TRIGGER WARNING: Very sensitive topics like rape, incarceration and murder discussed in this episode.
INTRO: Hello, deep thinkers, this is your host Agrita and welcome to Mind Full of Everything, the podcast that questions the deeper and bigger things in life, from intersectional environmentalism to self-development and everything else in between.
In this episode, I talk to the wonderful Desiree Kane, an American indigenous woman who uses her expertise in multimedia journalism to tackle the ongoing struggles and challenges faced by native American communities. In this single interview, Desiree teaches us about the dangers of changing narrative and sugar coating the traumatic experiences of the indigenous through heavily relying on mainstream media to find out about the disregard of these communities. Through her various journalism projects, such as directing the Pollen magazine, developing a media making program for Guyanese youth and being at the forefront of conflicts, Desiree emphasises on the importance of storytelling, and that true allyship lies in fighting for justice alongside the indigenous, not for the indigenous.
Agrita: Welcome to the show Desiree, it’s great to have you on today. I think to start off today’s conversation, it would be great if you could tell the audience how you came about doing journalism, was it something that you wanted to do from the start? And why specifically did you choose indigenous community?
Desiree: That’s a complicated question because I feel that I’ve always been a journalist. I come from a family that has indigenous journalism as one of the core jobs that has been done throughout our family. I began, I suppose, truly as a journalist as a child, then in high school, I became the documentarian for my school.
Agrita: Oh wow.
Desiree: So, I did that. And at the time, because I was a little bit older, I was very excited because they would, the school would pay to process my film. And so I found a way as a high schooler to not incur the cost of film processing, you know, when I was a teenager with no job. So that was a pretty important thing that happened in my path to journalism in 2010. By that time, I had been blogging for a number of years on blogging platforms and was part of building a hyperlocal blog in Charlotte, North Carolina, that for its time and in 2011 began to surpass the Charlotte observer web traffic momentarily, and the alternative weekly in Charlotte Carolina called creative loafing. Charlotte did the very smart thing to hire me as a digital content editor, thereby bringing exclusively digital content to their paper. I did the backwards thing and did not go from print journalism into blogging, I went into journalism from blogging.
Agrita: Do you think it’s easier for people to go from digital into a bigger kind of audience and to become a journalist from there? Do you think it’s easier for people now than before?
Desiree: I think ultimately the industry is rooted in relationships and that there are still some things that are happening that are structural that keep people out of traditional journalism. So I think that the people who are really good at marketing themselves and who have the skillset to do journalism, do have an easier time, but ultimately the institutional journalism outfits, like, you know, just the big journalism houses, there’s a systemic issue where certain voices are centred over other ones. So, it is still very challenging and is white male dominated.
Agrita: That’s the next question I was going to ask you is how do you go about overcoming these gaps in mainstream media, especially when it comes to indigenous communities, the struggles that they have experienced, and getting their stories across, how do you get about this gap?
Desiree: I’m a white passing Miwok and I leverage my white privilege to get into spaces that other indigenous issues would be ignored within. I don’t care about the rules of who’s not allowed to speak or the things that we’re not allowed to say.
Desiree: I say things very bluntly, very clearly. And I am known in my community as someone being willing to break my back for the community. So, a lot of times with media, I’m invited into spaces because I’ve earned that trust. And also because of my heritage, there’s a big need for indigenous storytellers and media makers. And we do not have a media industry that is reflective of that. So I very much acknowledged the white privilege that I have and I use it. I openly talk about it and encourage other people to use that white privilege, to get stories into media about issues that impact a lot of people. It’s, I believe, it’s my obligation as someone with that privilege.
Agrita: Why do you think this invisibility still exists. Why do you think that is still so difficult for people to come out and talk about their struggles, when they’re from a minority group?
Desiree: I don’t feel that people have a difficulty talking about their struggles. I think that there’s a societal, what would I call it? There are not ears to hear it when people speak.
Agrita: Hmm, yeah.
