with that and other differences and am fine with it.
7. What is the biggest issue in socialism?
Carolina: I get very concerned when I am working with socialists for multiple reasons. I hear disdain for folks’ spirituality if it involves a God. I hear disdain for groups of people and violence enters the conversation at times. I hear desire to just run around and do whatever folks want with things handed to them. I personally find a resource-focused economy troubling because reverse engineering has led to many solutions we have. People should have tools given to them yes, and be allowed to pursue what brings them joy, but everyone should be able to cook for themselves in any situation, find water and purify it, use the restroom and survive the elements without assistance. And that level of knowledge is long gone.
Socialism is still built around a worker society and I feel there is an illusion there is enough work to go around in this modern society. In Morocco, where things are handmade, folks can share skills easily and teach each other, but they are taught that work isn’t valuable.
Shaylon: A lot of socialist thought I’ve encountered tends to assume a non-Indigenous European cultural default, which is frustrating. I wish socialism would dump the idea that a socialist society would be “business as usual” but with equitable resource distribution. I find this gap especially around ideas about law enforcement and justice. Wayuu culture has a restorative justice system that prioritizes repairing harm over punishment, with the goal of allowing people to move on from whatever went wrong. I’d like to see more talk about what a better justice system would look like and if there could be alternatives to just “punishment” or throwing people in jail.
Donna: It really is hard for me at this time to find any examples why I would disapprove of socialism as a political view.
Ruth: I think the worst thing I notice is something the temptation is that people want a better world so much, that socialists use the methods of capitalism to try and get there, with the excuse that once we create a better world, then they can be kind, or less arrogant, or stop acting like a terrible person” instead of being a human being now.
8. What should be in a vision of a better world?
Carolina: For me, it’s time to learn what my ancestors knew how to do and embrace a simple life: being masterful over the land I have, and in my journey, to expand my knowledge base. I am rejecting man-made modern solutions more and more as time goes on. I choose the simple things. I choose to continue to decolonize myself. We need to be preparing for the coming natural disasters to give the people hope.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” ” Robert A. Heinlein
It means creating safe spaces for progressive discussions with equal representation. It means having an open table for all to come to sit to. It means I should be with the common man on the street as often as possible and not hidden in fear from this world given to me by my Creator.
Shaylon: There needs to be a vision of how nonhuman life fits into our society. Non-human life does a lot of “production” ” making oxygen through photosynthesis, providing food, providing shelter and building materials, cleaning our water” just to name a few. We need to respect the oysters cleaning our water and the plants feeding us as “fellow workers” just as much as humans in a factory or office and they need to be embraced as full members of our society, not just as “resources.”
Donna: One idea is how many different people from other political parties – or people who don’t believe in socialism, most likely will not be open to change emerging from socialist movements.
Ruth: I think we have a long way to go. We have only begun. Believing in the capability of each person can change everything though ” if only we can do that. The rich are not better or superior to the working people of the world in any way. Plus, once people no longer have to struggle so fiercely for the basics like food, housing, and healthcare it will change the nature of everything. Work. Relationships. Family. Hobbies. I think it is going to be so revolutionary we have difficulty imagining it.
9. What does it mean to be “woke?”
Carolina: The best example I can think of is my tea drinking. Where I was born, we have tea time and its black tea with sugar and milk. I started enjoying Chai in my journeys. Once my company built our new building, they put in a Starbucks cafe. I was one of those who had 1 or 2 chai lattes a day. I slowly transitioned back to brewing my own tea with the teabags but it was still Tazo tea (Starbucks owned brand). Then I got into couponing and justified buying from Starbucks because they barely made any profit of me.
I now blend my own organic and fair trade chai and this year I read more about the journey of chai because of my travels to Morocco. In Morocco, they have Berber whiskey which is their version of chai. There are no tea leaves in the blend. It’s a super powerful blend that will knock out anything in your immune system that is brewing. The article explained to me that Chai never included milk, sugar or black tea. India was pressured to add it to the Chai Masala they would brew so Empire had a new market for their milk, sugar and black tea. So, here I am 13 years later realizing about 80% of my Chai tea IS still colonized and my journey has only just begun. I have to constantly reexamine any choice I make and ask myself is it the best. I find myself in love with traveling but an outcast in the traveling groups because I speak out against gentrification and wielding economic power.
Shaylon: To me “woke” means being alert to the systems of unequal power that are at work in our society, and working to dismantle them. This also has to involve being aware of our own biases and areas of ignorance so we can be open to new information about how other people experience the world and how we can be better neighbors to them.
Donna: To me, woke means to be open-minded enough to listen to others’ views on common issues and being open to work out our differences for the better improvement of everyone’s lives, and willing to compromise to get an answer to fix everyday problems.
Ruth: For me, woke means to see the world’s problems and do something. Really see the issues, not just what the mainstream media feeds us. But not just sit and talk about it. Join a group. Do an action. Get into the street. Go on a march. Get real about it in some way. Woke is definitely more than just knowing about issues.
10. How can we get to a world that works for everyone?
Carolina: We can move forward by being honest with ourselves that we benefit from slavery, that harm has been done that must be addressed and healing is needed. It won’t be a state solution that provides this space, it will be a community solution and that is why I believe anarchy is our best choice. I encourage folks to watch the documentary “Schooling the World, the White Man’s Last Burden.” There is value in everything we discover and find. It’s time to enjoy what we find instead of trying to fix it.
Anarchy is not every man running around taking what he wants without consideration; in fact it’s the exact opposite. It’s the weighing of each and every step and action. Constant vigilance and reflection. It’s striving for the highest ideal in all of us while putting no harm and cooperativism as guiding principles.
Shaylon: I think we need to rebuild our kinship, relationships with other humans, and with non-human life. So many Indigenous people have been separated from our peoples and ecosystems, and I think we need to be able to collectively reconnect in order to heal. (When I say kinship it’s obviously not restricted to biology” there are many ways to be kin). There are also lots of non-Indigenous people who desperately need to form those connections from scratch.
The other piece is considering the needs of the most vulnerable first. If we build a society that meets the needs of people who are ill, disabled, poor, or struggling with intergenerational trauma and discrimination, it will meet the needs of those who have more advantages. Doing that means creating a society where everyone is seen as valuable and able to contribute in their own unique way.
Donna: Open to other people’s and/or political views and willing to work out our differences. Great flexibility and willingness to learn from each other to make our world a better place. Have compassion for human life, earth and everything else involved. Thinking outside the box to solve common problems and show less racism, greed, corporate rise and selfishness for everybody’s personal gain. To fight as a whole.
Ruth: I feel we all have to band together and build alliances. Tribes and progressive groups. Different socialist groups. The anarchists and the socialists and even the hardcore Marxists. The independents. Even some of the politically conservative. We all have to make it work together or it will never get done.
About the writers:
Carolina ” over 15 years serving the Fortune 500, Occupy Orlando Organizer, founder of Orlando Light Brigade, concerned homeschooling mom working on growing a food forest.
Shaylon is a statistician, renewables scientist and climate justice organizer with Extinction Rebellion.
Donna is working on ways to advocate on behalf of other families’ social systems, such as dealing with housing issues, jobs, education and special education.
RuthÂ has written two books of poetry, two children’s books, and edited a book of progressive quotes called “Capitalism Must Be Composted.” She is currently writing a novel set in future Seattle after a Socialist revolution” to be available by year’s end.Â