In Solidarity, Justice and Freedom
June 26, 2020

In Solidarity, Justice and Freedom

Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota) and Carlton Turner share heart thoughts on current events and how the Intercultural Leadership Institute allows them to embrace shared experiences and interdependence.

In response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others before them, and the nationwide protests over the past few weeks, I find myself, as many of us, experiencing a full range of emotions from outrage, anger, and grief to an overwhelming empathy for each of the families who have lost their loved ones.

It has also spurred me to reflect on the work across communities of color that I’ve done for three decades and the numerous experiences when I’ve engaged in deep conversations on racism in America. One of my early experiences was in 1992. I joined Tia Oros Peters, Executive Director and Chris Peters, President, of the Seventh Generation Fund at an anti-racism workshop, Undoing Racism, presented by the Peoples Institute on Race which today has become one of the most reputable coalition-building anti-racism organizations directly addressing structural and historic racism in America. I had limited knowledge of how large a part government policies have played in the systemic racism imposed upon Black communities, some of which were already thriving. At the time, it was a struggle for me to hear a narrative that did not include Native peoples, because we too had been deeply impacted by destructive policies and my own family had been affected.

As one example, the Urban Relocation Program that began in the 1950's was designed to remove Native peoples from our homelands and to assimilate us into mainstream society. My parents were uprooted and sent to Dallas, Texas where they were promised housing and employment, but when they got there they were left on their own in the middle of an urban city. My mother recalls when she was homesick she would sit on the steps of a Black Baptist church and listen to their choir sing, as a way to bring herself some comfort.  

Twenty some years after the Undoing Racism workshop, I found myself in the Peoples Institute training again, as part of an arts and social justice working group. While engaging in a critical analysis on systemic racism in America, I was again confronting my personal struggles -- what seemed to me was the repeated invisibility of our 574 Tribal Nations who are still here, many of whom still remain in their own territories. My reaction was to stand strong in my own identity, my Lakota values and my own reality on the topic of race.

Fast forward to 2016 when First Peoples Fund joined with Alternate Roots, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture Organization and the PA’I Foundation to launch the Intercultural Leadership Institute (ILI). (ILI translates to “skin” in the Hawaiian language.) The common experience that brought us together was that as leaders within our own organizations, we repeatedly found ourselves in spaces where we were faced with having to fit into mainstream white organizational models of sustainability. Built on a foundation of trust, ILI allowed us to embrace our shared experiences and interdependence. While each leading our respective organizations, it was an important time for us to create a mutually-shared space, not only for critical analysis and action, but one in which we could build upon our collective intellectual and cultural knowledge.  

Over the past few years I have started to acknowledge that even in trusted spaces like ILI, I have felt a tension between my Black peers and American Indians, especially on the topic of Anti-Blackness. I’ve come to recognize that, while holding on to my Lakota values and my concerns around invisibility and erasure of Native peoples, I have become shortsighted in acknowledging the reality of Anti-Blackness and how pervasive it is.

As I continue to grow and learn, I am reminded of the words of my brother, First Peoples Fund board member and founding ILI partner, Carlton Turner from Utica, Mississippi that he shared at ILI Lakota in 2018. “When Native Americans pray and smudge and they speak in their language, it is very apparent that it is not from the mainstream. Yet when Black folks sing those are the same songs and language of the oppressor. Our rituals and our ceremony are not seen as ceremony because they didn’t come in the same types of packages.”

Carlton is speaking his truth when he talks about Black peoples’ loss of connection to their languages and African roots making it easier for others to discount their rituals and ceremonies as sacred.  Today, I have come to challenge my own biases and will make it my practice to honor and respect their sacred spaces as much as I do my ancestral homelands. The blood of each of our ancestors is rooted in these lands. Their ancestors survived slavery in America and through prayer and song they were given hope, faith and remained resilient even in the darkest times.  

Although we are in a dark time in America, I have faith that First Peoples Fund and our ILI partners will hold ourselves accountable to our Black brothers and sisters across this nation.  We must lift each other up and be the good relative that our Ancestors would expect of us.

First Peoples Fund was founded on the principle of Collective Spirit, “That which moves each one of us to stand up and make a difference, to pass on ancestral knowledge and simply extend a hand of generosity.” It is time that we extend a hand in humility and of shared resilience and stand with our Black relatives in the fight for freedom and justice.

—Lori Pourier

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1. Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota), First Peoples Fund President 2. Carlton Turner, First Peoples Fund Board member

For the first time in my memory the nation paused for a moment on Friday, June 19, 2020 to celebrate Juneteenth, the day the last group of enslaved people of African descent in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom. However, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, more than two years before this date. The fact that Juneteenth is even a thing is an appropriate metaphor for the delayed freedom that African Americans have experienced under this government. This delayed justice is demonstrated in many facets of American history. It is a hallmark to the concept of separate and unequal, a foundational principle that stains the very fabric of American ideas. This delay allowed a constitution that states that all men are created equal to be written by white slaveholders that considered African descendants to be three-fifths of a person and considered our Indigenous family to be godless savages.

White supremacy contaminated the root of the American experiment from the very beginning. A plant growing in such circumstances is unable to produce healthy fruit. What we see today in the streets of Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta is not the response to the murders of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Amaud Aubrey as an isolated or series of events. What we are seeing is the response to the death of the ideathat the possibility of freedom and justice could ever be attainable in the country’s current configuration. People are protesting because they have lost all hope in the system to be able to correct itself. They are now placing their faith in people, regular people like their neighbors and friends.

This moment is a confluence of a global pandemic, one that is adversely impacting Black and Indigenous communities; an economic crisis that is further widening the wealth gap between Black, brown communities and our white counterparts; and a rise in extrajudicial police killings of Black people. Things are dire, so much so that my son, a 2020 college graduate asked me, “Is this the beginning of the end of the world?”

I answered with a resounding yes and, well, no.

Yes, this moment marks the ending of the world as we knew it pre-COVID. A world that just accepts oppression and injustice as the norm. And no, the world will continue. I tell him, here is the caveat, we have the opportunity to shape what comes next. Our ability or inability to work together to build new systems and structures based on values of love and reciprocity, or not, will determine the world that you raise your children in.

In order for us to build the world we deserve we have to build on a foundation of trust. The type of trust that has led to multi-cultural coalitions like the Intercultural Leadership Institute. The type of trust that is founded on mutual respect, global indigenous knowledge, cultural competency, and a willingness to lean into our growing edges together. It is this trust that extended me an invitation to become a First People’s Fund board member. The same trust has brought me, time and time again, to the Lakota ancestral lands to break bread with Lori and her family. It is this trust that has allowed us to strategize for more than a decade on how to advance Indigenous sovereignty and anti-racist worldviews to the US cultural sector.  

The work Lori and I do together is part of our commitment to each other. Our commitments to each other are deeply tied to our individual commitments to our families and a deep respect for the legacy of liberation that we were each born into. I consider my work with First People’s Fund to be more than board service. I consider the work done in FPF’s name a practicum in the liberation of my own family and community. The work we do together is not theoretical, our lives literally hang in the balance.

—Carlton Turner

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ILI leaders, left to right: Vicky Holt-Takamine, PA'I Foundation Executive Director; Michelle Ramos, Alternate ROOTS Executive Director; María DeLeón, National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures President & CEO; Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota) First Peoples Fund President; and Carlton Turner Mississippi Center for Cultural Production Executive Director.
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