Desiree: Colonial structure that makes up the United States and the occupying government and the system that comes with it on this land is meant to eradicate silence, chew up, spit out and dispose of indigenous people through repeated attempts of genocide over hundreds of years.
Desiree: Evasion as part of genocide. So, it’s not that people have issues speaking about what’s happening in our lives. It’s that there are not the ears to hear them.
Agrita: When you document indigenous communities, do you find that you keep on documenting environmental issues? Do you think that that’s a recurring pattern that you see?
Desiree: One issue that I do cover because native people on this continent, which is who I am part of, and also who I document on behalf of, native people are a diaspora. So, we’re touched by housing issues or touched by environmental issues, by systemic racism, by police violence. So I do document environmental issues. I document police violence. I do a lot of things that support the seven generations that have yet to come.
Agrita: What sort of issues do you think come up the most then in terms of the issues that the community is still faces till this day from, all the ones you’ve documented so far?
Desiree: I believe that they’re all stemming from either poverty or police. And often poverty is because of the police and or the system.
Desiree: Environmental issues, that’s what people see in the news, but it’s certainly not the only thing that’s happening.
Desiree: And, you know, native people, like I mentioned, being part of a diaspora, our community members are everywhere. So in the fight for justice, against police violence and murder of our community members, you find tribal members there. When we talk about ICE and the system incarcerating undocumented children and their family members, you find indigenous tribal members there. When we talk about, you know, environmental, like the Dakota access pipeline, indigenous people are definitely there. Tribal members and people with indigenous descent from this continent all over are in most of the issues that impact people of colour.
Agrita: I was going to ask you about the standing rock conflict. What are some of the things that the indigenous people that you’ve documented over the years have said to you that they constantly face when it comes to environmental injustices, like the standing rock conflict.
Desiree: Land loss.
Agrita: That’s a major part?
Desiree: Land is power. The spiritual, political, legal, and ancestral ties that indigenous people have to land is everything. The land is our healthcare system. You know, the land is our educational system. So, the root issue has been loss of land.
Agrita: Have you done any specific documentaries on this land, the loss of land and people being forced out of their homeland?
Desiree: Um, yes. Most of the things that I’ve documented are central to that theme, the Ocheti Sakowin people at Standing Rock lost their land to that pipeline. The Navajo grandmothers who are living out, standing in the way, living their lives in the way of coal mines.
Desiree: You know, they they’re losing their land to mining. My tribe, we’ve lost our land to gold mining. It still happens today. The amount of tribal land is always shrinking.
Agrita: That’s the main issue, most people think that these are events of the past not understanding that this is still happening, and people are still constantly being displaced.
Desiree: Yeah, Americans are distinctly mis-educated or uneducated because the American education system is a complete failure.
Desiree: So, people think, you know, I have been asked two dozen times in my lifetime, you know, do I live in a tepee? “Oh, I thought that people, native people were extinct”, you know, or you’ll do some kind of horrible racist hand gestures with their hand over their mouth making sounds. And it’s just like –
Agrita: Very, very true. I live in the UK and our education systems do not even mention Native Americans let alone their struggles. It’s like, we’ve kind of blocked it all off. So, the fact that America’s education systems don’t really even talk about it or are misled by this false information, that is concerning in itself.
Desiree: Well, I’m not surprised to hear that about the UK because you know, Americans fought for independence against them (laughs).
Agrita: Yeah (laughs).
Desiree: You all have the template that was transposed over here. That “colonialists, colonizer system” –
Desiree: came from Britain, Spain and France, Portugal. So what happens here is, so there’ve been a forced relocation, for example, where people were relocated to different land, smaller land at gunpoint. The school system here, like some of the textbooks will say they “immigrated to a different area”, or they “willingly left their land to make way for the settlers”. When really it was rape and enslavement. Like we have stories within my own tribe about settlers coming across, they would come across a village and they didn’t want to waste a bullet on a baby. So, they would slam the baby against a rock to kill it.
Agrita: Oh God.
Desiree: That was the gold rush! That was like, not very long ago.
