Podcast Ep 57: Landback from Turtle Island to Palestine

On episode 57, we speak with members of the NDN Collective about their recently released position paper on Palestinian liberation – “The Right of Return is LANDBACK.”

Krystal Two Bulls, Demetrius Johnson and Nadya Tannous of the NDN Collective tell us that the resistance by Indigenous peoples to the US’ centuries-long programs of ethnic cleansing and forced relocation is strengthened by Palestinian resistance to Israeli settler-colonialism.

“Our peoples are 500 plus years into this, and we’re still resisting, we’re still fighting, we’re still holding on to our ways, our cultures, our language, our spirituality, and we’re still fighting to reclaim our relationship with the land,” says Two Bulls.

“When we’re talking about Palestine, being 74 years into settler-colonialism, and we’re seeing escalated oppression moving straight into an apartheid state, I think it’s important that we look at that, because when Palestinians go home, that means us – as Indigenous peoples here on Turtle Island – we are then closer to what our vision of sovereignty and liberation and freedom is,” she explains.

Two Bulls and Tannous began organizing together at the Standing Rock protest in 2016, when Indigenous communities led a months-long confrontation against the US government’s plans to build the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River, a natural water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Palestinians expressed their support and solidarity with the resistance at Standing Rock.

“Part of the commitment is not just to have an analysis around what Indigenous sovereignty and liberation looks like and what our responsibility is as people who live on this land – and also as people who have been dispossessed and are actively being dispossessed by the same monsters and same systems, the same imperialist force,” Tannous explains, “but to really confront US imperialism from the first frontline, which is Native communities.”

She adds, “That’s where the US military was developed. And without that, without the United States military marauding against Krystal’s people, against Demetrius’ people, we would not have US imperialism.”

Johnson, who also works with The Red Nation, talks about participating in a 2018 delegation to Palestine. The trip was organized by Palestinian Youth Movement and led by Tannous.

Being on the ground in Palestine, he says, helped inform his work on the position paper.

“It was literally just like home,” he says. “These are the same sights and sounds and landscapes like I see at home. I felt no disconnection.”

He explains that recognizing “the care and the history and the connection that our Palestinian relatives have taken in educating not only themselves but the people here on Turtle Island [is] what we really wanted to weave into the paper too – how would we explain this issue to our relatives?”

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, I’m Nora Barrows-Friedman. On March 30, which is Land Day in Palestine, the NDN Collective released their position paper, “The Right of Return is LANDBACK,” which they say names their deep commitment to their Palestinian relatives, and emphasizes why Indian country should also stand for Palestinian liberation. Joining us to talk about this is Krystal Two Bulls, Demetrius Johnson and Nadya Tannous of the NDN Collective. Thank you all for being with us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Nadya Tannous: Thanks for having us.

Krystal Two Bulls: Yes, thank you.

Demetrius Johnson: What’s up everyone?

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Well, Krystal, let’s start with you. You’re the campaign director for Landback with the NDN Collective. The position paper begins with an outline of parallel histories of settler colonialism on this continent and in Palestine, and three and a half centuries after the genocide of Indigenous peoples on this continent began by European colonists.

It talks about the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which was a measure that was, as the paper says, “designed to cut relationships Native peoples had with the land by removing us, destroying our homes or medicines or crops or livestock, and killing any who resisted. Since the passing of the Indian Removal Act and US expansion out west, the popular Wild West trope began where settlers positioned themselves as saviors and us as savages.”

And of course, this is so incredibly similar to the Zionist colonization plans and practices of legalized forced removal of Palestinians from their land. Can you talk about the significance of connecting these histories of colonial violence and the purpose of the Palestine position paper?

Krystal Two Bulls: Yeah, first, thank you for the introduction and I’m really excited to be here. But, you know, our campaign is like two and a half years old, we’re still a relatively new movement, we’re a relatively new campaign. But I think from day one, whenever we launched the campaign, I knew that we would deepen our relationship with Palestine, I knew that that would be a priority for us. And I knew it was something that we would center in our campaign. And the reason – one is obviously from my personal relationships and connections, you know, with Palestinian aunties, who had invested in me and taught me, friendships with Nadya, and you know, those ties, but also, larger than all of that is also the fact that, and we named this in the position paper, settler-colonialism has a playbook.

And our oppressors, they communicate with each other. They collaborate with each other, they communicate, they work across, right. And so for us, as peoples who are targeted by this, by settler-colonialism, it’s important that we also communicate, that we also collaborate, that we also build together. And that we know the histories, and that we understand the various different timelines that exist with settler-colonialism, right? So our peoples are 500 plus years into this, you know, and we’re still resisting, we’re still fighting, we’re still holding on to our ways, our cultures, our language, our spirituality, and we’re still fighting to reclaim our relationship with the land.

