Buffalo Rebellion Community Call: Great Plains Action Society and Mutual Aid

Recently I wrote about our Buffalo Rebellion Community Call. That post focused on all the things Jaylen Cavil told us about the work of the Des Moines Black Liberation Collective. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/2022/12/14/buffalo-rebellion-community-call-des-moines-black-liberation/

Also, during that call, my friend Sikowis spoke of some of the extensive work of the Great Plains Action Society (GPAS).

She recently wrote Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change.

Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change. We believe that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antitheses of colonial capitalism, and we deploy these tools to fight and build on our vision–tools that are deeply embedded in a culture of resistance. 

It began with the need to protect our homes and way of life from settler invaders, colonial militias, and imperialist governments. There is over a 500-year history of Indigenous resistance to the violent nature of colonial-capitalist genocidal and extractive practices. As stewards of the land, our ancestors saw right away that settler invaders, who were directly harming us, were also harming the environment and throwing the ecosystem off balance. The resistance is ongoing as long as genocide and colonization are perpetuated by the nation-state and its settler citizens. To be in a constant state of resistance is traumatic, hence why we suffer from intergenerational and historical trauma. Yet, it is necessary to protect our land, our people, and our ways from colonial-capitalist forces.

Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change written by Sikowis Nobiss


Colonial capitalism

I’ve been learning a lot about colonial capitalism from my friends at GPAS.

  • I have had almost no success in getting my White friends to understand that capitalism is one of the root causes of injustice in this country today. Most of them are so invested in capitalism they cannot, or don’t want, to imagine and work toward alternatives.
  • The initial colonization in this country’s past occurred five hundred years ago. Making it easy for colonial settler citizens today to ignore that history and believe it is their privilege to continue to occupy these lands they have settled on.
  • Now when I look at photos of my ancestors, I view them as settlers. And know I am a settler, too.
  • I am learning that Indigenous ideologies and practices are the antithesis of colonial capitalism.
  • Mutual Aid is a central concept of Indigenous ideologies as Sikowis further explains in the Theory of Change (see below)

Climate parade, Des Moines, photo: Jeff Kisling

This is a diagram I’ve been working on to visualize the relationships among these concepts. Including colonial capitalism, Black Liberation, Mutual Aid and the Buffalo Rebellion. (See: https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/)


Mutual Aid

As I wrote earlier, Jaylen Cavil of Des Moines Black Liberation Collective, spoke about the collaboration of Des Moines BLM with Des Moines Mutual Aid. He said Mutual Aid is the alternative to the capitalist system that drains all the resources that should be invested in our people and communities.

This part of the Des Moines Black Liberation Collective website shows some of these relationships. https://www.desmoinesblm.org/mutualaid

https://www.desmoinesblm.org/mutualaid

Sikowis writes about Mutual Aid in Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change.

When we imagine a strong political infrastructure, societies built on compassion, and a regenerative economy, we see a focus on relationships and community. Contrary to this county’s notion of independent thought and action, we recognize the importance of relationships and community as the foundation for true democracy. Indigenous traditional societies and cultures are collectivist in nature and we find this to be a critical way of being as we face down the climate emergency and increased societal polarization caused by the adversarial structures of our current governing systems. Radical individualism only benefits the wealthy.

Unfortunately, we have a long struggle ahead of us–but we are up for the challenge. We have no choice. And so, we organize from the bottom up through grassroots and frontline efforts and we are informed by the communities that we serve and are a part of. This work has made it very clear that mutual aid is necessary for achieving our decolonized vision as radical love helps heal and activate more folks on the ground to get culturally, civically, and politically engaged. By empowering BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, and Disabled folks to get involved in change-making, we are building faith in disenfranchised communities that currently lack trust in governmental institutions. Only through mutual aid and community-based organizing will we be able to increase genuine interest in social and climate justice matters, which affect everyday people. We also aim to get out the vote and increase political engagement as most of the big change we seek always comes down to legislation–even at the frontlines. 

Great Plains Action Society’s Theory of Change written by Sikowis Nobiss


I am very glad to learn more about how Sikowis and GPAS see Mutual Aid. She described GPAS’s financial support of the work Ronnie James does at Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA). Ronnie is a member of GPAS’s staff and has become a very good friend of mine. Ronnie is in the middle of this photo I took on the day we met in February 2020, at a vigil to support the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ resistance to the Costal GasLink pipeline construction on their lands. Our meeting was Spirit led and changed my life. Most of my justice work since that meeting has been related to Des Moines Mutual Aid.


GPAS’s Theory of Change highlights several important aspects of Mutual Aid.

  • Indigenous traditional societies and cultures are collectivist in nature and we find this to be a critical way of being as we face down the climate emergency and increased societal polarization caused by the adversarial structures of our current governing systems
  • And so, we organize from the bottom up through grassroots and frontline efforts and we are informed by the communities that we serve and are a part of.
    • This is a fundamental principle of justice work. Something I learned about when involved in Quaker Social Change Ministry (See: https://jeffkisling.com/2021/03/15/afsc-quaker-social-change-ministry/)
    • Far too often White people’s approach to justice work was not informed by the communities they were trying to serve. Which often did more harm than good as a result.
  • This work has made it very clear that mutual aid is necessary for achieving our decolonized vision as radical love helps heal and activate more folks on the ground to get culturally, civically, and politically engaged.
    • As I was learning more about the injustices of colonial capitalism, I wondered what the alternative would be. Mutual Aid is that alternative. Fundamental to Mutual Aid is the replacement of today’s hierarchical systems such as political, social, and economic systems with a framework that actively works against such hierarchies. Hierarchies that capital colonialism is based upon. Hierarchies enforce systems of dominance.
  • Only through mutual aid and community-based organizing will we be able to increase genuine interest in social and climate justice matters, which affect everyday people
    • In these times of apathy and hopelessness, Mutual Aid invites people to do work that has an immediate impact when providing things required for survival, such as food, shelter, protective equipment during a pandemic, etc. Generates feelings of self-worth and a desire to help.



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