How White Feminists Fail As Native Allies In The Trump Era

Credit: Jen Deerinwater
When will those supposedly committed to equality started caring about and listening to Native Women?

Ihave been trying to write about what it means to be a Native Woman in white, colonized, feminist spaces before this election cycle even began. Since Trump was awarded the presidency, this task has only become more challenging.

Trying to find the words to describe such complexities as colonization and its connection to the fabric of American (or as I call it, ameriKKKan) “rights” that the feminist movement fights for is difficult. How do I accurately describe my reality to white women who often don’t even realize my people are still here and are struggling for not just our legal rights, but for the right to literally live?

How do I properly describe to white women that their values are killing us?

Since November’s election, the discourse surrounding women’s rights, feminism, and oppression has reached meteoric heights. The nationwide women’s marches broke records for protester turnout, political petitions and campaigns abound, and more major Hollywood stars are getting involved in activism than ever. One might think, in light of this new era of political action and awareness, that those who are supposedly committed to justice and equality would have started caring about and listening to Native Women. In reality, however, while many white women have been reawakened by Trump to their plight, they’re no more racially woke now than before. Despite the lip service paid to racial justice, their behavior reeks of arrogance and colonizer privilege.

How do I properly describe to white women that their values are killing us?

At the women’s march in DC, Madonna proclaimed — after being introduced by the notoriously racist Amy Schumer — that “It took us this uniquely dark moment to wake the fuck up.” But this is not a uniquely dark moment in ameriKKKa, and many of us were already woke. This nation was built upon, and maintains itself upon, the genocide of Native People. And while Native Women bear the brunt of this abuse, white feminists — our so-called allies — continue not only to erase and appropriate us, but to be outright condescending and aggressive.

The Failure Of ‘Feminism’

I once strongly identified as a feminist, but the hypocrisy of the feminist movement has pushed me away. My people, the Tsalagi, never needed feminism before white, christian men invaded our lands. We were matrilineal and matriarchal. Our women had power, safety, and love. It is only as a result of white invasion that feminism is supposedly needed; that is, ameriKKKan feminism is merely one more way in which the white settlers have forced themselves upon us. Native Women no more need feminism than we need colonialism and christianity.

Moreover, white feminists seem only to remember us when they want to appropriate and misconstrue our pre-colonizer ways — which placed balance between the genders and instilled respect for our women — for their own ends. Or, when white women want to feel like a special snowflake, they make false claims to our tribes, as Blake Lively and Senator Warren have done.

At the same time, these same white feminists expect us to be eternally thankful that they signed a petition or took valuable resources away from us by sitting on their privileged asses at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) resistance camps.

Far too many white women think that having worn a white pant suit to vote for Hillary abstains them from being destructive to other women. In reality, however, it proves that they place their rights above those of Indigenous and other marginalized women. Some white women even go so far as to condescendingly tell those of us who knew Hillary was our enemy that we were to blame for Trump’s victory.

The unique horrors and marginalization that Native Women face — from the highest rates of violence and incarceration within the colonized borders of the U.S., to lack of access to healthcare or legal means to pursue justice — make such condescension and lack of allyship even more unconscionable.

Violations And Violence

Settler colonialism has brought innumerable ills to Turtle Island. Because we are the bringers of life, our women have been targeted for centuries by the white man in order to kill us off. This dynamic has not ceased since the 15th century, as painfully discussed by Tami Truett Jerue, Director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, at a congressional briefing in February. She relayed at the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center’s (NIWRC) panel that Alaskan Natives comprised only 16% of the total state population, yet Alaskan Native Women make up 28% of the total murders in Alaska.

Jerue spoke of how the women in her family would sit at the kitchen table discussing the missing and murdered women they knew. This is an all too common conversation among Indigenous Women — and one I’ve never experienced with white women.

Settler colonialism has brought innumerable ills to Turtle Island.