Desiree: Native Americans did not have the right even to vote in every state until 1967. Forced sterilisation of indigenous women didn’t stop until 1976, the US government was forcibly sterilizing people.
Agrita: Again, I did not know anything about this. It’s really concerning.
Desiree: Hmm, I appreciate your concern. I wish that, you know, more people would be concerned because it’s really, it’s alarming, as a native woman. I’m getting tired of going to funerals. You know, I feel like it’s about one third of my life, just because on every front we are constantly under attack; literally, physically, spiritually, like on all levels. The system, you know, there’s a really empowering statement that we have within our community, which is “my existence is resistance”. And that’s because the system is so intent on eradicating us.
Agrita: How do you portray these difficult stories to people that are non-natives, to people outside of the US, how do you portray these stories in a way that they are accessible and that people can actually learn from them and not be misled by false information, that systems give?
Desiree: Native journalists and storytellers have to be the ones that tell the stories, period. This narration by other community members, um, who are non-native to this continent of, or Western hemisphere, has been extremely harmful. And I don’t want to just relegate it to only Europeans because that’s happened from members from other places as well.
Desiree: And it’s really violent. It’s part of erasure. It’s part of the infantilising of native people as if we are not able to speak for ourselves or tell our own stories. We haven’t been quote unquote, granted that power. But what happened in Standing Rock was monumental mostly because of the presence of social media. We busted out of that thing where like “we don’t need anybody to speak for us anymore”
Desiree: or, and we never have but, so ultimately, you know, I really, I tend to portray it, things from within my community with a sense of dignity, pride, you know, even with difficult things where people are being actively harmed, making sure that the young people who are watching it don’t come away feeling like there’s no hope because the resiliency of the community is immense. The strength of the community is, I mean, it spans the continent. And the fact that we haven’t been eradicated after so many attempts really speaks to, you know, just the strength of indigenous people and the will to survive. Um, so a lot of the things that I talk about or write about are about victories. I read an article called the “Standing Rock victory you didn’t hear about” because it was really important in this moment where people were being ripped out of sweat lodge in their underwear, out of sacred ceremony, you know, from the land, by police at gunpoint, or, you know, losing parts of their limbs or their eyes getting shot or getting shot in the head. Here’s this story where 250 police were held off and weren’t able to brutalise more people by like 40 or 50 dancing water protectors on a bridge!
Agrita: And this is all recent?
Desiree: This is in standing rock in 2016, yeah. They had 36 federal agencies against a few hundred water protectors.
Agrita: Yeah! Unarmed, very, very difficult to even hear about this, let alone experience any of these stories that you’ve mentioned so far.
Agrita: This is exactly why I wanted to have this conversation with you because for me to go and research some of the events that have happened, and then to tell my audience about it is very different compared to someone like you, who is part of that community, who sees the pain of their community suffer for so long, and then portrays these stories in a very unbiased way. And I really, really encourage people to try to engage with Native Americans that are doing so much for their community and not just focus on the mainstream media and sources as well.
Desiree: Yeah. There’s a number of really powerful native, uh, non-men journalists who contribute their voice very regularly that people could tune into.
Agrita: Oh yes, please tell us.
Desiree: I tend to do a medium to long form writing and documentary and photo-journalism work, but for contemporary analysis around, uh, issues that are happening in the news, I go to Pollen Nation magazine’s editor in chief, Jacqueline Keeler.
Desiree: She’s very prolific. She’s a brilliant woman and has been a mentor of mine for a very long time. She also comes from a family that has native journalists and storytellers in their ranks. So we’ve been able to connect in that way. I also tune into Crushing Colonialism with Jen Deerinwater. I just love Rebecca Nagle and everything that she does, she’s got a podcast called This Land, which is award winning and is stunning.
Agrita: Yeah, I’ve seen that!
Desiree: Yeah, and of course, Johnny J. She’s a podcaster and she does a tribe called Geek. So some of her stuff is more around technology, sci-fi, you know, indigenous futurism, but those are the people that I really give credence to and listen to a lot. And they’re native women or two spirits who I just mentioned because it’s important that we break out of a patriarchal narrative of everything always told by men.
