The Paw Paw Wine and Harvest Festival meets Indigenous Resistance
By Monica Padula
Afro-Ojibwe, Saginaw Chippewa
On Sept. 9, 2018, members of the Native American community in Michigan along with allies worked together to present two actions of demonstration to the Paw Paw village community. The actions were intended to target the continued use of the school logo and name, the Paw Paw "Redsk*ns". For the third year in a row, the infamous Wine and Harvest Festival is a large attraction for the village, boasting tours of their St. Julian's Winery, and entertaining the community and those who travel there with guest performers, vendors, and at the end of the festival, a large parade.
The Native American Student Organization was the representative organization that requested and was granted a spot to march during the parade. The org invited Native students, parents, elders, and veterans along with allies to take up space in the parade holding signs and representing Native identity and humanity during the parade walk. There was much silence during that portion of the walk from the audience, with pockets of supporters clapping and cheering. The parallels to the "I am a Man" march of the civil rights period was shown by the signs that read "I am a neighbor", "I am a lawyer", "I am a Grandmother", showing humanity and centering our present-day roles in society that are not represented by a caricatured mascot symbol, picture, or name.
A second action also took place, drawing some criticism due to the quiet nature of how it was planned and carried out. This action was intended to disrupt the ongoing flow of the parade to send the message that we contest the use of the Redsk*n name and demanded respect of the Indigenous people the community attempts to remember, emulate, and "honor" by using the symbols and name. This included two Indigenous women who walked into the parade path and peacefully knelt in the road with our messages printed on signs. One message was "We remember the lynchings, aka 'Redsk*ns'" with the popular hashtag #notyourmascot printed afterwards. The other message read "Respect the Indigenous".
I was one of the two women who disrupted the parade. As a woman of African-American and Ojibwe descent, I hold proud and strong the struggles of my ancestors and the ways we have been forced to endure and resist in keeping our identities intact while societal messages attempt to keep them invisible and the atrocities surrounding their very expressions and existences as things of the past. I am inspired by the Civil Rights movement tactics, to be where we were told we could not be, to stand proudly where we were told we could not stand, and to challenge the oppression that was presented to us as what was best for us and our children. My visiting of the Standing Rock resistance in November of 2016 also showed me that we support the youth and forge a way on our ancestral lands we are told we no longer have the rights to, to push to the very limits to stand with our oppressors in a peaceful yet firm show of our solidarity with our land, its resources, and our rights to be visible.
This action drew yelling, it drew mockery, it drew throwing of candy by a child, it drew police presence that felt anxious but still gave us some due time to move out of the street and complete what we meant to do; force the community to give pause, even for just one minute, to the unity they derived by having a school name and logo that danced on our deaths, our traumas, and our voices being silenced in the past by forced removal and forced assimilation. We are here, we are not silent, we deserve better. As women and mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, we yearn for a future where our children can go to school or play sports without being humiliated by sanctioned antics and chants, words, and stereotyped images that do not represent us as Native people. I was proud to stand in the gap for my children and future grandchildren, and all of those silenced and punished for their identity in the Boarding School Era who are seeking healing from that trauma. I was at peace knowing that our resistance was a sign of respect and a power, and am grateful for all who participated in all ways, with physical presence, prayers, thoughts of support, and recruiting allied resources to help make sure our rights were observed and protected.
Bronson Park Freedom Encampment, Kalamazoo
By Nelly Fuentes
On August 19th, residents of Kalamazoo currently experiencing homelessness resisted a series of proposed city ordinances that would further criminalize homelessness. They began their protest by sleeping at the steps of Kalamazoo City Hall. On the first day of this protest, there were 3 tents put up. A few weeks later, the protest moves a few feet away and settled in Bronson Park. At its peak, there were hundreds of protesters camping at the park.
City commissioner and We The People Michigan regional organizer, Shannon Sykes-Nehring joined the protest after a heated city commission meeting where she asked real questions of accountability to the city commission receiving empty answers. After her statements during commissioner time, she stood up and walked away, joining protesters in Bronson Park. She secured a tent and spent one week at the encampment, helping members of the protest organize.