Further, resource extraction not only pollutes our lands and bodies, but also brings more white men to our lands to abuse us, as well as drugs that eat at the fabric of our communities. Jade Begay, Diné and Tesuque Pueblo, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told me during a recent meeting that due to the fracking, coal, and mining projects on Diné land, many of her cousins and family members are unable to run or exercise outside by themselves given the high threat of abuse: They’re afraid of being assaulted or going missing.

And these are not isolated issues. Native Women suffer the highest rates of violence of any racial group in the U.S., with about 56.1% of Native experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime.

Moreover, due to the ruling in the SCOTUS case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, we are unable to prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes on our land, and as such, we cannot protect ourselves from white invaders. And despite the Department of Justice acknowledging that crime rates experienced by Native communities are two and half times greater than the general population’s, the federal government often fails to investigate any crimes reported. This is in part due to systemic bias, and in part due to Public Law 280, which placed some tribal nations under state law enforcement control.

On top of this, states do not receive federal funds to police tribal lands, and so they rarely give additional law enforcement coverage to reservations. And when such law enforcement coverage is provided, the abuse these officers have perpetuated against Native People over the years has prevented any kind of trust that justice will be served — not to mention that crimes committed against Native Women are rarely investigated.

These and other jurisdictional issues unjustly created by the federal government have led to a complicated bureaucratic fiasco, which many of us fear will worsen in the age of Trump. Not only has he restarted construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, but his signing of HJ Resolution 44 — which places the control of federal lands back into the hands of states, cutting down decision-making time concerning the use of federal lands — further threatens Native land and autonomy.

The violence Native People face is not new — and it didn’t take Trump to make us woke and fight back. We’ve been fighting for the rights of all women since 1492. However, the same can’t be said for white women.

The Glaring Absence Of White ‘Allyship’

While white women are quick to rally against the injustices in rape cases where they’ve been or can see themselves being abused and experiencing institutional oppression — such as Brock Turner’s — they go silent when it comes to the violation of Native Women. When I’ve repeatedly raised the issue of the horrifically high rates of violence against Native Women I have either been ignored by the mainstream feminist organizations, such as Ultraviolet and the National Organization of Women, or have been told that we are somehow responsible for our assaults. A colonizer/“feminist” tweeted to me that if the abuse on our reservations were so high, why didn’t we just leave? This statement is ignorant and insulting. As if we should give up what’s left of our lands. As if the abuse we suffer is in our control, and as such, our fault. By this logic white women should stop attending college so they’re less likely to be raped.

We’ve been fighting for the rights of all women since 1492. However, the same can’t be said for white women.

Her statement also overlooked that the overwhelming majority of us are urban-based thanks to the U.S. government’s termination and relocation policies. Such policies stole even more of our lands and culture, and lowered our numbers in the eyes of the government so they had “less responsibility” to financially maintain our programs, honor treaties, and properly manage our trusts and lands, pushing us into urban poverty.

Not to mention that urban-based Native Women still experience devastating rates of violence at the hands of white men and the state. My home of Oklahoma, for instance, was once known as Indian Territory. We were removed by the ameriKKKan military from our ancestral homeland to Indian Territory in the 1800s. Today, it has the second-highest Native population in the U.S. — and yet, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, my nation, doesn’t have a reservation. Despite my not living on a reservation, I’ve been raped several times by white men. And sexual assault-related resources are yet another area where Native Women face massive obstacles.

We are also the most likely racial group denied post-rape care in the U.S. There are 17,000 rape crisis centers in the U.S. and less than five that serve Native Women. The Indian Health Services (IHS) is often the only health care we have access to, and there is rarely anyone on staff who can perform a rape exam with the necessary rape kit. And if a rape kit is performed, then it’s almost never processed.

