Kyle Mays: Michigan city's water crisis impacts Native people too

A member of the National Guard helps distribute bottled water to residents of Flint, Michigan, earlier this month. Photo from Michigan State Police / Flickr

Kyle Mays (Saginaw Chippewa / African-American) urges Native Americans and African Americans to acknowledge each others struggles in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan:
I understand the outrage of Native people. And you’re right: Black folks rarely acknowledge that they live on occupied land and benefit from (settler) colonialism; we have and continue to suffer under the grip of colonialism. But to frame the #FlintWaterCrisis in terms of “we have it worse than you” is to miss the point. I hate to say it, but this framing could be read as anti-Black and anti-urban-Indigenous. I’m not necessarily saying that (some) Native people are being anti-Black; nor am I necessarily saying that people are acting as culture cops, essentially saying that “real Indians” live on the reserve/ation. But I’m not going to dismiss those possibilities either. I know that anti-blackness exists in Indian Country; ask me how many times my family and I have been called niggers by Native people and how other Native folks have always questioned us because we were not “traditional” enough because we grew up in cities. Last time I checked, even cities used to be occupied, Indigenous land. Cities and Indigenous people did not develop separately. To frame the #FlintWaterCrisis only within the context of reserve/ation communities or simply a Black issue is not only harmful but dismissive of the urban Indigenous experience, which, in the case of Flint, is linked with the problems facing Black citizens.

Black folks must stop ignoring Native issues and realities. Black Americans ignoring Native people in their analysis is not new. But to ignore history, and Native people’s experience is problematic in a big-picture-sort-of-way. Flint was (and is) Anishinaabe land, and Indigenous people still live there. Black folks in America need to recognize that the world does not exist only in black and white, even if a white supremacist society has taught us this way of thinking of the world. Native people live in Flint, too, and have dealt with the poisoning of their water and taking of their land since settlers came and dispossessed Native people. The culprit today, again, is Governor Rick Snyder, a settler with power. This fundamental point must be made: Native people still exist, and some of us live right next to you, in cities throughout this country; sometimes, even, in the hood.

Water rights are a Black issue and a Native issue and a human rights issue. We may be denied our humanity by colonialism and white supremacy, but we don’t need to do that to one another. Black folks need to engage with the fact that they benefit from settler colonialism.

Get the Story:
Kyle Mays: Flint: Not Just a Black Issue (Indian Country Today 1/25)

Related Stories
EPA asserts a greater role as water crisis in Michigan continues (1/22)
Little River Band contributes $10K to assist city during water crisis (1/19)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe donates bottled water for city residents (10/7)

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