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Crybaby I SURVIVE, I SURVIVE: THIS IS RESISTANCE

Oct. 8, 2018
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Zoe Yu Gilligan interviews some of her favorite Indigenous artists and activists about resistance, survival, resilience, identity, and indigeneity. 

MALIA GEE WAI HULLEMAN

Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Indigenous Hawaiian), Chinese, Irish, Scottish, French.

Based in Kahaluʻu, Oʻahulua.

I am a poet, a storyteller, a human.

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you? 

MALIA: Resistance is confidence. Knowing very well the knowledge gifted to you shall never be questioned, but utilized with gratitude and acceptance, humbly of course. 

Resistance seems to have an eternal connection braided with the word “survival.” What do you think about this relationship? 

MALIA: Survival and resistance hold their own waters. Survival is mindfully perpetuating because it must take place. Resistance happens purely because of each breath you take and give. 

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

MALIA: Young Natives. Keep smiling. Keep learning and growing. Never ever be ashamed of who you are and what your ancestors have given you. Like you, they made mistakes—they went on journeys, they lived. So do just that, with confidence and courage. Because one day, you too will be an ancestor. Live what will be told of you. 

NOʻU REVILLA

Aloha pumehana. ʻO Noʻukahauʻoli Revilla koʻu inoa. No nā wai ʻehā mai au. He Hawaiʻi au.

My name is Noʻu Revilla and my preferred pronouns are she/her. I am an Indigenous queer-femme-creative based in Hawaiʻi.

Born on Maui, living/loving/creating on Oʻahu.

The blood and bones I belong to:

Kanaka ʻŌiwi (Indigenous Hawaiian) from my mother and father’s families: Maui, Kauaʻi.

Māʻohi (Tahitian), maternal grandfather: Papeʻete.

Visayan, paternal grandfather: Cebu.

German, maternal grandmother: Karlsruhe.

To poetry, education, and community building. I commit my blood and bones.

Writing poetry to the bone. Because our bones matter.

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you?

NOʻU: When we are given the choice to survive or to thrive, resistance is the audacity to claim both futures. At once a technology of survival and a collective practice of healing and thriving, resistance is what happened/what happens/what will keep happening when we harness intergenerational mana. From our ancestors to our peers to our moʻopuna to come, resistance is piko power activated.

Resistance seems to have an eternal connection braided with the word “survival.” What do you think about this relationship? 

NOʻU: We need to talk about the difference between strategies we need to survive and strategies we need to heal. In my own life, it has been a tender but necessary process to distinguish between the defensive postures my body and spirit took to protect myself and my community from trauma and triggers and the vastness, the opening, the ea I needed to learn to transform, to be more than my wounds.

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

NOʻU: Nānā ka maka; hoʻolohe ka pepeiao; paʻa ka waha.

This ʻōlelo noʻeau (Hawaiian proverb) is often translated as: “Observe with the eyes, listen with the ears, and shut the mouth.” Communication is dimensional. Yet many non-Native people, even well-intentioned allies, often prioritize one mode of communication: speaking for us, speaking at us, speaking over us. No one can learn by talking all the time. Watch and listen. Act as if you really believe we have something to teach you. We do.  As my hoa Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada told the world, “We live in the future. Come join us.”

FRANK WALN

Sicangu Lakota. He/him/his pronouns.  

Based on Turtle Island.

Hip-Hop artist, music producer, audio engineer, and storyteller. 

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you? 

FRANK: Being alive as an Indigenous person in a colonial world built on our genocide alone is an act of resistance. I believe every Indigenous person alive, from the water protectors on the front lines to my cousin in a federal prison for drugs, is resisting, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Resistance seems to have an eternal connection braided with the word “survival.” What do you think about this relationship? 

FRANK: Throughout my life, I’ve survived places and situations where I had totally given up on not only myself but on life entirely. Somehow, I survived. I don’t believe we need to be doing what we’re told is actively “resisting” in order to survive. To me, survival is about listening to your spirit and ancestors, because they will tell you what it takes to survive and sometimes that’s just getting through the day. We’re Indigenous—survival was built into our coding as Nations long before settler-colonialism reached our lands. 