Agrita: Yes. Yeah.
Desiree: I just kind of pay attention to the women (laughs) and
Desiree: and, um, yeah, there are, uh, some strong men like Mark Trahant, but ultimately I, uh, um, I listen to the ladies.
Agrita: Do you think that women are perhaps more affected by the issues with, that the indigenous community face? Do you think that women suffer more perhaps or children?
Desiree: I want to be mindful not to make it a competition of who suffers more.
Agrita: Of course, yeah.
Desiree: However, women, girls and two spirits have a particularly difficult time because of the patriarchal nature of colonialist capitalism. Right? So, it’s native women’s bodies that are often victim to sexual violence. To be honest, I don’t know any native women that haven’t been sexually violated.
Agrita: Oh gosh.
Desiree: I don’t know a single one.
Desiree: And so, the system is built where if a white man rapes a native woman on tribal land, many, many the majority of the time, that man will never face prosecution, he probably won’t be even looked for. It’s just allowed to happen. And certain bad men know that this is the case. and so they go to the reservations to do this, and then they leave because they know the police are overtaxed. They’re underfunded. There shouldn’t be any police. Honestly, I think we should abolish the police in light of workers and things.
Desiree: But we have an epidemic called “missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two spirits”.
Agrita: I’ve seen that as well.
Desiree: There’s a statistic out there that it was 500, I’m sorry, 5,716, uh, I think reports of missing indigenous women, girls or two spirits, like all those reports, and only less than 150 made it into the national missing persons database.
Agrita: Those are so distressing to her.
Desiree: That was 2016. So what’s going on in 2020 where, you know, extractive industry is just run rampant?
Agrita: Actually, with the current pandemic as well. I’ve heard, for example, the Navajo Nation is affected the most.
Desiree: Oh, the Navajo?
Desiree: I mean, that’s a community that prior to COVID, had very high levels of unemployment, you know, only 60% of homes had running water. You know, it’s just a very rural traditional environment. And there were people of settler descent who, they were going onto the reservation to get their healthcare when they knew that they were positive for COVID. So, they infected the community.
Desiree: People were attending the Christian, um, garden where they’re all in a barn and they’re singing. Um, revival, there was a revival out on the Navajo Nation, and that was another source of outbreak. Also, something to know though, when you’re seeing those numbers, testing is not widely available for Americans, just isn’t.
Desiree: I don’t even know how to get one right now. So, the Navajo Nation has done an incredible job at testing the majority of their population. So I would wonder if Americans, if a majority of Americans were tested, how would those numbers look on the outside? Because there is a thing where media bias and community bias against natives, we have to be extremely careful not to perpetuate some idea that “natives are dirty” or there’s a silence or things like that when it’s impacting the community the same as everywhere else. Just the reporting.
Agrita: Yeah. And the problem with America right now in terms of testing is that if you have the money or if you have that status, you’ll get tested first. In the UK it’s not the case. You can easily go to any centre and get a testing kit. You can even order it and it will come straight to your house. So we’re not having that problem.
Desiree: Ohh I would love a home kit (laughs).
Agrita: (laughs) Yeah! It’s really, really simple to order here. But despite that, the black and Asian communities here have been affected the most and you see the same happening in America. So it’s this institutional racism and the whole issue of racism really that’s affecting absolutely every single country.
Desiree: Right? It’s the classist, colonial system of white supremacy.
Desiree: So, if you’re a person of colour, yet you have class, you know, you’re of the upper class, then you are allowed access because you’re “closer to the white people” to the “settlers”. We had a thing in our tribe, the Spanish when they were putting everyone forcibly into missions where you had to accept Christ, or you would be killed or raped or tortured in the name of building, you know, crown, where every step you took closer to assimilation, whether it was accepting Christ or it was, you know, accepting servitude into an European home, or maybe your family had a daughter that was stolen into sexual slavery, things like that. It was called “la gente de razón” or the people of reason. So every step you took along the way towards assimilation, you became more of a person of reason, a person of God.