And so I think that when we’re talking about Palestine, being 75, 74 years into settler-colonialism, and we’re seeing like an escalated, you know, an escalated oppression, right, moving straight into an apartheid state. And so, I think it’s important that we look at that, because when Palestinians go home, that means us as Indigenous peoples here on Turtle Island, we are then closer to what our vision of sovereignty and liberation and freedom is, right? And so I think that it doesn’t, it’s not this separate movement.

It’s not a separate thing that we’re focusing on or like, you know, what makes – some may think this is like, a different struggle, that’s over there, out there, but it’s actually something that’s very close to home. We know what that process looks like. We survived all of that. And now watching our siblings go through those processes as well, it is our responsibility to show up. It is our responsibility to say, Hey, this is how it played out with us, this is what happened with us, we don’t have to do these things again, we can actually just cut straight to what we need to cut to. So I think that it’s key for Indigenous peoples as well here on Turtle Island, to be in solidarity and to like, not just be allies, not just be co-conspirators, but to be relatives. And to take this fight and the struggle on as our own, and in the position paper that’s the intention that we’ve woven through the entire piece.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you. Nadya, tell us a little bit about the process of putting this position paper together and how you’ve been working across Turtle Island, the present-day US, with Native communities to strengthen and solidify these important bonds, not just you know, theoretically, but in practice.

Nadya Tannous: So I think I’ll start with how I ended up at the Landback campaign as a Landback organizer. It really is through personal relationships, Krystal and I actually started to organize with each other at Standing Rock, but we never met in person. And then we ended up meeting up in Penasco, New Mexico about a year later. And it just, you know, things developed, right, because part of the commitment is, like you said, not just to have an analysis around what Indigenous sovereignty and liberation looks like and what our responsibility is, as people who live on this land, and also as people who have been dispossessed and are actively being dispossessed by the same monsters and same systems, the same imperialist force, but to really confront US imperialism from the first frontline, which is Native communities. That’s where the US military was developed. And without that, without the United States military marauding against Krystal’s people, against Demetrius’ people, we would not have US imperialism.

And so I think, you know, Demetrius, and I also go way back, Demetrius was one of the delegates on the Palestinian Youth Movement’s Indigenous youth delegation to Palestine. And so we met back when the PYM and Red Nation were collaborating. And so I take that really seriously, because it means that those commitments and kind of your reference points are driven by the needs and the demands of the people that you know, and the communities that they come from. We are all grassroots organizers who are deeply invested and committed with our home communities or to our home communities.

So in terms of the – you know, coming to the Landback campaign, I think – Landback is a people’s demand, right? And being active in the campaign is a facet of that being able to actually carry that we’re able every day, to come to our work, from being grassroots organizers to now being able to try and think about what it means to be accountable to the frontline, what it means to be able to resource Landback struggles, like the one where you and I live, Nora, the West Berkeley Shellmound, for example, right? And so many struggles that are happening across Turtle Island. So in terms of the paper, it was pretty natural.

Coming into the Landback campaign, as Krystal said, you know, she had really prioritized Palestine and talking about how this needed to be focused on, this needs to be actively built out as part of the ongoing and natural and intentional reciprocal process between movements. And that process, as the paper lays out, between the historic commitments and the historic relationships between Indigenous liberation movements and Palestinian movements, in the spirit of internationalism, and in the spirit of global Indigenous solidarity. And I think – this was the second paper, our first paper was “Militarism is Decolonization,” or “De-militarization is Decolonization,” really tackling militarism and militarization within Indigenous communities and around the world, right?

And I think, you know, one of my favorite stories that we uplifted and something that I also think this paper gives back a lot to Palestinian communities, is some of the history that we maybe don’t talk about or don’t know about, but stories that I learned when the Palestinian Youth Movement’s delegations went to Standing Rock and we were taught by, you know, Lakota elders. When we showed up they were like, Where the heck have y’all been? Wait, you guys know us like, What do you mean? Yeah. And then we’re like, yeah, you all showed up here, and then we hadn’t seen you in a while. We’re like, Oh my God. And it’s that story of the Palestinian movement right, in Palestinian leaders coming to Standing Rock specifically for the first International Indigenous Treaty Council, and really thinking through what it meant to try and utilize different strategies for liberation.

One of them is the United Nations declaration for the rights of Indigenous people and looking at the United Nations as one mechanism for liberation, you know, as as a tool, right, in the larger movement, even as we, as Palestinians, don’t use it, you know, on an international level, we invested in developing out that strategy for our siblings and with our siblings based off of our experiences. So I want to uplift that because I think that’s the spirit of this paper, it’s not transactional, it really is stepping in what it means to be a good relative, what it means to be principled in a principled struggle, and what it means to uplift, to know and to unite with each other.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you. Demetrius, I want to pull you into the conversation as well. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with the NDN Collective and the Landback movement and what you feel are maybe some of the most key or significant points in this paper?