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

FRANK: If we truly want to decolonize, non-Natives need to give us back our land and leave us alone. We can survive and take care of ourselves. We don’t need saviors, interventions, outside solutions, colonial governments, or people with Native fetishes. The roots of our survival and health lie within our communities and are tied to our ancestors. Give the land back to respective Indigenous Nations and remove all the colonial laws and barriers built to keep us in a state of death and destruction. 

CHIEF LADY BIRD

Chippewa and Potawatomi. She/her pronouns. 

Based between Tkaronto (Toronto) and Rama First Nation.

I am an artist who draws about Indigenous empowerment. My mediums are illustration, painting, street art, community-based murals, youth workshops, and some textile and mixed media work.

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you? What do you think about its relationship to the word “survival”?

CHIEF LADY BIRD: In my opinion, resistance is necessary to the accurate and authentic telling of our stories. As an artist, I activate my own resistance through visual culture; whenever I create imagery, I tell my own stories of survival—Indigenous self-expression that tells a story about our active presence in the world—and assert sovereignty over my body and lived experiences. This is a form of resistance and resilience because one of the main goals of colonization was to sever our connections to our bodies, to the land, and to each other. An important part of my practice is illustrating Indigenous erotica, which is steeped in teachings of decolonial love: dismantling toxic masculinity, understanding gender and sexual fluidity, and exploring masturbation as an act of self love. As an Indigenous womxn, my existence is political but it is also pure love—it is through the love of my ancestors and my community that I am able to thrive—and by expressing this to the world, I am able to contribute to the creation of safer communities for our youth and future generations. For me, resistance encompasses love in all its forms, and the ability to mobilize and find ways to fight and protect our children, our stories, our identities, the water, the land, our bodies, our homes; all of which are integral to our survival as individuals and communities. 

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

CHIEF LADY BIRD: Non-Native people need to understand the immense diversity of Indigenous people. Our nations, languages, stories, and experiences are not homogenous and the media has worked tirelessly to ensure that the general population has a skewed perception of who we are, often creating a one-dimensional view of indigeneity as a caricature of who we really are, taking away from our beauty, resilience, and strength. Also, a word of advice would be to purchase art and craft items from authentic sources to ensure that Indigenous people profit directly, as opposed to supporting appropriated imagery and items. Cultural appropriation is really harmful and it helps if non-Native people do their research and connect with our community directly!

ERICA PURRUQ KHAN

I am of the Iñupiaq Nation of the so-called state of Alaska, with Pakistani/South Asian heritage as well. Preferred pronouns are she/her. I like men and womxn, but I’m still on the journey of self-discovery and haven’t identified with anything just yet.

My home is Utqiaġvik. My ancestors have called this place many names, such as: “a place to gather foods,” or edibles, or “a place to eat snowy owls,” depending on who you ask.

I just recently graduated with my Bachelor's in Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Often times, when people think of the term “Ethnic Studies,” they think ethnic, and people of color and their history, but it's so much more. Ethnic Studies is my own history—it's my story of survival, from all of the different colonial traumas my peoples had to endure on both ends of the world. Ethnic Studies is decolonization, and being in that department during the years of most growth in my college life, I have learned to use my creative ideas with it, such as learning how to #dresstotell with decolonizing my wardrobe, and painting, sketching, and how all of these interconnect in my life as an Indigenous person.

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you? 

ERICA: 

Resistance to me,

Is re-learning our way of life. 

When our ancestors were forced 

To think it was evil and savagery,

By outsiders and missionaries.

I've learned our way of life

Is real resistancy. 


Resistance to me 

Is revitalizing our tattoos 

Back to our raw skin 

And not caring what colonizers have to think. 


Resistance to me 

Is an everyday thing.

Resistance is survival 

And everything in between. 


Resistance is consistent.

It's everything colonizers thought we couldn't be. 

Resistance is our way of life.

Resistance. It's been consistent. 

Thousands of years of resistance. 

And we're still here. 

Resistance.

Resistance seems to have an eternal connection braided with the word “survival.” What do you think about this relationship? 

ERICA: 

Survival, is in my veins. 

Survival, is the ancestors inside of me. 

Survival, is all that I can pass down from me. 

Survival, is knowledge and proof. 

Survival, is my community. 

