I don’t think that I can name a thing in my life that I do or have done by myself. There are so many people, even ones who are just briefly passing through my life, whose generosity and presence make me and my work possible. DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren is one of those people.
In the fall of 2104 Roo George-Warren and I were both serving as Public Allies, an americorp program that is committed to advancing social justice & equity by engaging leadership capacities of emerging community leaders. During our ally year Ferguson rose up to shake the world with rage that had been building over generations of being subjected to systemic racism and white supremacy. The murder of Mike Brown, an 18 year old boy who had just graduated highschool 8 days before being shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson, forced the Ferguson community’s simmering rage to boil over into the streets. And they stayed there, in the streets, demanding justice for him--for all of them--for over 400 hundred days. For a couple of weeks in that time, I went to Ferguson to stand in the streets with them.
While I was thereI attended a spokes council meeting where folks straight up asked me : “and what are you gonna do when you get home? How will you continue the fight there?” I had not considered the question before being asked. They made it clear that it was not rhetorical. So I answered. I’m gonna do a city wide art project. I’m gonna make sure that people who have the privilege to avoid this are not allowed to look away.
I had ideated and executed plenty of large scale public programs with institutions that I worked for. I had never initiated something like this by myself, on my own, without institutional support. It had not occurred to me to try until that moment. The project was more successful than I could have imagined and it was because a whole of bunch of people showed the fuck up to support it.
Roo was one of those people. Roo designed the stencils that were used to make the Black Lives Matter christmas ornaments which were the primary component of the piece. There are still community arts centers that use those stencils to make ornaments every year. Roo also wrote the press release that led to the article that was written about the project.
Though Roo was passing through my life, Roo was not passing through this work. Roo is a queer, Catawba cultural worker who grew up on the Catawba Indian Reservation land where Roo’s ancestors lived. Roo has been and is working to teach and preserve the Catawba language, which has been deemed extinct because there are so few speakers left. (But also how do you proclaim something extinct before it is even dead. What in the name of whiteness is this?)During COVID Roo has been organizing as a part of the tribe’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic.
I am in a lot of spaces where we use the word “ decolonization” and talk about “indigenous people.” Most of that discourse is theoretical. Much of it actually subtly plays into lies about indigeneity that we have been fed. That indigenouse people look a certain way. That indigenous culture is homogeneous, and primitive. That both indigenous peoples and indigenous cultures are dead, etc. These lies allow us to be okay with the continued oppression, dispossession, disappearances and deaths of indigenous people. Who ARE. STILL. HERE.
Roo showed to support me at a critical point in my life. We had not known each other long. We did not know each other well--we still don’t. But I will ride for Roo.
Today, I am inviting you to support my communities by supporting Roo’s work, the Catawba Language Project, and Roo’s people, the Catawba.
*For my birthday this year I’m asking you to celebrate with me by supporting my joy, my work and my communities. Each day I’ll be sharing one simple thing that you can do to support me in each of these areas.