Council Connection » My Speech for the 2022 Indigenous Peoples 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, everyday people organized with our socialist city council office to have Seattle recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day. By passing this historic resolution, the City of Seattle rejected a celebration of Columbus Day and honored the history and memory of those who lived through the brutal realities of colonialism and genocide that were integral to the development of the capitalist system.
At our second celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in 2015, I said, “Either Indigenous Peoples Day can become a day when politicians can pretend they care, a day of the year with hollow rhetoric, either it can be a day of struggle where each year we continue to win new victories for the indigenous communities of Seattle.
We have achieved significant victories over the years. In 2015, we were successful in getting the city council to vote yes on a resolution condemning the policy of boarding schools in the United States. This policy was nothing less than cultural genocide, which shamefully lasted until the 1970s. During this period, more than one hundred thousand indigenous children were taken from their homes, stripped of their families, their religion and their culture. The effort to expose the horrors of these policies in the United States and Canada, including the deaths of more than 5,000 Indigenous children in these schools, 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 in stable funding for Indigenous Peoples Day.
That same year, indigenous activists played a key role in winning the Amazon tax. 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 of ordinary people to organize to win progressive change.
Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, but account for nearly 20% of people living in extreme poverty. In Seattle, Natives are 7 times more likely than Whites to experience homelessness, and Natives have a lower exit rate from homelessness to permanent housing than any other race.
These problems are only getting worse as capitalism continues to descend into crisis.
And yet, again this year, Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Democratic Party establishment are proposing an austerity budget for our city. City Council is set to pass a budget that cuts existing funding for essential social services, not to mention increase funds to fully meet the needs of low-income community members, at a time when the inflation has been unprecedented and where a recession is looming. A budget that, once again, fails to solve the serious housing crisis in Seattle. In fact, the mayor’s proposed budget will take millions of dollars from the Amazon Tax fund, which has been designated for new housing and Green New Deal programs, and use those funds to fill other holes in the budget, rather than raising the Amazon tax to make the wealthy pay for the city’s economic crisis.
At the same time, the mayor’s budget doesn’t cut a penny from the bloated Seattle Police Department and actually offers a million dollars in new funding for useless and inefficient technology.
It is important that we have candid discussions in our community about what it means for elected officials and other leaders to be on the side of Indigenous peoples and fight for Indigenous rights.
We cannot accept empty words from politicians who continue to pump money into a racist policing system while refusing to fund essential public services. Between 2009 and 2019, Indigenous peoples were the most likely of any racial or ethnic group from being killed at the hands of the police. And natives are 38% 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. Not only did we successfully block the bunker, but People’s Budget secured $29 million in funding for new affordable housing.
The Block the Bunker campaign was never just about one building. It was about fighting a system that invests hundreds of millions of dollars in policing and law enforcement, that disproportionately criminalizes Indigenous peoples and other people of color, while divesting from housing, public services and solutions. that support workers in our community.
We’re sick of politicians who just say Black Lives Matter or indigenous lives matter, when they’re under pressure from below, but then turn around and do pro-corporate business as usual when the movements have gone out.
The lessons of the George Floyd rebellion also show us, unfortunately, that we must hold social movement leaders to account. This shows exactly why we will never win 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 elected or unelected leaders of the movement, who will stand up to the establishment and fight alongside workers, youth and union members to win a massive expansion of social housing affordable and unionized jobs wages adjusted annually for inflation.
Who will stand up to the real estate industry and help build a campaign to win citywide rent control without any corporate loopholes.
We need a Green New Deal to end our city’s climate pollution by 2030 through a massive expansion of free, electrified public transit and the retrofitting of commercial and residential buildings. It 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 kind of approach is key to defeating the growing threat from the right, including brutal attacks on women’s and LGBTQ rights. This is also an Indigenous issue – 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 serious attacks on women and LGBTQ people in recent history.
That’s why my office fought in July to make Seattle the nation’s first abortion-rights sanctuary. We need to build on this victory, which is why I am introducing a city budget amendment to make abortion free in Seattle, funded by the Amazon tax increase. I hope you will all join me in demanding that all Council Democrats support this amendment. Tomorrow City Council will hold a public hearing
Let us continue to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, not only as a celebration of Indigenous culture, history and community, but as an opportunity to discuss our most important demands as a movement and to re-engage in struggle for justice for indigenous peoples and against all forms of oppression and exploitation. In my opinion, this means fighting for a socialist society.