Demetrius Johnson: Yeah, so you know, me and Nadya got hired, you know, within a week of each other. And so to me, like you know, the Landback movement I’ve learned from memers, you know, I was involved in the meme community for a little bit. I was talking with some First Nation homies, some Indigenous youth and yeah, that’s like, you know, they kind of popularized like what Landback means and so, for me, like coming into this campaign and kind of already had like, my own like, idea of like Landback means. I mean, it’s like not a complicated definition. It’s just – like you know, give us the land back, all the land back.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yes, all the land. Yeah.

Demetrius Johnson: But, you know, NDN Collective, the history of like how this campaign came to be started from right here where we’re at right now, He Sapa, and you know, protecting this land and protecting that sacred site, the Black Hills and, you know, I can remember like – I’ve been a part of the Red Nation for seven years now. And you know, kind of just like, you know, watching other Indigenous movements and like, keeping an eye on NDN Collective and actually seeing the action go down live. That was like, my first like, connection or, who is Krystal Two Bulls and I just see just like, on top of the vehicle just like shouting. You see like Nick Tilsen and I don’t know like just seeing like the origins of like where’s this Landback campaign came from and finally like, I never you know, I me personally I never met Krystal or talked with Krystal really until, like, my interview for this position and, you know, just actually seen like, you know, the living legend but also, like, Krystal telling me like we’re actually thinking of getting Nadya on the team tonight. Like what Nadya, like the crew’s coming together, like. What a squad!

But the NDN Collective’s Landback campaign we – that is the cornerstone of what we’re organizing around. Like, actually, like why we’re here is, you know, the reclamation of He Sapa and that’s like the main thing that we’re, you know, focused on and, like, from there, like, we believe, like, it’s going to blow up – like if we can reclaim He Sapa we can, if we can reclaim the Black Hills that opens up so many other doors and avenues for, you know, other Indigenous people to reclaim their sacred sites. But, you know, other than that, you know, we got our narrative which – right now we’re working on our Landback magazine which will hopefully be released by the end of this year, that’s like the goal we’re going towards Indigenous Peoples Day. So keep an eye out, which will be about He Sapa, our political education which Nadya upholds and are both of us really kind of, like, that’s like our main, like, bread and butter work. Nadya does our Landback U, it’s like a online platform, a free online educational platform talking about, you know, like different struggles around Turtle Island, off Turtle Island, and how, you know, grassroots and frontline communities are, you know, reclaiming land or what all that means for the people doing that work.

And alongside the Landback U work are our position papers, which is – this is one of them. And also, we resource our frontline communities, we do movement support and also our Landback agenda. You know, it’s another piece of work that we’re, you know, another reason why we’re here just, you know, delving into, like, how do we – One, how do we get land back? Through education, through resistance, through mobilization, but also how do we do it on different fronts? Because there’s a bunch of different ways, a bunch of different tactics that you can use to get land back.

And we’re not trying to be, what do you call it, like a one trick pony out here. But my involvement in this position paper really came from my long, well, I don’t know it it’s long, but just me being in, like, in this movement space for the past seven years, with The Red Nation and a lot of political education, a lot of understanding of, like, what the Palestinian resistance means to Indigenous people. And then it wasn’t until 2018 where I was in connection with Nadya and the Palestinian Youth Movement. They’re like, hey, like, we’re trying to get someone from Red Nation to go on a delegation to Palestine, like who’s down to go and, and The Red Nation was just like, this guy’s going.

I don’t know, like, up until that point, like, I didn’t understand, it’s a whole different realization when you’re just like, some rez kid from Ganado, and you just read about, you know, what is happening around the world. But, you know, you’re kind of just like, within like, your own backyard, within like your own little bubble. But when you actually see what’s happening globally, what’s happening to other Indigenous people and making those connections, because my connections really came from landscape.

When we first landed in Tel Aviv, and went to our hostels, it was like midnight, it was like, one o’clock in the morning. But just driving around and seeing like, oh, like, people just stopped in the intersection, just yelling at each other, just like asking like, what, How’s the family been? Like, where are you going? Like, do you need directions and seeing like, packs of like, little rez dogs just walking around. Just like I don’t know, it’s just, it was literally just like home. These are the same sights and sounds and landscapes like I see at home. So I felt no disconnection. And I actually felt really comfortable just being like, on the other side of the world, never traveled internationally, never even really taken a flight.

