Sophia Marjanovic
Sophia Marjanovic is seen outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C, in October 2016 to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
‘No one is illegal on stolen Indigenous land’: Native activist speaks out on viral encounter
Monday, October 4, 2021
Indianz.Com

A Native woman is speaking out after a video showing her confronting Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) has drawn millions of views, and sparked outrage, on social media.

Sophia Marjanovic, a citizen of the Fort Peck Tribes, confirmed to Indianz.Com that she took part in the controversial encounter on Sunday. She went to the Arizona State University campus in Phoenix to ask Sinema to support a $3.5 trillion spending package that is being negotiated in the nation’s capital.

“I’m a survivor of human trafficking,” Marjanovic tells the Democratic lawmaker in a video that so far has racked up more than 5 million views on Twitter.

“I need you to stand by workers and lots of people like me,” Marjanovic says in the clip, which was posted by Living United for Change in Arizona, an activist group that supports the Build Back Better agenda, as well as better protections for children of immigrants.

But while the message Marjanovic and fellow activists presented is backed by Democrats across the country, the method in which it was shared is drawing outrage across the political spectrum. The group followed Sinema into a restroom on the college campus, where she teaches about social work, fund raising and public policy. The video was recorded as the lawmaker utilized a stall in the restroom.

“This is insane,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) said on his personal social media account. “Stop this madness people, doesn’t help your cause even if it makes you feel better.”

Marjanovic, however, is pushing back against criticism of the confrontation. She told Indianz.Com on Monday morning that some of the negative reaction stems from efforts to demonize groups of people, including immigrants, who had no say in the imposition of the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

“They think I am an undocumented immigrant and are claiming undocumented immigrants are committing crimes,” said Marjanovic, who earned her doctorate from George Washington University.

To the contrary, Marjanovic pointed out that she is a citizen of a sovereign Native nation whose existence pre-dates the United States government. In addition to being from Fort Peck, she hails from the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, which is part of the larger Kumeyaay Nation, whose lands were disrupted by the U.S. border with Mexico.

“No one is illegal on stolen Indigenous land,” Marjanovic told Indianz.Com.

After leaving the building where the incident took place, Marjanovic, who is a graduate of Arizona State University as well as a current student, said she was temporarily detained on the campus before being let go.

Living United for Change in Arizona, also known as LUCHA, is defending the encounter as well. The group said they wouldn’t have had to track down Sinema were she more accountable with the people she serves as an elected member of the U.S. Senate.

“She’s been completely inaccessible,” the group said of Sinema in a post on Sunday afternoon. “We’re sick of the political games, stop playing with our lives.”

“Build back better, back the bill!” LUCHA said in reference to the Democratic agenda.

Sinema has raised doubts about the $3.5 trillion price tag of the Build Back Better package and her stance is seen as crucial to its survival in Washington, D.C. Amid the high-stakes nature of the debate, she described the behavior of Marjanovic and activists as “unacceptable.”

“Yesterday’s behavior was not legitimate protest,” Sinema said in a statement on Monday. “It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom.”

“It is the duty of elected leaders to avoid fostering an environment in which honestly-held policy disagreements serve as the basis for vitriol — raising the temperature in political rhetoric and creating a permission structure for unacceptable behavior,” Sinema added.

By mid-day on Monday, even President Joe Biden was being asked about the incident.

“I don’t think they’re appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “The only people it doesn’t happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them. So it’s part of the process.”

Biden, however, acknowledged that Sinema’s support is needed to move Build Back Better forward through a legislative process known as reconciliation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is another hold out.

“Look, I need 50 votes in the Senate,” Biden said. “I have 48.”

Democrats in Congress, with the backing of Biden and the White House, are utilizing the reconciliation process for the Build Back Better agenda because they lack Republican votes. Negotiations with Sinema and Manchin have continued in recent days amid talk of lowering the price tag of the package.

“I’m not going to negotiate in public,” Biden said when asked about lower-dollar figures for Build Back Better.

Kyrsten Sinema and Jonathan Nez
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) is seen with President Jonathan Nez of the Navajo Nation during a visit in her U.S. Senate office in Washington, D.C., on February 6, 2019. hoto courtesy Office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

The centerpiece of Build Back Better is infrastructure, including billions of dollars of investments in Indian Country, where roads, bridges, water, housing and internet are decades behind the rest of the country. But the package also covers a wide range of economic, health, education and social programs in hopes of helping families and creating more jobs for Americans.

“Another point that is critically important to the work of our small businesses is to allow their workers to have affordable child care,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during a visit to a women-owned eatery in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

“There are so many women who have left the workforce for a number of reasons including a lack of available and affordable child care,” Harris said. “Both pieces are important, both pieces are being addressed by the Build Back Better agenda.”

Sinema, an attorney, former social worker, former state lawmaker and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is serving her first term in the Senate. She won election to a six-year term in 2018.