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What does the “I” in BIPOC mean?

Subscriber Post by roberta on August 3rd, 2020 at 12:14 pm

Roberta Robles, Kiowa sun dancer and bike advocate.

Cyclists are a vital advocacy voice in climate change recovery. We are standing on the backs of decades of Portland cycling advocacy work. This article is meant to be read as a response to the Making Space post on

I am fully inspired by the WOKE cycling advocates who came together to cork for #BLM and now the Wall of Mom in cycling helmets. I see a lot of us putting our bodies on the lines for #BLM to protect the marchers. According to plant spirit medicine healers, shared traumatic experiences on the road is felt in the mind similarly to systemic racism. I now make a call to healers and advocates. We are burying the black snake oil of fossil fuel at the same time we are healing Black communities. Healing trauma of road violence is supported by the teachings of Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth.

Centering the Bike in Indigenous Advocacy

After my father passed in October I came to understand he was born on the Kiowa Indian Reservation, descendents or captive blood of the last fighting Kiowa-Comanche tribal alliance. Reading between the lines, all Indians from this reservation were killed if they left that particular Indian reservation. These guys were badasses. They defeated the Texas Rangers for centuries until finally overrun by pioneers and buffalo soldiers. The buffalo soldiers slaughtered entire herds in two winters resulting in poverty and hunger which killed the last Indian Plains warriors.

My family utilized a Spanish last name to escape Indian persecution and became migrant farm workers who landed just outside the concentration camps in Klamath Falls. There’s a lot I don’t know. So when I see Black people saying they are BIPOC I wonder what that means? In reality only .8% of the African American population have any Indigenous DNA at all. There’s no Spike Lee movie on BIPOC people because they really aren’t a ‘thing’ statistically or demographically speaking. The Kiowa tribe enrollment requires quarter blood, and if you haven’t educated yourself on blood quantum laws do so here. It’s a dog and pony show of colonialism and native abuse. Unaffiliated Indigenous people make up 1.5% of the Oregon population. Enrolled tribal members account for an additional 1.5% of the Oregon population total.

Putting the Bike In BikePOC

The cork crew that sprouted out of BikeSwarm 2.0 came out of years of community collaboration towards a feminist driven, fossil fuels free future, or quite literally an extinction rebellion we see played out nightly in downtown Portland. Let’s be clear the #BLM movement would not be this large and this powerful without this early contingent of feminists and climate cycling activists. Cyclists will no longer sit opposed to Black community members over road space. This is not a fair trade off that PBOT and ODOT have exploited at the Rose Quarter freeway.

Our community conflict is a red flag to how deep systemic racism persists. From local transport departments all the way to the Governor for ‘handing’ over Albina transport ‘leadership’ to Rukiyaik Adams. Adams is a financial advisor not a transport planner or economist. Adding another auxiliary lane is not a congestion solution and Albina Vision Trust did not have the courage nor expertise on FHWA highway systems to deliver a congestion solution or speak out against inequities of Cap and Trade.

Don’t confuse a major transport problem as a revitalization opportunity for the Black community to bear. It’s an impossible negotiation, Adams was relying on her access to money and power from within the top ranks of Oregon democratic power to deliver a ‘mega’ project for ODOT capitol. After two years Adams pulled AVT out of the Executive Steering Committee.

This followed the release of a data-driven damaging technical report was published by Metro Council candidate Chris Metro. This report could lead to a winning class action lawsuit on behalf of students and air quality advocates. Ms. Adams is a financial advisor who stepped outside of her area of expertise in a city of transport experts. That’s economic entitlement on the back of the Meyer’s Memorial Trust. Please do not suggest Ms. Adams as a potential gubernatorial candidate. She lost my trust on issues of climate justice and equity.

Bike Swarm Sun Dance

I grew up on the central Oregon coast and enjoyed 3 summers riding horses as a young girl in the Oregon Coastal Mountain Ranges. The sense of freedom in riding a bike is very similar to riding a horse. I rode the old growth logging trails through forested mountain ranges looking for spotted owls and crawdads. I never found anything but owl pellets and Sasquatch tracks.

So if you are advocating for Mother Earth or bicycling safety I give you permission to call yourself BIPOC. There are so few Indigenous cycling advocates I hereby officially anoint all corks and cycling advocates as BIPOC, if you choose to accept. I need you to amplify Indigenous support for bicycling as the tool of an equitable, sustainable and enjoyable transport network. Dancing in the streets is way more fun than tear gas.

Kiowas were known for their Sun Dances which were outlawed as a criminal act not protected by the first amendment until 1978 Freedom of Religion for Indigenous. The Kiowa Sun Dance was afforded no religious protection and deemed a threat to Catholicism. The dance was forced underground and changed name to a “pow wow” trade based event and resurfaced in the Great Lakes region in the mid 1900’s. Riding with the fixed gear crew in the round circle at Revolution Hall with the BikeSwarm felt like what it could have felt like with the horse swarms of warriors. fixed gear crew was an epic precursor to the first freeway shut down.

Wall of Advocates in Salem

This Wednesday hearings begin again on Transparent Policing and Accountability for closing the tear gas ban loophole. Last emergency session there were very few written submissions in support of defunding police or police accountability. This is a huge concern that Moms and cycling advocates can address from home without subjecting themselves to daily doses of pepper spray which has long term health impacts. Furthermore nefarious federales participants are possibly dropping large bags of weapons downtown to incite a major ‘episode’. I suggest staying home this week.

Advocates from #noDAPL are still suffering from repeated exposure to these same toxins. With all my heart I do not want one body damage nor one lung filled with tear gas. I suggest we all turn our bodies away from downtown and toward Salem. We need the activist who showed up in downtown Portland to show up in Salem and help translate those messages into actionable policies on police reform and accountability. Filing lawsuits is not enough for complete reform; we need state level advocates now.

Think carefully before you put your body on the line for any movement. I will not ‘do whatever it takes’ to fight racism. Not until I see Indigenous rights amplified, right now the “I” in BIPOC feels co-opted by indigenous images. I say let the “BI” in BIPOC mean bicycle advocates. Take the fight state level where we have the most power to be a national leader on equality and transport justice. We need state level law changes that center democracy in the republic of the United States. Votes and voices matter more than braun. It’s not fun and it doesn’t get you social media likes, but it is the only way to truly defund state and local police in Oregon.

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Were buffalo soldiers, US Army troops of African descent, responsible for killing off buffalo in a manner and degree that other soldiers as well as white market hunters, railroad workers, farmers, ranchers, miners, traders, trappers, etc., were not?