“Too many aspiring and active white allies think racial justice is about diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism. It’s not. It’s about overthrowing power that benefits you disproportionately and often exclusively. Are you ready to sacrifice access, entitlement and innocence.” Araya Baker-therapist, educator, writer and activist. (@ihategender)
Multiple readings of this tweet from Araya Baker are needed by some organizations and people in Boise before realizing who is taking up space, however well-meaning, when they should stand aside and support. Baker uses racial justice as a starting point but it meets a spectrum call for allies that claim to stand with underrepresented groups.
In the greater Boise area, we have seen and heard of countless allies willing to stand with groups as they seek to have a voice. We have also seen countless others stand in place of those groups seeking to have a voice, shifting the focus to their own misguided efforts, be they indigenous issues, diet shaming, LGBTQ2S or the houseless. While we have the can-do spirit of Idaho’s past, sometimes we need to refocus our own temerity and step aside to let others better-suited tackle the issues.
In October of 2016, a group of like minded indigenous activists came together to create the first march to support those standing against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. The group was made up of local indigenous people who have occupied space in various conversations and communities but had been fairly content to stick to their own roads in relation to getting involved in bigger issues. As the issue in North Dakota careened forward, it became evident that a group would have to be formed to make sure that any protest or support activity in the Boise area was led by indigenous people and not well-meaning supporters or allies. The reality of the situation is that most of us have already been party to or experienced nullification by well-meaning white supporters who felt it was their duty to “stand up for the oppressed.” Which brings us to Araya Baker’s previously mentioned call out tweet of (white) activists.
As long as there is one voice to speak to their mistreatment, that voice should be listened to with the same fervor and rapt respect as a nation of thousands crying out.
According to the 2010 census the Treasure Valley is home to more than 5,000 people who claim some sort of indigenous heritage and the number is probably far greater than that. There are groups of “urban” Indigenous people that have been meeting regularly for longer than 40 years. There is at least one pow wow a year that brings local indigenous people together. Yet, the first time that an indigenous-centric conference was held in the Boise Valley, it originated from a predominantly Euro-centric group that holds to the idea they are supportive of the indigenous population. Their paternalistic modus only belies the reality that of the indigenous people asked to speak, help out, or be involved—none had ownership of the conference, let alone felt safe to speak out against the organizers, especially on issues that seemed detrimental to the conference planning.
Fast forward a year and the organizers of the conference have started their planning, deeming the previous year a success, by writing for monies from the City of Boise. In doing so, they used the names of indigenous leaders that had been involved without their permission, in a very paternalistic move. This by very definition is proxy activism and really has no place in Boise or in activism. For many years organizations in the Boise area have been allowed to run roughshod in most cases without tempering from the very groups they claim to represent.
This needs to stop, and brings up an issue that needs to be addressed by those who consider themselves “doing good” for disadvantaged people. Organizations and individual activists need to ask themselves, “Have we become gatekeepers? Are we prioritizing work that could be done by activists most affected the problem? Is the work we do and in the manner we do it, actually a hinderance?” Paternalism and proxy activism are best left in the past, as we continue to strive to a future for all of us.
In that spirit, we, the Indigenous Idaho Alliance, respectfully ask that organizations and individuals who claim to organize on behalf of underrepresented groups, and in particular indigenous/Native American/American Indian groups, please reassess and evaluate your efforts in respect to the groups you serve.
The Indigenous Idaho Alliance is a collective of organizers from various tribes and indigenous groups. They are based in the occupied territories of the Numu and Nume peoples. You can find them on Facebook.