Desiree: You know? And so when you have that for hundreds of years, and it still continues today, there’s safety and assimilation, but that’s really harmful to our communities when someone assimilates or chooses to assimilate.
Agrita: Of course, yeah.
Desiree: You know, so we definitely have people who are native, who will actively work against the community because they believe that “true freedom is participation in the capitalists”, being part of that capitalist class.
Agrita: Essentially showing that, you know, this community is less than the white community, for example, it’s literally just perpetuating that idea.
Desiree: Yeah. It’s where “white is right” and that’s the baseline that we have to earn our way up to. (laughs) White is not right. It’s jacked up –
Agrita: (laughs) Really.
Desiree: with some white supremacy, it’s messed up and unacceptable, it’s disgusting. But our society is built around this whole “white is right” idea for 500 years.
Agrita: Do you get tired of the fact that it’s 2020, everything should have at least been better than 500 years ago, but it isn’t. How do you keep yourself motivated to continue on doing what you do?
Desiree: You know, where I accept validation from is extremely important in my long-term ability to sustain the work that I do. So, the things that matter to me are hearing about my friend’s daughter coming out as gay and she is so happy. The things that keep me going are like, I don’t have children so I’m auntie to a bunch of my friends’ kids, but watching, you know, little Jotoi grow up and he wants a drum, like those little things that seem like it’s nothing are everything to me. I can do all the national, international media until I’m blue in the face. Like no offense to you, that’s not where my validation comes from.
Desiree: It comes from seeing indigenous kids being able to live as their full selves unmolested.
Agrita: Very true. It’s like seeing the future generations, right? And you getting that happiness from seeing them happy, ‘cause as we are kind of working towards, that’s where change begins really.
Desiree: That’s who we’re accountable to, it’s the young people and the elders.
Agrita: Yeah. You’ve also helped youth that were facing the consequences of deforestation in their homeland. How was it like working with them?
Desiree: That was such a cool program, that was done with The Rainforest Foundation, but ultimately with the Amerindian Peoples Association, which is an indigenous association in Guyana. It was incredibly motivating to go out there and see 15 to 19 year olds with their cameras, mobilised and ready to tell the truth of their village for themselves, not waiting for anyone else. They don’t need anybody’s permission. They’ve got the tools, they’re intelligent, they’re sharp and creative and resourceful. And they know, they know they have everything they need to make happen, what they need to make happen, which is to get stories out about what’s happening, to mobilize support. So I love that program, um, I’m not still engaged with the program, but I am still with a number of the students and it just gets me so excited because they produce these videos like out of the village in rural Guyana. And here it is, there’s like exposing multinational corporations, like doing deforestation and killing like animals everywhere. Like threatening elders, just it’s a mess, right? Like it is for indigenous people. It feels like everywhere sometimes. Um, but I find it very motivating. I tend to work with younger indigenous people a lot. I mean, most of the things that I teach them are actually unlearnings. Right so they’re waiting for permission and I’m like “don’t wait for permission!” Or it’s young women who are conditioned to apologise for speaking. I’m like, “do not apologise”, if people don’t like what you have to say, that’s their water to carry, not yours. You say what you need to say, you know? And when I see them embodying those unlearning things and wielding them powerfully, it gives me life feels, you know it feels really good.
Agrita: It’s also so important to give people autonomy and to decide how they want to bring about change. It’s not just always about helping these communities because these communities can do everything by themselves, like you said they’re independent. We just need to give them that opportunity and that is something that many people fail to understand.
Desiree: The education doesn’t need to be with indigenous peoples.
Agrita: Exactly, yeah.
Desiree: I do a lot of that work in my public speaking to try and educate the American public about the true history of what they’ve learned or been brainwashed into learning, you know, and not even known it.
Have you done some events where you’d go to schools or different areas telling people?
Desiree: Oh yeah. All the time.
Agrita: What are some of the events you’ve been to or you’ve organised?
Desiree: I’m an organiser, the organizers got to organise!
Agrita: (laughs) Yeah.