And I was just like, wow, this is eye opening. But also, you know, just it’s really inspiring too – knowing that the care and the history and the connection that our Palestinian relatives have taken, in educating not only themselves but like, you know, the people here on Turtle Island. And I don’t know, I think that’s like, what we really wanted to weave into the paper too, is, you know, how would we explain this issue to our relatives? How would we explain this issue to our grandmas or cousins or uncles, aunties, that’s who we really wanted to gear this paper for.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, that’s beautiful. And I do want to ask you, you know more about your experience on the ground in Palestine in a moment, but I want to go back to you Krystal – tell us a little bit about, well, I want to talk about the Palestinian right of return and the Landback movement and how they are two sides of the same sphere. What is the Landback movement and how – I mean, like, when you say yes, yes, all the land, you know, this, like immediate automatic vilification by the settler state around that and the extraordinary panic that settlers and people in power kind of express about that, which is exactly what we see in Palestine when we talk about the right of return. So can you talk a little bit about the Landback movement, and really its kind of practical implications and applications and how it’s connected to the Palestinian right of return?

Krystal Two Bulls: Yeah. So that’s the whole paper. But in terms of what is Landback, I think that’s always like a really good starting point for conversations. And I think, you know, Landback is the literal reclamation of land. And it’s also the reclamation, everything stolen from us when we were forcibly removed, right? And so that means acknowledging that we were fully thriving economies and societies and communities pre-colonization. And so when we’re talking about Landback, you know, with the land also comes the reclamation of, like, ceremony and language and culture, spirituality, but also governance systems, kinship systems, how we relate to each other, education, food security, health care, housing, all of these things centered on our relationship to the land. And so when we’re talking about Landback, we’re talking about reclaiming all of those things. And those things were specifically targeted and severed for a reason, right? Like by design.

Everything that we are experiencing in our communities to this day, the high rates of diabetes, the high rates of high school dropout, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, domestic abuse, all of these things, they all have a root. And all of them go back – and I could probably spend a lot of time going through each one of those things, and tracing it back to when we were forcibly removed from the land. It all started then. And that’s by design, you know, there’s intention put into that. And so if there’s going to be a social justice movement anywhere on these lands, then it has to start with Landback. That is the route. That is how this so-called country was founded. And so that’s what Landback represents. It represents reclaiming relationships, reclaiming the land, reclaiming who we are, ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s what it is. That’s all those things are who we are. So it makes us who we are.

But it’s also a reckoning. And it’s also claiming justice, right? And so for us, that’s, that’s what we’re working towards, with Landback. And through our campaign, we do have a heavy focus and emphasis on things like public lands, right, because we know that national parks were not created for general public use, and to save this pristine landscape, the way that they like to push out in their narratives. But we know that national parks were created to strategically keep Native peoples from their land. Every national park that exists, exists right next to a nation, that exists to fully thriving people, in that land was strategically placed in the national park to keep us from that. And so we do have a focus on public lands.

But that doesn’t mean that Landback doesn’t also include private-owned lands, church-owned lands, military-owned lands, because those two are the largest landowners in the world, not just here in the so-called US, the world, right, the Catholic church and the military. And so thinking about that, you know, there are those that organize in that way, you know, and we see many different ways to reclaim land. You know, it’s happening through legislation, it’s happening through occupation, nonviolent direct action, through lawsuits, through purchasing land, through gifting of land, co-ops are being created, land trusts are being created, land taxes. And, like, even like co-management, which is not Landback, but it is a door that’s opening towards Landback, right? Renaming of places and spaces is not Landback, but it moves us in that direction, right?

And so, you know, we’re seeing Landback happen in many different ways. And there is no one template for that. But I think the way that it applies is, that’s the exact same thing happening in Palestine, is that disconnection from culture, from spirituality, from our four legged relatives, from the plants, from the languages, all of those things, it’s a very specific way of being targeted that separates and severs that relationship, right? And then the hope is that, you know, colonizers can come in and just lay over the top of all of the things that existed before and just prop up a so-called country, you know. And so I think that that’s the connecting piece, is that we see the same process.

And so earlier, when I said that settler-colonialism has a playbook, we’ve seen this play before. And now that we’ve seen it, when we collaborate, and we work together, then we can address that, you know, and we can adjust tactics, we can adjust strategy, and we can build together and show up for each other in a way that prevents the levels of harm, right? And the generations that my people have had to experience trauma, right to get us to the point here today. And so, yeah, those are the connecting pieces and, yeah, so when we’re looking at the right of return, that’s exactly what the right of return is asking for, it’s the same exact thing that Landback is asking for.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right. I mean, you know, talking about the national parks here in the so-called US, I mean, Nadya and I both know intimately how the Israeli Lands Authority as they call it, and the Jewish National Fund worked together to not only ethnically cleanse Palestinian villages, entire areas and regions of Palestine, but then they literally planted forests on top of the ruins of villages and called it a national park in order to somehow prevent, not just the return to that land but the, you know, the memory, the historical legacy of the people who were there, just a generation before. It’s astounding. Nadya, what can you say about the delegation that you took Demetrius on and other Native people? And what was it like for you as a Palestinian American on this delegation of Indigenous folks?