The City of Kalamazoo continued holding private meetings with housing agencies in the area, elected officials, and members of the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment. They would meet at least once a week without any further progress.
Finally, on September 19th, a month after the protest had ensued, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety dismantled the peaceful protest by setting up a “police zone” perimeter on a public park. Fourteen protesters experiencing homelessness and allies were arrested along with city commissioner Shannon Sykes-Nehring.
The City of Kalamazoo then proceeded to bulldoze tents of protesters as they discarded their only belongings & personal items and donations from the community to the encampment. Once all belongings were removed and discarded, they began a cleansing process that included irrigating the Park’s sidewalk with water and bleach. A grass portion of the park still remains close to this day as part of “reconstructing” the area.
The Bronson Park Freedom Encampment members were displaced and scattered around the city. A group of around 20 members remains together at a volunteer’s home. They continue their fight with the city.
Movimiento Cosecha Michigan Historic Pilgrimage from Grand Rapids to Lansing
BY CHRISTINE MIRANDA, VOLUNTEER ORGANIZER WITH MOVIMIENTO COSECHA
On October 5, a group of more than 50 immigrants and allies from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo began a 60-mile, five-day historic pilgrimage from Grand Rapids to Lansing. The walk concluded with a rally at the Capitol in Lansing on Tuesday, October 9 at 1 p.m. Participants walked an average of 12 miles a day, rain or shine, with the goal of drawing statewide attention to the need for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
According to organizers, walking 60 miles on foot is a public sacrifice that symbolizes the daily experience of an undocumented immigrant in Michigan. For more than 10 years, undocumented immigrants have been unable to obtain or renew a driver’s license, forcing thousands to drive with the fear that that may be stopped by police, detained for not having a license, and even deported and permanently separated from their families.
“Immigrants know the difficulty of not having a license very well,” said Gema Lowe, an undocumented organizer with Movimiento Cosecha GR participating in the pilgrimage. “It’s been our reality for 10 years: walk or drive without a license. We do what is necessary to get to work, take our children to school, and live our lives--often in secret or with shame. Now, with the pilgrimage, we are saying out loud for the first time that we deserve better. With or without papers, immigrants deserve to live without the constant fear of being separated from our families. If we want to make a change, we can’t suffer in silence anymore. We have to show the entire state of Michigan what it is really like to not have a driver’s license.”
“This walk is going to be very physically challenging. We’ll be getting blisters, sleeping in churches, and struggling to keep dry in the rain. I have lived in Michigan for almost 20 years and I’ve never done anything like this before. But immigrant families already make sacrifices every day to put food on the table, to support our children, to survive. This weekend, when my son and I sacrifice, we are making a choice. I am doing it for the ones who came before me and the ones who will come after me, for my family, and for all immigrants in Michigan,” said Nelly Fuentes, a volunteer organizer with Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo and We The People Michigan regional organizer.
The pilgrimage begins at 7:00 pm at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids this Friday and will pass through Lowell, Ionia, and Grand Ledge, ending on Tuesday in Lansing. Walkers include undocumented immigrants, allies, mothers, children, families, community leaders from Kalamazoo, Sturgis, and Grand Rapids. From Kalamazoo, more than a dozen members of the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment will be walking in the pilgrimage alongside Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo. They will be joined by Kalamazoo Commissioner Shannon Sykes-Nehring and her family.
“I am walking to support drivers licenses for undocumented members of our community and also to support the Bronson Park Freedom Encampment. One of the things I love about this is that both groups are walking in solidarity. Cosecha has been a great support to the Bronson Freedom Encampment so now the encampment joins Cosecha. It is beautiful to see folks building solidarity,” said Skyes-Nehring in a statement.
The pilgrimage is a part of a statewide “Licenses for All” campaign led by Cosecha Michigan, immigrants, allies, and other local organizations. To join, you can follow footage of our pilgrimage on Facebook (Movement Cosecha GR and Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo) or at CosechaMichigan.com. The pilgrimage concluded on Tuesday, October 9 at 1 pm at the capitol in Lansing with a Licenses for All rally