Desiree: Um, well I spoke at Princeton University on indigenous feminism and about how white feminists, other women, um, need to get it together because they’re failing indigenous women, and that’s not feminism.
Desiree: About how white supremacy will not save white women from what the patriarchy has in store. I’ve taught, you know, from the upper levels of academia all the way down to, I do teachings and free zoom sessions for small groups of community members who just want to learn from me how to write a press release.
Agrita: Oh, wow, yeah.
Desiree: You know, or I do community group sessions where we talk about what is meaningful indigenous allyshipfrom non-natives, what does it look like? Or I don’t know. I do a lot of education, especially because I’m white passing, people listen to me. And um, I, again, I weaponise that and I use it as a moment to tell the truth, instead of furthering this weird settler, like colonizer narrative that we’ve been forced with for all this time.
Agrita: So essentially top down and bottom up approaches, combining the two.
Desiree: If someone wants to hear that and they have the ears to hear it, and they’re going to come to a talk about indigenous allyship, I will talk to them. I think that academia, I don’t like the institution because it’s another white male Christian-dominated coloniser space, but they write everything down. So I say the most radical things in the halls of academia so that they can write it down, they can study it, they can put it in their pieces. They can put it in their master’s thesis, they can write their PhD, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care.
Desiree: I’m saying it so that someone says it, I am accountable to young people. I’m not accountable to the institutions. So I do education stuff for free for the grassroots, and then they charge the institutions a lot of money and then I take that money and I give it back to the grassroots.
Agrita: Very, very smart. That is how you should be putting your money into these things.
Desiree: Yeah. That’s um, you know, that behaviour, it’s really hard to cultivate within someone that they need to be doing the right thing and not being like an extractive activist because there is a realm of activists that goes summit hopping and they speak on things, but they don’t do the grassroots work. And so I have access as a journalist to spaces that many journalists, they like salivate over it. They don’t understand how did you get that story? And frankly, it’s because I’ve earned it by acting right (laughs).
Agrita: (laughs) It’s so inspiring to hear you talk about how much you’ve helped in all different levels. A single person can do so much, so if everyone gets together, non-natives and natives that are already doing so much, you can imagine how big the change would be in society.
Agrita: It’s just a matter of people to just listen really, listen to indigenous communities and not people that haven’t experienced any of this or are misled by information.
Desiree: Yeah. I think it’s most difficult for the people who are usually, um, how would I say it? There are peacemakers, you know, they find themselves to be someone who’s, they don’t want to “upset anybody”.
Desiree: So sometimes those moderate people are the most difficult to reach because honestly, indigenous liberation is completely subversive to every foundation that the United States sits upon. Every single one, if they honour the treaties, land ownership laws, then everything’ll change across the continent here.
Desiree: They don’t like being challenged. They don’t like being uncomfortable. And so they wade around in the middle, never picking a side because they, they, they’re not, you know, white supremacists or they’re out marching with the Klan, but they don’t understand that their silence and lack of action is enabling white supremacy.
Agrita: Very true.
Desiree: Even in journalism, but also just in my life, the middle, the people in the middle who just are paralysed into indecision because they don’t like being uncomfortable, have probably created more of an existential threat than they realise, for native people by their inaction.
Agrita: I think, it also relates back to, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement where people were feeling very angered at how people are sometimes violently protesting or protesting when there’s a pandemic going on, just as an example. So we can’t just sit down and pretend that, you know, these issues will solve themselves. We need to actively be engaging in these things, and we need to not just believe that peace can come about with inaction, even though sometimes inaction is really important.
Desiree: Hmm. I mean, if (laughs), if your choice of inaction is to sit in the way of a pipeline, that’s great!
Agrita: Yeah! (laughs)
Desiree: That’s the kind of an action that we need. It sounds difficult, but revolution has never been peaceful. It’s fought for and won.
Desiree: And it’s important to remember, especially when discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, they, the movement for Black lives was on the front lines with us at Standing Rock, getting brutalised all the same for months.
Agrita: Hmm, yeah.
