I was too afraid, in October, to walk with a silver balloon to the gate at the ICE detention facility where children are kept, in a building owned by a rich private citizen and leased by the city; our money enriching a man who tears up memorials, our money caging children in a building next door to a school; our money reinforcing the idea that there are people who are legal and people who are not.
These Indigenous women were not afraid. They marched right up to the gate with their silver balloons while I held back with my balloon on the street, barely touching the public sidewalk a few feet from the gate the driveway leads to. I watched wide-eyed as agents in riot gear rushed out, pepper spraying these women and tackling them.
In their hands were balloons, I feel I should say it over and over, in their hands were balloons, were balloons, were balloons. Each one represented a death in ICE custody since 2004, when ICE was created.
193 balloons, each person held a balloon or two, a life or two ended in custody of a government people came to because they thought it would save them.
How cruelly we have all learned they were wrong.
The Indigenous Land Protectors are a women-led group of beautiful brave people who will walk up to federal gates with balloons and flowers, who know to bring superglue with their candles because their tradition requires they stay lit, who are arrested far more often at ICE than any other group.
This morning they held a prayer ceremony and press conference on the occasion of a court date, and every time I hear these women and men speak I cry, I commit to standing alongside them again. There is nothing more powerful.
These people were here before this was called “America.” Not all of them were born here but *all* this land is theirs, this continent we have stolen and tried to harness and harvest and chain. Water is life but we steal it, divert it to make old oak trees grow in desert towns, to turn arid land into almond groves and almonds into milk, dam it to power our phones and move our wheat to the ocean where we send it to other countries to make ramen.
“The rivers’ spirits are dark. You can feel how weak the Willamette is, it’s not the river’s fault…” says a woman speaking in this conference. I know, I know, my heart cries out too for the river.
The women here talk about how badly the intergenerational trauma becomes, how long, seven or eight or 10 generations, the US government has been waging war against the Indigenous people or making them fight in the government’s wars. Their grandparents were in boarding schools meant to beat the culture out of them.
How different is today? Despite laws to the contrary, police and federal agents kick, stomp, and destroy the vigils, the medicine, arrest the people who are doing nothing but holding space for dead and imprisoned people, tear gas the vigil creators and those who stand with them (creating still more trauma that will go on for at least this generation before us), in America Indigenous people are dying at nearly twice the rate white people are. One in 475 native people living in the US have died of Covid-19, by far the highest proportional rate of death.
And we say “no” when Indigenous people come here struggling to find safety, not just “no” but no in horrible ways: leaving them exposed to cartels we have funded and sold weapons to, shooting or dumping water when we see it in the desert, tearing them away from their family members, raping and abusing them, sterilizing them, sending them back to their certain death or poverty if we can. “These [immigrants] are running from the wars, that the US government started in their countries… these people are running from the poverty, that the US government started in their countries…,” says another woman in the press conference.
ICE must be destroyed. And not just ICE but all limitations on immigration. Abolish borders, they are tools of colonizer power that only seek to enslave and abuse those who deserve land, honor, reparations in service to the profit of the corporations who will leave, have left, the land and people and rivers in ruins.
I cannot understate the enormity of the abuses our government has carried out in our name, and the horror I feel that we all are not more horrified.
ICE must be destroyed. You must speak out. And you must not stop speaking until the children are returned to their families, the dams are removed, the borders are opened for good, the dictators are removed from power, and the generational trauma can be halted and we can begin to heal the people, the land, the water that is life.
ICE must be destroyed.