Survival, is life. 

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

ERICA: The most important factor of being non-Native, or an ally, is knowing your positionality. Positionality matters wherever you are, whoever you are with, and should be thought of almost consistently. Positionality is knowing where you stand, and with knowing where you stand, you know two important steps: 1) when to step forward and 2) when to step back. 

My kumu, my mentor in Hawaiʻi, taught me a very important lesson one day in our Native Hawaiian Sovereignty in the Pacific class. He used the example of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain who has been pressured in the recent decade to build a 30 meter telescope (approx. 13 stories tall) in the center of their sacred mountain. He said words that I believe will resonate with me for some time, but can be useful for anyone who is an ally in Indigenous communities: 

“I am from Maui. I'm not going to go to Mauna Kea and speak on behalf of the people of Mauna Kea first. People living near Mauna Kea are going to speak first. People living on Hawaiʻi (Big Island) are going to speak, and then the surrounding islands, and Native Hawaiians, and people thereafter. That's how it should be. Those who are taking care of the land itself should speak first, and their cousins, and friends who care to speak on that land come right after." 

I've learned that respecting the land, and the first caretakers of that land, has reminded me of my positionality and where I stand. Once I know where I stand, I can assert myself better, and that's what I hope allies and non-Natives can respectfully do on behalf of Indigenous peoples everywhere. Quyanaq.

ALAINA AFLAGUE ARROYO

Chamoru (Chamorro/Indigenous of Guåhan [Guam]), Borinqueña (Puerto Rican), and Xicana (Mexican). She/her pronouns.

Currently living on Ohlone land, otherwise known as San Francisco. 

I am currently a senior at the University of San Francisco, pursuing my undergrad in Ethnic Studies and Sociology. I am heavily involved with my cultural club on campus titled the “Pacific Islander Collective,” which is an organization aimed to create a safe space for Native Pacific Islanders to accurately represent the Pasifika community. I am also an intern with a non-profit organization titled “San Francisco Rising”, which aims to promote policy change in lower-income communities of color in San Francisco, and create a more just and equitable environment for Black and Brown communities in a city with increased gentrification and displacement. I am incredibly passionate about what makes my identity and the identities of those who I am close to. I am mixed-race and part of the diaspora, which has molded how I view myself and how I view the lands that I am Indigenous to, while also keeping in mind my position of being a settler to stolen Indigenous land(s). I dedicate my lifetime to protecting my motherlands that struggle under United States colonialism and imperialism. I am a lifelong learner who strives for what decolonization and indigenization are for me, in the midst of healing and re-defining and reclaiming what it means to be Indigenous to multiple regions of the world, in the presence of toxic white supremacy.

As an Indigenous person, a living testament to the resilience of your ancestors, what does the word “resistance” mean to you? 

ALAINA: Resistance to me is pure existence. I believe that maintaining the consciousness of our identities grounds who we are and what our purpose is, and that is also a form of resistance because we maintain the centering of who we are and where we come from and what we have endured. I use the collective term “we” because of the resistance and the resilience that generations before me have experienced and practiced, which is what allows me to be here today and continue the work that they have done. I say “we” because the pain and traumas, and even the connections and relationships that my people and I have with our lands, cultures, and histories, are translated and passed down to future generations and beyond. Resistance to me is talking to my elders; it is keeping our stories alive and visible, and making sure that we continue to talk about our history and struggle with each other and to those who have yet to be born. By maintaining visibility, we are telling our oppressors, colonizers, and even settlers that this is who we are and this is who we have been and this is who we are going to continue to be.

What do you think non-Natives need to know about the Indigenous community, about what it really means to be you?

ALAINA: I believe that non-Natives must prioritize the position and the rights of Native people, especially if they are occupants of that Indigenous land. It is important to honor the identities and the communities that are within those spaces, but one must always take into account how to be a positive and productive supporter and ally to those who are Native to the land, and what rights they are working toward within their ancestral land(s).

Chamoru Proverb

Famoksaiyan. Na'lå'la'. Fanohge.

“A time to nurture, heal, and paddle forward. To give voice. To rise.”

Illustrations by Sendra Uebele

Article from the Resist/Revolt Issue, buy the print issue here