Desiree: We are united. We have been united. We will remain united. Black and indigenous solidarity is so crucialbecause, uh, in, in my belief, two things, one, land is power and it’s a continent full of stolen land that has been built up with stolen lives and the indigenous Africans, the descendants of indigenous Africans, stolen off of Africa and brought here forcibly is a big community with a lot of power. Now, the indigenous community, we have legal underpinnings around land.
Desiree: So, when we work together and we know land is power and we’re united as we are, the system, as it stands right now, is the dying donkey that’s kicking the hardest, it’s dying. Our unity is causing its death. And in some ways as movement people, as people who believe that a different future is possible, we’re doulas of death for the old system. But it’s important to know that we’re also rebirth. We’re rebirthing, like we’re changing. And birth is a painful process, for mother and for child.
Agrita: I also see this as dismantling the whole system, because if the foundations of a system is heavily racist, to remove those foundations, that whole system needs to collapse. And if that needs to be the case, and that needs to be the case, that is what we need to do. And of course, if a system or systems collapse, there is going to be destruction, but so long as we are striving for equality and for justice, that is the thing that we need to focus on. Not kind of the aftermath of events really.
Desiree: Yeah. Change is almost always painful in my experience. It just is. It just is. But you know what, I’m ready to give up my potato chip chocolate bar –
Desiree: So that I can have my black neighbours.
Desiree: And these are the equations that are really happening because capitalism is tearing us apart. You know, here in Colorado and occupied Arapaho territory where I live, we have such a houseless population. Since COVID, because family is all lost their homes and their employment. The primary drinking water for some of Colorado’s children is landscaping spigots, and they’re bathing with buckets, or their family is living by a river with no running water and power in a place where we get deep freezes. And the reality is, is that this winter, their tents are going to inevitably fail them. And we’re going to have children frozen, alive. We have to change something. I can’t personally live with that reality. And I don’t think a lot of people can anymore. We are tired of, we’re tired, you know, the 99%, we’re tired.
Agrita: I’m so happy that you’ve told us about so many different things that we wouldn’t have known about, that you can’t go to the internet and search up these things and find out the actual reality of the indigenous people. So it’s really, really great how you’ve come out and told us about these really challenging, difficult, and horrific stories that everybody needs to hear, because genuinely, I would have never heard about the atrocities as some of, or most of the indigenous communities face. It’s so important for every single native American to come out and tell their story, the stories of others that they’ve seen suffering.
Desiree: Thank you for creating the space for that to happen. I agree with you, that it’s really difficult to even find information. So folks like yourself, you know, I appreciate the solidarity to just hold and make this space and to prioritise what are often very difficult conversations people avoid. You know, there’s also a lot of state sponsored, um, silencing and targeting of people who speak out. So I just encourage you and your listeners that when you find an indigenous person who is speaking out to understand the risks that we’re taking to say these things, you know, the US government is known for framing native water protectors and land defenders, incarcerating us, all kinds of things, even so much as sending infiltrators to have non-consensual sex aka rape with water protectors for information, right. Red Fawn Fallis right now is sitting in jail because she was set up by the FBI, by a man who had a duplicative relationship with her, who had sex with her for information, who raped her for information, these things they still go on. And so just, you know, I appreciate the support and space to have these things heard because it is important that there be accountability and that things just not be allowed to go unchecked.
Agrita: What would you say to people that sometimes block themselves away from reality, from the news? I have so many people coming up to me saying, “Oh, I don’t watch the news anymore”. Or “I don’t really search up about the global issues that are happening right now because it’s so negative”, “it’s affecting my mental health” and stuff. But the main thing I say to them is that you have that privilege of not experiencing any of these stories that you’re looking at and being so depressed about. What do you say to these people that feel so constantly surrounded by negativity? What do you say to them when it comes to painful stories like this?
Desiree: You know, um, in the movement for justice, there’s a chant that we have, which is “step up, step back”. And stepping up means you are taking action. Maybe you’re protesting. Maybe you’re calling your elected officials. Maybe you’re mobilising your friends for a supply drive. Stepping back means prioritising your mental health and making sure that you’re able to step up again in the future.