Nadya Tannous: Yeah. So the Indigenous youth delegation to Palestine was developed out of work that PYM had been engaging in across Turtle Island, really, since our inception as a United States chapter, right, in the Bay Area. And we learned a lot, you know, through our Black Mesa delegation, delegation of Black Mesa, in 2013, 2012-2013. And then, you know, moving into local Landback struggles.

When we went to Standing Rock, we made that commitment to be on the ground from – I think the first delegation we sent was in August. And so we were on the ground and made that commitment to be there from September all the way till the end, whenever it would be. We said seven months, we can commit to seven months. And when we proposed the Indigenous youth delegation, we actually were talking with Krystal, Megan Awad and I were talking with Krystal about what it looks like to actually do this, right? So saying Okay, it’s never enough, right? We’re taking responsibility, we’re trying, right, to say, what does it mean for Palestinians to show up on the frontline, what does it mean for Palestinians to show up in following the lead of our Indigenous relatives and siblings here in order to, you know, not just say, yes, okay, we’re living here in exile on stolen land? But to really take up the responsibility of what I think and what I was taught, it means to be Palestinian, which is that we fight injustice wherever we are, we don’t just fight for ourselves, right? That’s in our practice. That’s in who we are. That’s in how we’ve struggled.

And so I feel really lucky to come from a people who have a history of internationalism. We carry that with such pride. And, of course, we also, you know, have to take up the responsibility in order to step into that, right? Can’t just say it, you have to think about it and do it, right? So that’s what the Indigenous youth delegation was about. We’ve been here, hosted on these lands, right? And with people, what does it mean to take Indigenous youth from Turtle Island in the kingdom of Hawaii home with us? What does it mean, for us to literally try to live and build with each other? What we ran into were some difficulties. You know, one was grassroots funding, the entire delegation, as with any PYM project, is 100 percent grassroots-funded, and plane tickets to, you know, Lydd airport, so-called Tel Aviv, is tough, right?

And we also ran into the structural issues of oppression that Native people live under every day, the issues of passports, for example, the issue of previous incarceration and strange fines that prevented people from leaving the so-called country, a lot of things came up as a barrier. But in the end, you know, the way that we planned it, put it all together, it worked out. And I think the funny thing is, Nora, you know, I have only been to Palestine at that point five times in my life, right? And three of them were from when I was little.

And at that point, the last time I had been was in 2013. And the time before that was the second intifada when I was there on the ground, as a child. And so when we went in 2018, I have a really good memory and I really had the responsibility of kind of directing us. And it was interesting how much I remembered. And I think people were like, Oh, how many times you know, so you’ve been here a lot. I’m like, guys, I grew up in exile, I was born in Oakland, California, like, you know, Ohlone territory, like, I’ve been in exile my whole life and there’s a reason I’ve had to go back by myself. You know, because in my immediate family, I’m one of the only ones who can go back.

And that’s always contingent, as you know, based on the Israeli military authority. And so what it was like for me and for the other Palestinians from the Palestinian Youth Movement who are also delegates on the trip, it was extremely powerful. That delegation has stuck with us. And it will continue to inform our existence for the rest of our lives. And what it also did was it helped us as the Palestinian Youth Movement, figure out and try to build out an infrastructure for what it looks like to actually engage in principled and transformative joint struggle. And so that’s what has happened, trying to really delve into these things. And I think it was – lastly, really transformative for Palestinians on the ground to meet Indigenous peoples from Turtle Island and the kingdom of Hawaii.

There’s a story that is one of my favorite stories from the delegation where we were in Dheisheh refugee camp. And we were walking, and this mob of kids came. And they were like, so excited, right? They’re like, all sizes, all ages, and they’re just talking with us. And I’m trying to translate, like, we’re all trying to translate from scratch to asking all these questions. And this boy, I think he was like, 14, he came up to Demetrius, and he was, like, I know you guys. And I was, like, What do you mean, you know, these guys? Like, I know, you guys. He’s, like, this is what happened. And he’s just listing off history, mostly about the Lakota struggle, actually, he just started going off. He’s, like, and on the plains, this is what happened. And this is a thing with Custer. He’s going off, right? I’m like, how do you know this?

