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Engaging our Sovereignty for Indigenous Liberation

This is the time to come together for Indigenous liberation, which is the liberation of all earth people

by Jaque Fragua

Artist Jaque Fragua unpacks the meaning of Indigenous liberation. He delves into how history informs this moment from an Indigenous lens and offers insight on how to view the path forward from here in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing exploitation of Indigenous lands all over the world.

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around everything that has been happening this year, maybe even the last 20 years. By definition, I’m a Native American male, constantly mistaken for other identities according to authorities, which I suppose is a benefit to me in the long run. I was raised on an Indian reservation in New Mexico, United States of America. I was born in an Indian Health Services facility and received a number of vaccinations and treatments that were most likely “experimental” at the time, like many other Indian babies of the late 20th century. My worldview has been rooted in my culture, mostly a Pueblo Indian culture. I am also informed by my experiences in hip hop, graffiti, punk, art, and activist culture. Never would I self-identity in such a way of labeling and keeping to a strict tradition of any culture; however, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for these influences.

Jaque Fragua paints a mural with Dose (@thedoseone) in so-called Albuquerque, NM on Pueblos land to bring attention to the struggle of the local community, and encourage a focus on creating “a sustainable way of existence that doesn’t exploit the earth nor the living beings who reside on earth.” Photo by Wilson Fox / @TheFoxIdentity.

I have been impressed to write something. I was given my first language by my mother. My second language by my father, and my third language by the Bureau of Indian Education. I remember being reprimanded for not knowing English very well when I entered the schooling system. I figure since I went through so much struggle to learn it, I might as well use it. This also has informed how I feel about my institutionalization. I utilize these things of this system in order to communicate in the ways necessary to express myself and my People’s experience and struggle.

Enough about me. We grow up thinking this is the world we inherit. In ways, this is true. In other ways it is a facade to make us think that we must inherently try to “fix it” and “make it great again”. In recent times, it’s been made clear that there is nothing to “fix.” How do you fix broken treaties that you know will never be honored by a government that had no intention of being responsible? How can one believe that “all men are created equal” written by a man who owned many slaves? Where are all of these 40 acres that were mentioned and whose land has been stolen and is being exploited to provide reparations?

Jaque Fragua paints a mural with Dose (@thedoseone) in so-called Albuquerque, NM on Pueblos land to bring attention to the struggle of the local community, and encourage a focus on creating “a sustainable way of existence that doesn’t exploit the earth nor the living beings who reside on earth.” Photo by Wilson Fox / @TheFoxIdentity.

It’s been an interesting journey towards discovering an understanding of the Western colonial matrix. From the invention of agriculture to the doctrine of discovery, and to the genocide of whole continents and to the era of Indian Boarding schools, we have survived it all. We as Indigenous people are still here. They couldn’t kill us all by force, so they tried to kill us mentally, and spiritually, by taking our culture, our language, our stories, and our medicine, replacing the sacred with alcohol, rations, pharmaceuticals, and substances, such as fentanyl and meth. We were the first lab rats, and now everyone who lives in this country is a subject.

How do you fix broken treaties that you know will never be honored by a government that had no intention of being responsible? How can one believe that “all men are created equal” written by a man who owned many slaves? Where are all of these 40 acres that were mentioned and whose land has been stolen and is being exploited to provide reparations?

By acknowledging a “power” that an oppressor has over us, it is in essence, relinquishing our own power and sovereignty, and consents the treatment we have endured thus far. This is something that I must express to our Indigenous people. We cannot be dependent any longer on anyone else. We cannot submit ourselves to a system that does not serve us nor anyone but a few elite who care about nothing but our death and subjugation. We must engage our sovereignty. We must learn of our own power and strength through the resiliency our ancestors have passed to us. We must continue our ways of co-existence with the natural world and unlearn the conditioning and institutionalization of our sacred selves, and build up our communities. This is what I mean by not fixing, but abandoning the colonial system that has programmed us to be self-destructive and laterally violent.

Artists Jaque and Dose (@thedoseone) take a break from painting a mural in so-called Albuquerque, NM on Pueblos land. Photo by Wilson Fox / @TheFoxIdentity.

The corporations that continue to exploit Indigenous land the world over need to be reprimanded for their abuse of power and conspiracy against our people. I cannot stand hearing about the murdering of my brothers and sisters who are unarmed and non-violent, who live peaceful lives in their ancestral lands, for the natural resources that they have been stewarding for millennia. We all live in this colonial matrix at a cost. Whether it’s the mining of rare earth minerals, raping the land for oil, burning the rainforest, or flooding tribal land to displace the original peoples, the modern age of technology and industrialization is a movement that will eventually kill us—and ultimately reinforces slavery.

And if this isn’t enough, we have all been attacked by what is known as COVID-19. A lot of Indigenous peoples have been disproportionately affected by this pathogenic agent. We have realized that, at the moment, we do not have the resources to combat this sickness effectively, as most other “civilized” governments and societies scramble to treat the outbreaks themselves. Our infrastructures are bare minimum, most of our basic utilities have high levels of toxicity, the nearest hospitals are hours away, and our communities are already suffering from historical and live trauma. This, I hope, wakes our people up, and inspires us to take back our God-given right to self-govern and provide for ourselves the necessary elements of a sustainable life, in balance with the earth and beyond. This may look different for every community, but this was how it was before 1492 and this is what it will return to in the near future. We must prepare ourselves to adapt to a new life-way that is actually an evolution of the ancestral ways. We must decolonize.

Jaque Fragua and Dose (@thedoseone) completed this public art mural in so-called Albuquerque, NM on Pueblos land to bring attention to the struggle of the local community, and to encourage a focus on creating “a sustainable way of existence that doesn’t exploit the earth nor the living beings who reside on earth.” Photo by Wilson Fox / @TheFoxIdentity.

I have been in recognition of this path for a long time. I have done what I could to express this vision through my art. My great-grandmother, of Hopi and Zia descent, who lived to 100, told me that these days would come. I can only hope to carry on the vision of my ancestors and spread this awareness. The old colonial generations are dying out. This is the time to come together for Indigenous liberation, which is the liberation of all earth people. To my relatives in the struggle, I pray that you continue to keep the fire burning and know there is always a place for you in the fight for justice, peace, and sovereignty.

In solidarity,

Jaque Fragua

#blacklivesmatter #landback #Indigenousliberation

In May, during a time of global crisis and self-isolation, Greenpeace reached out to frontline artists in our community to create works of art that represent the power of solidarity, community resistance, and community organizing in moments of crisis. At that time—and even more so since Black Lives Matter became the largest movement in US history, connecting with people worldwide—resistance is taking on new forms and people are acting in solidarity in new ways and with new allies. However, the need to come together, lift up the voices of those affected the most, and organize against our exploitative and extractive systems, is nothing new. 

We invited proposals for public art pieces at any scale that highlight the various forms of resistance happening in this moment. The goal: show people invested in the fight for environmental justice that they are not alone in demanding justice and good health for all. 


Jaque Fragua

By Jaque Fragua

Jaque Fragua is an Indigenous artist whose work features visions drawn from traditional Native American ceramics, blankets, tattoo designs and more.

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