We embrace and celebrate the ending of this cycle for Kinłani Mutual Aid. After nearly four years of intensive organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are moving into, through, and beyond where we have been and towards where we can be.
Although the sudden passing of one of our members, Klee Benally, has made a massive impact on our project – the decision to phase out Kinłani Mutual Aid started several months ago after much deliberation, reflections and conclusions in this statement. Project involvement has continued in limited capacity during this period, and as we bring operations to a close, we have many projects still to settle. This statement has been a collaborative effort between our members and comes with reflection and recognition of the intentions and history of Kinłani Mutual Aid and the principles expanded upon below.
We have not come to this conclusion lightly (we are not without our reluctance), but as we’ve contemplated our role as an organization managing and distributing tons and tons of essential supplies, responding to innumerable requests, making countless deliveries, we also weigh the responses to the challenges we issued to those around us to mobilize and proliferate mutual aid beyond any singular effort.
KMA’s outreach hit its peak in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic as we were taking charge of multiple projects. KMA had coordinated the sanitizing, packing and wrapping production of wellness and care boxes that had cleaning supplies, PPE, fresh produce, dry goods, non-perishables, hygiene and wellness items, infant and toddler care packages, as well as firewood for huge community supply hauls and for direct non-contact distribution to families and those in need. There were multiple supply and food distributions to Hopi, Diné, White Mountain Apache, Havasupai and Hualapai communities as well. We maintained a community garden that volunteers dug, planted, watered, harvested and protected from floods that produced food for hot meal distribution to our local unsheltered relatives. We rented a porta-potty outfront as public bathrooms had been closed down. This was cared for and cleaned by our unsheltered relatives. We set up and maintained two temporary showers outside during the summer. We made hand washing stations that were distributed to families on Diné Bikeyah and elsewhere that had no running water. There were volunteers who could assist from home making masks and providing emotional support & resource assistance over the phone. Volunteers were intaking donations, sorting them, and getting those out to those in need. We started a mobile outreach group for winters to help get cold weather survival items to our local unsheltered relatives in an effort to prevent deaths due to exposure. We organized supply pack production projects for hygiene, general wellness, and cold weather items on an ongoing basis in order to keep up with the demand on the street. There were groups making tents by hand to distribute in order to combat the battle for much needed tent donations. Donations that didn’t fit our focus were diverted to mutual aids that could utilize those supplies (ie. childrens toys, school supplies, teaching aids). Volunteers also took part in grocery & medicine non-contact deliveries for high risk individuals and families. We collaborated with the Havasupai to assist them in maintaining health and wellness during a dangerous rough patch. Anything Kinłani Mutual Aid could do within its capacity, we did or tried to do.
Direct action combined with fostering relationships and solidarity within the community has long been one of KMA’s crucial functions. We hope our project may spark further efforts in mutuality and simultaneously challenge existing colonial structures. We put our strength and hearts into doing what we felt was needed, was right, and what was important to protect and support each other as a community.
After taking a break to work on infrastructure during a period of low activity, we found that the necessary maintenance for many of KMA’s efforts required a level of participation and commitment that had fallen out of reach. We can identify these primary factors (among others) as influencing our decision to conclude this cycle of KMA:
– Pandemic fugue.
– Capitalist recuperation & survival.
– Organizational capacity issues.
With these factors considered, we hope to coordinate with other groups or individuals who would benefit from utilizing our resources from past and current functions for their own community projects, whether it be anything from critical supplies distribution to initiating new uses for the space as our project winds down. We would like to thank the Táala Hooghan Infoshop for housing KMA, and Indigenous Action for their support and facilitation of numerous KMA projects. We agreed that any remaining funds be utilized to pay outstanding expenses at Táala Hooghan.
On Mutual Aid
Unlike efforts that disguise themselves as outreach and impersonate a sense of community care and collaboration, mutual aid does not fall for reformist principles that keep existing structures afloat. While charities, non-profits, and capitalist institutions benefit from State sponsorship and hierarchical practices, mutual aid networks function in flux with their community. As a consequence, these projects come and go as they provide benefit to and find support within their environment.
Since the beginning of the pandemic and in the height of the mutual aid trend, we were aware of the trappings of cooptation and faux mutualities. We resisted attempts of liberal cooptation and charity work (which is rooted in capitalist logic and replicates hierarchies and dependencies). While asserting that mutual aid should proliferate and not become centralized and administered as any specialized organizational project, there are roles of leadership, social clout, and financial/resource accumulation that we actively worked to confront. As we held numerous orientations, workshops, and outreach meetings, it was (and is) challenging repeating ourselves when we offer that anyone can proactively take the initiative to organize among their community in a way that challenges the state apparatus without recreating its oppressive machineries in miniature form.
We sought to advance, empower, and grow cultural frameworks for action in spite of the state and nonprofit capitalists. For us, mutual aid was and is never an activity that a single organization does, but is a principle of responsibility, support, care, solidarity, and relations that is at the core of what we imagine and practice as a community. It’s a lifelong commitment.
We believe in cycles not institutions. Our mutuality isn’t a monument, campaign, or legacy, it is relationships rooted in principles of radical redistribution of support and power.
Too often organizers circumscribe themselves to the rigid confines of building institutions that become projects to tend to in and of themselves. As these institutions grow they can lead to the development of specializations, mimicking corporations that offer “services” based on “expertise”. These specialists then search out those in need of their services and develop client-based relationships of dependence that are inherently unequal and oppressive.
We are deeply concerned with the long term of where and how we would like to be in this world in which we face ongoing colonial occupation, capitalist exploitation, systemic white supremacy and cis-heteropatriatchy.
During the pandemic we witnessed many of those forces recede and the brilliant fires of mutual aid were sparked throughout the occupied US.
Moving forward into new cycles
Movement memory is important to provide a continuance of and reinforce cultures of resistance and liberation. We will continue to archive this project to propagandize the response to this tragic moment (and with that intervene in the state and liberal narratives that inevitably consume such powerful memories).
We have many stories to tell and we wish to be intentional and care for those that would otherwise be used to advance stature and used as a form of social currency.
Nothing we did was performative. Everything that we gave was all of us. Though it needn’t be stated, we feel compelled to assert that no one profited and so many stepped up selflessly to offer their time away from family and risk as the unknown deadly threat loomed over us all. We were (and still are) meticulous in our considerations for those most vulnerable who are of and with us as the deadly virus swept through our communities making Diné Bikeyah (the Navajo Nation) the most severely impacted region in the so-called US.
The environmental factors that made us more susceptible to the virus have not changed. Hundreds of uranium mines remain abandoned, coal fired power plants continue to suffocate us, fracking contaminates our water and air. Tribal politicians continue to pretend coal or gas or oil equals sovereignty when it really is the dead end of our existence.
The governmental failings and dependencies on corporations have been challenged but also has not informed the overall strategies towards liberatory existence.
The pandemic is not over until our elders and medicine people say it is.
While all these challenges still persist, so too should our collective resolve. Kinłani Mutual Aid will give way to new projects which will grow from the fertile soil of mutual relationships built on trust and solidarity, outside and independent of the state apparatus.
We call on you all, just as we call on ourselves, to push forward in this spirit and to help build the systems of our mutual liberation. Nobody protects us, but us. Nobody heals us, but us. Nobody frees us, but us.