Agrita: That’s great, yeah.
Desiree: So, I don’t, when people prioritise their mental health, I don’t resent them.
Agrita: Of course, yeah.
Desiree: After Standing Rock, I was broken in every way. I almost drank myself to death. Now it’s, there’s this, you know, PTSD is a wicked thing.
Desiree: Um, especially from repeated police violence over eight months (laughs). And so, um, I’ve had to step back in the past.
Agrita: Of course.
Desiree: But the important part about stepping back is to know that you’re doing it so that you step up in the future. Uh, this is an exhausting, endless, beast with endless resources. They have guns and dogs and mace and money, power, privilege. But what we have is each other. So yes, they are exerting a privilege to say, “okay, I’m going to step back and prioritise my mental health”.
Agrita: Of course. Yeah.
Desire: That’s fine. Just stay the hell out of the way for people who are stepping up in that moment. That’s when I start taking issue is when people who aren’t doing anything and they’re quote unquote, prioritising their mental health. They want to argue on the internet with people like me, who, who are doing everything in our life and have been for more than a decade, on every front stepping up. So, you know, if people want to take their space, let them take their space. But you know, just folks should know as soon as they get in the way of people who are doing the work, that’s when there’s issues.
Agrita: When you’ve taken this step back to obviously focus on your mental health, because if you aren’t mentally stable, because of all of the things you’ve experienced, bringing your change is going to be much more difficult. How do you as a journalist, who constantly sees everything in person, how do you step up again? How do you tell yourself that, okay, I think I’ve gathered enough strength to get forward and to be at the front of all of the change that’s happening?
Desiree: Well, I don’t cover any place where I’m not asked or invited in. I don’t push myself in. And so that means that when I’m asked, I’m able to respond, um, most of the time, but you know, I have a very rigorous spiritual care. I see a counsellor very regularly, and I recognise that the movement space is not the space to process your trauma.
Agrita: Totally. Yeah.
Desiree: You know, um, I’ve come across a number of people, other reporters and things who don’t handle their trauma. They lose opportunities because they’re miserable to be around. They snap at people. They’re combative. Like they, in the end, don’t have longevity. And part of it is because they have that “coloniser want” to cover native community. I don’t have a coloniser want to cover my community. I go where I’m asked because I am a servant of the people, and my hands or my tools. And having that fundamental understanding about my role and being so clear in my approach, um, is probably why and how I’ve been able to do it for so long.
Agrita: Thank you so much for your time Desiree. Every single thing you’ve sent said to me is eye-opening really. The fact that we only know a small fraction of the reality of the struggles that the indigenous communities still face. It’s really, really difficult to listen to, but also really inspiring that people like you have come forward and are constantly striving for change. You’ve put your whole life into this and thank you so, so much for all of the hard work that you do and for coming on the show today and telling us about your experiences.
Desiree: Yeah. Again, just thank you for creating the space for me and for listening, and if I can ever be of service, please be in touch.
OUTRO: I still have goosebumps going back to this talk, so difficult but it’s so important to hear, and also so inspiring to see the hard work that Desiree puts in. It genuinely gives me hope that each and every one of us can make change if we work together. To find out more about Desiree and her work, head over to my website mindfullofeverything.home.blog. Do you remember to subscribe to the podcast, follow my socials and subscribe to the newsletter to get instant updates for blog releases. Until the next episode, happy listening.
- Documentary work
- First Foods – Indigenous-led educational series
- Desiree is the co-founder and digital editor for Pollen Magazine
- Princeton University talk
- Akicita: The Battle Of Standing Rock – documentary film
- Media-making program for Guyanese youth
- Article on Standing Rock victory
- Truthout article
- Love Letters To God – music video showing footage from frontlines
- Desiree’s other key work can be viewed on her website here
Rate the podcast HERE – all reviews are important for a growing podcast and will be posted on social media or read on air!
Buy your eco-friendly and recycled pin badges HERE – funds will help keep the podcast running for longer!