My speech for the 2022 Indigenous People’s Day celebration in Seattle

October 10, 2022

Solidarity with the Duwamish and all Coast Salish peoples of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest!

Eight years ago, ordinary people organized with our socialist City Council office to win recognition of Indigenous People’s Day in Seattle. By passing this historic resolution, the City of Seattle rejected a celebration of Columbus Day, and honored the history and memory of those who experienced the brutal realities of the colonialism and genocide that were integral to the development of the capitalist system.

At our second Indigenous People’s Day celebration in 2015, I said: “Either Indigenous Peoples’ Day can become a day when politicians can pretend that they care, one day out of the year with empty rhetoric, or it can be a day of struggle where every year we continue to score new victories for Seattle’s indigenous communities.”

We have won important victories over the years. In 2015, we succeeded in getting the City Council to vote yes on a resolution condemning the United States’ boarding school policy. This policy was nothing less than cultural genocide, which shamefully lasted into the 1970s. During that time, more than a hundred thousand Indigenous children were removed from their homes, stripped away from their families, religions, and culture. The effort to expose the horrors of these policies in the United States and Canada, including the death of over 5,000 indigenous children at these schools, has continued this year with the Every Child Matters campaign.

In 2016 we passed a resolution in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other activists in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In 2017, we built on that victory by forcing the City Council to divest more than $3 billion from Wells Fargo, after the bank provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the Dakota Access Pipeline and other pipelines on indigenous lands.

In 2020, through the People’s Budget campaign, we won $15,000 per year of stable funding for Indigenous People’s Day. 

That same year, indigenous activists played a key role in the Amazon Tax victory. Together we won $250 million in funding for affordable housing and Green New Deal programs to fight climate change.

We have won important victories together, demonstrating the potential for ordinary people to get organized to win progressive change.

Indigenous people make up 5 percent of the world population, but make up almost 20 percent of people living in extreme poverty. In Seattle, indigenous people are 7 times more likely than white people to experience homelessness, and indigenous people have a lower rate of exiting homelessness to permanent housing than any other race.

These problems are only getting worse as capitalism continues to fall into crisis. 

And yet, this year again, Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Democratic Party establishment are proposing an austerity budget for our city. The City Council is set to pass a budget that cuts existing funding for critical social services, let alone expand the funds to fully address the needs of low-income community members, at a time when inflation has been unprecedented and a recession is looming. A budget that again fails to fix the severe housing crisis in Seattle. In fact, the Mayor’s proposed budget will take millions of dollars from the Amazon Tax fund, which was designated for new housing and Green New Deal programs, and use those funds to plug up other holes in the budget, rather than increase the Amazon Tax to make the wealthiest people pay for the economic crisis in the city.

At the same time, the Mayor’s budget doesn’t cut a penny from the bloated Seattle Police Department, and in fact proposes a million dollars of new funding for unneeded and ineffective technology. 

It’s important that we have frank discussions in our community about what it means for elected officials and other leaders to be on the side of indigenous people and fight for indigenous rights.

We cannot accept lip service from politicians who continue funneling money into a racist policing system while refusing to fund critical public services. Between 2009 and 2019, indigenous people were the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be killed at the hands of the police. And indigenous people are 38 percent more likely to be incarcerated than the average American.

In 2017, Socialist Alternative and my office fought alongside indigenous activists and hundreds of community members to block the city’s construction of a $160 million police bunker. We not only successfully blocked the bunker, but the People’s Budget won $29 million in funding for new affordable housing.

The Block the Bunker campaign was never just about a building. It was about fighting against a system that invests hundreds of millions of dollars in police and repression, which disproportionately criminalizes indigenous people and other people of color, while disinvesting from housing, public services, and climate solutions which support working people in our community.

We’ve had enough of politicians simply saying Black Lives Matter or indigenous lives matter, when they are under pressure from below, but then turn around and conduct pro-corporate business as usual when movements have died down. 

The lessons of the George Floyd rebellion also, unfortunately, show us that we need to demand accountability from leaders of social movements. It shows exactly why we will never win any serious progressive change without independently and democratically organized mass movements, with a fighting strategy and a leadership that is held accountable to the needs of the majority in our society. 

We need our own representatives, whether in elected office or unelected leaders in the movement, who will stand up to the establishment, and fight alongside workers, young people, and union members to win a massive expansion of affordable social housing and unionized jobs with living wages adjusted every year for inflation. 

Who will stand up to the real estate industry and help build a campaign to win citywide rent control without any corporate loophole. 

We need a Green New Deal to end our city’s climate pollution by 2030 through a massive expansion of free and electrified public transit and retrofitting commercial and residential buildings. This will require our communities to have leaders with the backbone to stand up to the billionaires in the fossil fuel industry, the banks, and Wall Street, and their Democratic and Republican political representatives. 

This type of approach is critical to defeating the growing threat of the right wing, including the brutal attacks on women’s and LGBTQ rights. This is an indigenous issue too – indigenous women report the highest levels of rape and sexual assault of any group. And the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to overturn Roe v. Wade is one of the most severe attacks on women and LGBTQ people in recent history. 

That’s why my office fought in July to make Seattle the first abortion rights sanctuary city in the country. We need to build on that victory, which is why I am introducing an amendment to the City budget to make abortion free in Seattle, funded by raising the Amazon Tax. I hope all of you will join me in demanding that all Democrats on the Council support that amendment. Tomorrow, the City Council will hold a public hearing

Let’s continue to recognize Indigenous People’s Day, not only as a celebration of indigenous culture, history, and community, but as an occasion to discuss our most important demands as a movement, and to recommit ourselves to the struggle for justice for indigenous people and against all forms of oppression and exploitation. In my view, that means fighting for a socialist society.