By Rachael Lorenzo
Editor’s Note: With this issue of LR Net, we are proud to welcome a new columnist, Rachael Lorenzo. Ms. Lorenzo is the founder of Indigenous Women Rising (IWR), a collective that uplifts indigenous-led community organizing and ensures reproductive justice movements and policies are inclusive of indigenous women and families.
I have been involved in politics for nearly ten years— my entire adult life. When I was a kid, I dreamed of making laws just like the politicians on the weekend news shows. My parents instilled in our family the importance in voting and my father always reminded me that I want to be successful, I must give my time to candidates and issues I care about.
I turned 18 in 2008 and you bet I voted: I proudly cast my vote for Senator Obama. I saw him speak at the University of New Mexico, my alma mater, in October of 2008. I remember running across Johnson Field to get close to the next President. I cried during his whole speech and I remember thinking that if this poor black kid could run to be the President then I, as a queer, indigenous woman, could be anything— maybe even a senator.
As I volunteered more and more time with congressional and senatorial candidates, city councilors, state reps, I became uncomfortably aware that many times, I was the only indigenous person in the room. I did not know many other Native people and I always asked the poor staff person, a person usually under immense pressure and working beyond their means, why are we not talking to urban Natives? We have an Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital, we have First Nations, I’m positive there are Native elected officials somewhere who could help. Why am I not knocking on those doors, calling up my cousins in the dorms, registering voters at the Indian Center?
In 2012, I became a mother and still wanted to be involved in politics. I met Deb Haaland and she encouraged me to keep volunteering. With her help, I was selected to be part of President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, Obama For America, and was recommended for my first paid campaign job in 2013 for the Respect ABQ Women (RAW) campaign— a campaign to defeat a dangerous anti-abortion ballot measure in Albuquerque.
RAW was one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I landed a job I was fulfilled by but again, I was the only Native woman. I also found myself needing an abortion due to fetal abnormalities at thirteen weeks. Everything that was happening helped define what I was passionate about and could not articulate before— Native women deserve access to abortion, quality prenatal and postpartum care, a full range of options in contraception and how to give birth, justice in the tribal, state, and federal court systems, representation in our legislatures, and to be safe in our communities. Native women, queer/Two Spirit people, our elders— we support our communities, we are the backbones of our communities and deserve a healthy life just like you because we are human.
What I have learned about politics is this: decolonize it. Stop using Indigenous communities as an “interest group” for you to go visit a few weeks before election day, to solicit donations from tribal council. It was the founding of this democratic republic and the all it encompasses that forced tribal communities into participating in very paternalistic systems of governance. Many tribes cannot pass tribal constitutions without permission from the Department of the Interior. We must almost always involve the Department of Justice in our court systems. In some states across the country, the federal government passed on their trust responsibilities to the state to oversee Indian affairs, thus having jurisdiction on reservations. Before this country was founded, before colonization, we knew how to govern ourselves effectively. But the generational trauma of relocation, starvation, disease, assimilation, boarding schools, the forcible taking of Native children to white families off the reservation, inadequate healthcare, have had direct impact on the “social mobility” of Native families in our capitalistic, imperialistic, democratic republic.
What can you do stop that cycle? Readreadreadread. Read books by Native authors, not books by white people about Native people. Understand how the Indian Affairs Committee works in your state legislature. ALWAYS include urban and rural Natives in community organizing, politics, and outreach strategies. Demand that candidates who could potentially represent Native people reach out to Native groups, activists, families, students, schools— we are here, we have always been here, and we will not be erased. Reflect on the ways you perpetuate stereotypes and uphold the White Savior complex. We do not need you to save us. We need you to share your resources with us and allow us to lead the work. We need you to believe us when we say there is a better way to protect our water, land, and air. Believe our men, women, and children when we say have been assaulted and do not know where to turn. Call out your friends and family when they call us Redskins, drunks, make war whoops, put on a headdress. Remember this: if it is about us but does not include us, it is not for us.
We cannot ever hope to be the resistance to 45 administration if we continuously leave out our Indigenous people while calling yourselves our allies. We do not need allies. We need accomplices. What lengths will you go to ensure that the resistance against a racist, xenophobic, sexist, rapist with the intelligence that can be measured on a teaspoon, is part of the vision we have for a better country?
I am a queer, Native woman. I prefer for you to refer to me by my Indigenous identities: I am a Mescalero Apache, Laguna Pueblo, and Xicana woman. I am a mother to two kids, and a strong Laguna Pueblo man’s wife.