As white feminist organizations have dissected various iterations of the AHCA for its many failings on women’s health, they have yet to highlight the impact it will have on Native communities. The Indian Healthcare Improvement Act (IHIA) has a continual renewal process under the American Care Act (ACA). If the ACA is repealed, all the life-saving funds the IHIA gives to the Indian Health Service (IHS) could be lost. The IHS hospital in Eaglebutte, South Dakota, which serves the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation, has already been hit with a $4.1 billion cut from the federal government. This will hurt our women even more and quite possibly lead to higher rates of death, but, again, this doesn’t seem to be a concern for white feminists.

Unique Threats In The Era Of Trump

I spend — and have for a long time spent — much of my time reminding white feminists that they are blanketed in privilege not only as white people, but as settlers. I expend a great deal of my finite energy being expected to educate these privileged darlings — for free no less — on how to be “whole people” as they infer that we’re “primitive” and have no right to call them out on their racism.

And despite this new era of “resistance,” political awakening, and feminism, nothing has changed. In fact, this toxic dynamic was perhaps no more pointedly on display than in the heart of the feminist resistance: at the Women’s March in D.C. On that day, groups of Indigenous Women gathered to have our collective voices heard. The Indigenous Women Rise contingent had only Native speakers and prayers to our ancestors; we marched together for representation and visibility — or, at least, we attempted to have our own space. One white woman after another pushed her way through our group, repeatedly ignoring our cries that we were marching together. I, as did many other Native Women, lost the larger group.

Despite Trump’s even higher threat to our survival, white women wouldn’t even allow us space for one day on our own land.

On top of that, the comments that many of us received from these feminists were as vile as the hate that Trump himself spews. One Muskogee Creek Woman from Oklahoma took to Twitter to describe her experience of white women at the D.C. Women’s March claiming they were “an Indian today” or that we “did not look like Indians” and were “pretending” — the very words that Trump used to described the Mashantucket Pequots when attempting to steal their economic livelihood in 1993. After describing this experience she was inundated with racist, colonizing replies from white feminists.

The comments that many of us received from these feminists were as vile as the hate that Trump himself spews.

The New York Times review of the Women’s March was no more enlightening. Emma-Kate Symons’ article proved that, once again, white women simply don’t get it — nor do they care to: “Can’t we rise above the sniping about ‘privilege,’ ‘white feminism,’ ‘intersectionality,’ and hierarchies of grievance in the face of Trump and the dangers he poses to the American and international liberal world order and women everywhere?”

To be frank with you, Emma-Kate, no we can’t. Yes, Trump is dangerous to all women, but the Democrats are also dangerous to us and have already inflicted great harm. They support resource extraction and the prison industrial complex, and have no understanding nor concern for Native sovereignty. Furthermore, many wouldn’t even stand by Native Women in Standing Rock as we were being assaulted by the primarily white men law enforcement officers and Energy Transfer Partners hired goons. DAPL, and many other resource extraction projects, began under the Obama administration.

Where were all these white women while we were being maced, tear gassed, hosed down in subzero temperatures, shot, maimed, mutilated, and sexually assaulted in the jails? Did this abuse mean less because a Democrat was in the White House? Did it mean less because it’s just us Indians and we’re all “pretending” anyway?

Even when white women attempt to show allyship with women of color, they still get it wrong. Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance was a perfect example of this. Her performance of the Woody Guthrie song, “This Land is Your Land,” was unacceptable. The fact that white people believe they have any right to decide who comes onto this land, Indigenous land, is settler colonialism. The fact that this performance was at an NFL event — an organization that has profited off the racist characterization of Native People — only makes it more despicable.

Did this abuse mean less because a Democrat was in the White House?

Now that white women are truly feeling the wrath of the ameriKKKan government, they care about women’s rights. Now that it’s their pussies being grabbed, they care about women’s rights. Now that they see the majority of leaders as a threat to their lives, they care. The problem is that they only care about a small segment of women: They only care about the most privileged of women, and will obtain their rights at the expense of the rest of us.

The activism they pursue — while ignoring all critiques and pleas from Native Women and other marginalized communities — makes it very clear what feminism is to them. Crushing colonialism and standing with Native Women are clearly still not on their agenda.

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