He’s like, Oh, my dad has a book in Arabic in his library. And so I sat and I read it. And I said, Have you ever been to Turtle Island? He’s like, I’ve never left Dheisheh, not once, right, never left this place. And it was that power of knowing that, like, you know, Krystal has never been to Palestine. And knowing that there’s that strength and not having to see it for yourself to know it intrinsically. And so I think that – another power is being able to actually fight for something – something that most people think is already lost. Right? Landback, well just give it up. Because it’s a struggle that’s already been lost, or Palestine – freeing Palestine, from the river to the sea, full return of every Palestinian to the land, and the full return of the land to every Palestinian. Right? It’s lost, give it up. But what we can see, actually, is that Landback is happening more and more every day, there are more cases of Landback every single month.

And we come from Landback organizers, Landback is as old as our people have been resisting, from the time the first settlers stepped on our lands. That’s what it is. And so we know that the right of return regardless of the fragmentation, regardless of the difficulties that we have in the Palestinian movement, as is any community, we know that the right of return is a central demand and the right for full return and full liberation is a central demand that we will never give up for anybody. No matter what, it is not negotiable – just as the Black Hills are not for sale, and they will never be for sale. Right?

Because it’s the center, the land convenes who we are and, and in all honesty, Palestine is a political struggle. Our struggle is for political rights, not just our human rights. But the struggle is deeply connected to the land. We’re not fighting for Palestine to exist in the sky, we’re not fighting to be able to exist as a shattered people across the world, living for generations in refugee camps, living for generations in exile with the hope that we get absorbed in some settler-colonial nation to become American. We’re fighting for our dignity and for the full return of ourselves to ourselves. That’s what we’re fighting for.

And so, just to say, I think the Indigenous youth delegation was extremely powerful, because every single delegate who came felt like they were home and felt like they were welcomed and felt like they knew something intimately already that they were bringing in there. So the last thing I’ll say is Yacoub Odeh, the elder and a leader from the village of Lifta, he looked at Malia Hulleman, at the end of our tour with him, and he said don’t worry, don’t worry and don’t give up. The land will come back. It’s already on its way, don’t worry about them. And he’s 90-something years old and he’s still fighting, you know, he’s still fighting. So we just also uplift our elders like Yacoub Odeh, Madonna Thunder Hawk, who have been fighting, and I’ve been teaching us what it means to hold these slogans and to hold these movements and to let nobody compromise their principles.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s beautiful. Thank you Nadya. Demetrius, I could see you were getting a little emotional about Nadya talking about what happened in Dheisheh. Can you tell us a couple of other kinds of moments of that trip and how it has helped inform and catalyze the work that you and Krystal are doing?

Demetrius Johnson: Yeah, I don’t know, just like that specific part about, you know, that kid, well first of all, like, I used to be, like, a football coach before even I got politicized – I just always loved sports. I always loved working with the kids. I wanted to be a teacher but I don’t know, just something about, like, you know, this kid telling me this history, like, I had to learn throughout college, but they don’t teach it, they don’t teach it in high school or middle school or whatever. Like I had to learn this in college. And this – he’s a little guy, Nadya says he’s 14. But I was like, he’s like a little guy, he’s a baby but he’s just telling me, like, all this, you know, all this history and like the fact that he’s just like – Yeah, but nevertheless, this place I know about you guys, like, oh man, like yeah, that’s like our connection.

You know, as someone who I mean, I’ve never really, I’ve never left the Southwest, where we live, either in Arizona or New Mexico and so just kind of hearing that I was just, like, man – there’s something there, and I just think of my little cousins, think of my nephews my nieces, like, they’re the same way, like, they also really never left their communities. But man, oh my gosh, there’s, like, so much, like, every time me and Nadya get together, like, we just always reminisce – just the delegation, which is really just something else. I think one of my favorite parts is obviously the food, oh my gosh, the food – so we go to Battir. Oh my gosh. So Battir – the place had, they just have gardens, like gardens and gardens, and just vegetables and crops and, like, they’re just growing food everywhere.

But there’s, like, this little restaurant, right? Like, after we get this whole tour of this beautiful place and talking about, like, you know, like, all – this is actually the place, like, they just could not capture because, like, it was just like strategic. But they were really smart. They were really smart. And, like, they were very clever. Like they made themselves bigger than, like, what they actually, you know, who, like, what they actually weren’t, like, they just, like, had lights in all these houses, like, they had like, like clothes just hanging or, like, they just, like oh, there’s like a whole ass army here. Like, Let’s not mess with these guys, like, and, like, it worked –

Nadya Tannous: There were like 11 people holding it down and they didn’t even wear the clothes. They just kept washing them and putting them on the line.

