In the Navajo Nation, Anarchism Has Indigenous Roots

In the Navajo Nation, Anarchism Has Indigenous Roots


About an hour west of the New Mexico–Arizona border, an expanse of highway, sky, and sagebrush-spotted terrain ends in sandstone cliffs. The red-orange walls drop down into Canyon de Chelly, the only national park operated on land still owned by the Navajo Nation. This summer, as the per capita rate of coronavirus cases in the Navajo Nation surpassed New York state’s, Kauy Bahe, 19, found himself standing on the canyon’s edge as he delivered food to a Navajo elder and her family as part of a mutual aid effort.

“It was a beautiful spot,” Bahe (Navajo) said, describing the woman’s cornfield and hogan (a traditional Navajo home made of wood and packed soil) outside Del Muerto, Ariz. But “she was telling us about the struggles for water, about how they don’t have running water there and how they have to drive 30 minutes” to buy it.

Across the United States, activists have responded to the Covid-19 crisis with anarchist strategies, like mutual aid. In Window Rock, Ariz.—the seat of the Navajo Nation—the K’é Infoshop is one such group, and has been supplying elders, families, and the immunocompromised with food and medical supplies. But the Infoshop’s members, like Bahe, say their style of autonomous organizing has distinctly Navajo roots.

In September 2013, Brandon Benallie (Navajo/Hopi) and Radmilla Cody (Navajo) had just moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., only about 200 miles from the Navajo Nation, when heavy rains flooded towns and destroyed homes across the reservation. Cody, a musician, and Benallie, a cybersecurity expert who’d grown up watching his family organize against resource extraction, quickly planned a benefit concert and collected aid for those affected by the floods. The next year, the Assayii Lake Fire forced dozens of Navajo families to evacuate their homes, and Benallie and Cody organized another concert. Then, just months later, news broke that three teenagers had beaten and murdered two Navajo men in Albuquerque, N.M. The incident reminded Cody and Benallie of the many stories they’d heard growing up of Indian rolling, the assault or murder of homeless Native Americans in white towns along the Navajo reservation.

K’é Infoshop cofounder Radmilla Cody. (K’e Infoshop / Instagram)

After that series of events, Benallie and Cody knew that they wanted to fully commit to mutual aid work, and so they formed their own Infoshop, an anarchist community space. They began by setting up a tent outside of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, but as Indigenous organizing ramped up in 2016 ahead of the Standing Rock demonstrations, they decided they wanted a permanent space.

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