I attended a Trump Rally in Duluth, Minnesota, yesterday. There I engaged in a passionate discussion about immigration policies in the U.S. and the use of religion to justify our government's actions. When our conversation ended, I offered to shake hands with mine extended. This moment and discussion was captured in photos taken by the Star Tribune.
Here is my story. It began with carefully choosing my clothing to wear for the day. I chose pants because they were safer, no jewelry and shoes I was sure I could run in because as an indigenous woman, I have statistics to keep in mind regarding my safety. I wore my tee that said, "No One Is Illegal On Stolen Land" with UNDRIP written down the back.
After waiting in line to enter the arena, we were informed no one else was being allowed in. Despite having registered for tickets to the event, my sister and I decided to exit the uncomfortably hot building. Reaching the relief of the wind, we walked out of the parking garage toward those gathered in front of the arena.
Soon after, I had a conversation that lasted just a few minutes with a man who I was later informed is Pastor Dan Stone of Duluth.
The discussion occurred while citizens were exercising their free speech, whether they were a rally attendee or active community member. People were passionate while volleying chants, some joked around and others found mutual ground when it came to views on the banking industry.
The man I am photographed with joined the crowd outside the arena. He began to share with everyone loudly near the area I was standing how President Trump was ordained by God, as were our laws, while citing scripture. He was justifying the U.S. approach to immigration with Christian religion.
The crowd had a mixture of responses; I felt this was an important opportunity to ask a question. I stepped forward and asked the man, "What God condones genocide?"
I asked this because our actions as a nation including our laws enable this reality. Also, the immigrants we are seeing in detention are primarily human beings indigenous to the America's. Considering our history, I felt this question was more than appropriate.
He said, "What genocide?"
I didn't have much of a chance to reply.
Then the man talked about the greatness of our nation and our allies such as Israel.
Quickly I asked, "What about the Palestinian genocide then?"
Again, I received a similar response to my first question.
Honestly, I was overwhelmed by his intensity, the words, and energy of the space. I wasn't even sure how to respond to such disregard of human life that I had just witnessed.
My response was one of honesty, may God have mercy on his children, because our actions today impact their tomorrow. He responded saying may God have mercy on me. I thanked him, because what human does not need mercy?
I could see in this environment we would have to leave it where it was and I offered to shake his hand while acknowledging how difficult these conversations can be, but that I also appreciated his time. The man in front of me, who had preached Holy Scripture, denied the offer, and said he would not touch someone like me.
However another man standing beside him who can also be seen in the photo said he would shake my hand.
I thanked him and accepted his handshake. The crowd became loud and someone mentioned motorcade. Then as quickly as the conversation started, it ended.
During that moment of discourse, I was glad to have my sister's (who can be seen in the photo) and a young man's hand whom I did not know on my shoulders briefly for support.
A shared a moment with several human beings, but again this recount is from my recollection.
During this encounter, I had no idea the man I was having a discussion with was a pastor, a leader of the faith. I only realized this when I read the Star Tribune article later that evening.
Although the pastor was passionate and even aggressive at times about his perspective, as an Indigenous person to this continent I am well aquatinted with how religion is often used to justify dehumanizing tactics including genocide to gain a profit or power. In fact, that is the foundation of our nation which is why I was shocked at this man's responses. Our shared history seemed to be outrageous claims in the midst of our conversation.
Could it be he was not familiar with the term genocide?
Maybe, in either case or if others do not know a brief description provided by the U.N. is below. Perhaps our communities should refresh our knowledge on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) while we are still a part of the U.N. as well. "Article IIIn the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." - http://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.html Make no mistake; what has happened to the Indigenous peoples of this land and continues to happen is genocide. We cannot forget those who cross the southern boarder of the U.S. who are Indigenous to the Americas, are just as American Indian as American Indians who are U.S. citizens. They are our Indigenous brothers and sisters that have been impacted by the colonial government who stole the very ground U.S. citizens walk on.
This theft was accomplished through treaties which were broken by the U.S., removal, separations, with reservations, enrollment numbers, suppression of language, mental harm and trauma inflicted upon our people including our stolen children. Today environmental terrorism inflicted on low socioeconomic and indigenous communities, separating of families, detention, removal of children, murdered and missing indigenous women and children, mental harm as well as trauma inflicted onto these groups are the status quo in our country. It is systemic.
It is not just our government that participates in this systemic institutionalized genocide of Indigenous people. It is also the businesses that support this reality, from the banks and food companies to private security firms. We cannot forget the U.S. tax dollars we provide along with our own complicity allows for this reality to persist.
For five hundred years the Americas have suffered the genocidal methods of colonial states. Here in 2018 it is high time people remember, to learn from our shared history, to take responsibility in a way that enables healthy with equitable outcomes. After all, we are in this together here on Turtle Island, Indigenous to the Americas and non-indigenous alike.
With the challenges facing our communities each impacting future generations how could I not show up, assemble peacefully, and lend my voice?
If we are silent, who will ever hear us? If we are not strong enough to stand and face our oppressors along with our allies, this will only continue.
Our need for equitable and healthy outcomes in our communities will not be met through silence. Showing up, speaking up , personally, these are responsibilities of mine to those who came before me and those who will come after. Though the afternoon rally was a visceral experience, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The Great Lakes Region, the Upper Midwest is my home , my homeland. That is why I traveled to Duluth.
Aaron E. Camacho is a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and a 2018 Wisconsin Green Party Candidate for Wisconsin State Senate District 31. She lives in Fountain City, Wisconsin.