Demetrius Johnson: And I’ve never seen a more beautiful garden in my life. I’ve never tasted – I mean, okay, so confession, I don’t like vegetables, but Palestinian vegetables – I was eating tomatoes. I was eating cucumbers I was in, like, I was eating everything that were thrown at me because I’ve never had anything more delicious in my life but I’m telling you, like, so anyways, Battir – at the end, you know, we’re walking through the villages we’re walking through the gardens are just going up and down everywhere. Like we’re exploring this whole place and then there’s, like, this little restaurant and I don’t know, they just, like, you know, there’s bottles of bottles of, just drinks, okay, cool. They bring out, like, this huge, just like giant pan and it has, like, I don’t know like eight chickens, with eight whole chickens on it. And there’s two of these things. There’s like 16 chickens right? And it’s just like laying on the bed of just, like, rice and, like, some sort of sauce, like some vegetables in there but then they also have, like, the little plates all around the table and there’s only eight of us or ten of us, I was doing my part, I was carrying the team on my back, I ate like two chickens, like I was eating half that rice but my goodness, like, the food!

But, you know, that also just goes into the hospitality of Indigenous people. Like everywhere I’ve went, and me being a resident within you know, so-called Albuquerque which is Tewa territories, the Pueblo people there, you know, they have feast days, you know, it’s like a day where they open up their homes, they open the communities to everyone, people that they know, and they invite people in, and it’s literally the same thing. They feed everyone that comes, they show them around the community, they show them the dances, the prayers, and, you know, everyone eats together. And that’s all day of just, you know, just welcoming into our space. And, you know, just having like that, you know, relationship just being good relatives really. So, I don’t know, that part really stuck with me. But there was also one other part and I’ll end it there, but oh, gosh, I always feel bad Nadya and I always have to ask you, but it’s the place with the school –

Nadya Tannous: Yeah, it was al-Naqab, when we went near al-Araqib to the medicine processing plant near their village.

Demetrius Johnson: Yeah, it was a Bedouin village and just talking to them and you know, going to the school and, like, this school has been demolished like, I don’t know how many times but they keep rebuilding it. And, you know, just them, like, wanting to have, like, education or just, like, you know, fighting to like educate themselves, even though –

Nadya Tannous: Ah, this was Khan Al-Ahmar, it was actually, with the school. Yeah, we went to Khan al-Ahmar during the uprising, we went to a lot of places.

Demetrius Johnson: And, you know, just going around and just, I don’t know, like the infrastructures or just like the way people are just, like so resilient or, like, they just like to make do with what they have. And, you know, there’s places that look like my grandma’s house. I mean, you know, people will call it like a shack or just like a rundown home but like, it’s not, like it’s a home, like, even though, like, if it’s put together with like plywood or tarp or whatever, those are the same upbringings like I grew up with those that’s like, that’s my grandma’s house. And we don’t think it’s rundown. Like it’s actually well kept. It’s our, it’s a place that’s our home, it’s where my belly button is buried, like it’s home. But also, like, you know, there’s, like, this in like, in the middle of the village is like this, like this, you know, the sheep, the sheep and the goats. And they’re just, like, in there, like, they’re just like doing their thing, but it’s like the sheep corral.

And the goats, like, I just looked – it looks exactly the same thing. It’s like, just like, like little barbed wire or like, I don’t know, just like, like little pieces of scrap wood just like just to create like a corral. Right. But, but, and like, I don’t know, like all my all my Dine homies, all the other people that have, like, sheep, but like, you know, on the sheep corral right there, like, round the top corner of the sheep corral is a WiFi router. And I was just, like, we’re out here.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Gotta have internet.

Demetrius Johnson: We ain’t got internet, we hardly get electricity, just being honest. Y’all got WiFi, these sheep out here watching Netflix. I don’t know, those are the things I held on to the most, you know, it is home. And it is rowdy. And it is, like, you know, kind of just, I don’t know what the word is just, like, – it can be overwhelming, but also it’s just the people that make it feel like home, it’s the people that, you know, bring everything together and that’s exactly what it is like back in Ganado – you know people say it’s out in the middle of nowhere. Like there’s, like, nothing really out there but it’s like the people, it’s the relatives, it’s the family that really make it like a really, really special place.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Beautiful. And our executive director’s father’s family is from Battir and his mother’s family is from Lifta, so you know that he’ll be happy to hear your experiences in those places.

What have been some of the reactions and also like, calls to action in ways that Indigenous folks are already using the position paper and what are the next steps in meeting these demands that you’ve all laid out?

Krystal Two Bulls: Oh man. So, I mean, reactions were definitely, overall, from Indigenous communities, were supportive. I mean, and I think people, even some of the responses that we had conversations with folks, and we’re, like, we need to, like, we need to prepare you for backlash, right? And, like, we were very aware of that from the start. And so we were really protective of our whole organization, and like, did a lot of groundwork and prepping ourselves and bracing people for it, all of that, and then we would have conversations with folks who we thought we really needed to support and kind of bring along. And they’re, like, Well, of course. They were just like, yeah, it makes sense. Like, that’s the natural, that’s the natural thing.

And I think for the most part that has been the response, is that the needed folks here are just like, Well, yeah, that’s what we went through. And then when you lay out the history and the parallels that exist, yeah, they’re, like, yeah, that just makes sense, you know. And so I think that overall has been the response. You know, I think, I also think we’re treading, I don’t know, if it’s like, necessarily new territory, but I think we’re moving into a space, you know, and a path that has been less traveled around indigeneity, and acknowledging Palestinian peoples as Indigenous siblings to us, right. And I think that we’re moving into that space.

And, like, we say who our relatives are, you know, like, we don’t wait for the state to say who you are, who we are, and who we’re connected to, and who we’re related to. We don’t wait for the state to say who is who and what our identities are, we define that. And so I think that is a big thing that, you know, we’re stepping into, and that we’re, we’re pushing, and we’re not standing down from that, you know, we’re – our organization has stepped into many coalitions and spaces where we are actively supporting and calling for, you know, different organizations to not take trips to apartheid states. You know, we’re calling for the defunding of different spaces that fund these things.

And the ironic thing is, is that we didn’t receive the amount of Zionist backlash that we thought we would. And I think it’s because we’re a different kind of group. You know, it’s a very different thing right now. And so we’re sitting with all of that, we’re exploring it. And in terms of next steps, like, we’re continuing to find ways to put the paper into action, right. I think we’re still kind of in that after-period of interviews and conversation, and really diving into that. But our organization is already making some pretty large commitments.

You know, and I can’t name a whole lot of things publicly, but we have some pretty big commitments that are rolling out soon. And so, you know, we’re here, we’re not backing down, we’re not going anywhere. You know, and we’re committed to this work, you know, and we see each other that way. And so I think that, yeah, there’s big next steps. You know, and there’s some smaller steps in terms of building with each other, being in coalition with each other, having some tangible calls to actions, things like that. And we’re, you know, we’re doing the legwork of meeting that together. And I think as we go deeper, you know, we will even explore what are the various different tactics and strategies around reclaiming land? And how does that look? And what does that look like, in the international movement space, right.

And so we’re in those conversations, we’re still exploring all of that, we’re seeing, you know, trying to take our experience and knowledge and see how it applies. What does it work? What does work? Yeah, so I’d say that’s kind of where we are right now. And we’re not going anywhere. I think that as we went on with this process, like our organization and individuals in our organization, we’re about 60 people in our organization who are politicized at various different degrees. But I will say that the impact that this paper has left with each individual in our organization has been powerful. And I see a level of commitment from folks I did not expect it from and I see them really stepping into this work too, in feeling, not just like knowing, strategically, tactically, this makes sense. But they feel it, and they’re moving with that. And so, yeah, I would say that there’s still a lot of work to be done still, you know, but we’re not going anywhere. We’re here for it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s phenomenal. And where can people – We’re going to put the link up obviously on the post that accompanies this episode but if people want to learn more about the NDN Collective, about PYM, about Red Nation, where can they go?

Krystal Two Bulls: Yeah, so for NDN Collective just NDNcollective.org, for the Landback campaign, we have our own website, landback.org. You know, all the things that we’re working on are on there, LandBack U registrations on there, some of our past presentations, our modules are on there. Our position papers are all on the NDN Collective website. So you can go to either NDNcollective.org or landback.org.

Nadya Tannous: And we actually have the blog of the right of return as Landback position paper going up in Arabic sometime very soon, along with resources on Standing Rock that are written in Arabic for the Arabic speaking audience and for people back home to be able to read it, digest it and talk about this paper. For Palestinian Youth Movement, follow PYM socials, Palestinian Youth Movement, you’ll see as we’ve gotten louder and louder every year Hamdulillah.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s great. And Red Nation?

Demetrius Johnson: Yeah. And then for Red Nation, we’ve got our website, therednation.org. Or you can also follow us on our social media at the Red Nation Movement.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Wonderful. Well, this has been a phenomenal discussion. I expect this is just the first of many. I am so grateful for all three of you joining us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast, Krystal Two Bulls, Demetrius Johnson and Nadya Tannous of the NDN Collective’s Landback Campaign. And thank you so much for all that you do. We’ll have you back on very soon.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).