How to start an Indigenous Mutual Aid relief project:
This is a living document. Please email edits/additions. Spring 2020
We decided to create this guide as we found that most resources (for example: www.docs.google.com/document/d/1ca-sz4DRNvUg8ezcrfd6awH-ahxBDJwnbdzxm4_qDVs/edit) currently available for COVID-19 Mutual Aid organizing were insufficient compared to discussions with other Mutual Aid projects and our own experiences working with two Indigenous Mutual Aid groups. Aside from this guide, we highly recommend that you talk directly with other Mutual Aid organizers to get a sense of what organizing frameworks may work best in your area. Check the larger directory here.
As our communities have a deep history with organizing to support each other in times of crisis, we already have many existing models to draw from.
This looks like a small crew coordinating their relatives or friends to chop wood and distribute to elders. It looks like traditional medicine herbal clinics or sexual health supply distribution. It looks like community water hauling efforts or large scale supply runs to ensure elders have enough to make it through harsh winters. Basically any time individuals and groups in our communities have taken direct action (not through politicians or indirect means) and supported others, not for their own self-interests but out of love for their people, this is what we call “mutual aid.”
Our concept of mutual aid does not exclude our non-human relatives or the land. For more info on what Mutual Aid is please see “Let’s Talk Mutual Aid” by Regan De Loggans and our piece here then check these out too:
A Mutual Aid Explainer Video
Submedia’s: What Is Mutual Aid?
Big Door Brigade: What is Mutual Aid
We highly recommend that before you start a Mutual Aid effort, research what work has already been done and if there are existing groups, see if there are ways you can join or enhance their efforts.
While there are a range of mutual aid formations and organizing methodologies out there right now, we have found that this framework, adapted from DC Mutual Aid, has been highly effectively in our organizing with Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual Aid.
The following methodology is shifting as we continue to organize and learn from what other groups are doing throughout Turtle Island.
If you have any input, advice, concerns, or modifications please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mutual Aid Relief organizing methodology:
Our cultures should be our first frameworks for action, this ensures that we maintain the necessary spiritual grounding that is takes to maintain and sustain this challenging work. This being stated, we do encourage Indigenous folx operating as guests on other Indigenous lands to first consult and seek consent from the original inhabitants of those lands.
This organizing framework is adaptable for urban or rural areas, it is also scalable though we highly recommend that multiple hubs, distribution sites, and delivery systems be established so that efforts can be decentralized and proliferated throughout a region.
We imagine multiple Hubs sharing supplies and coordinating to support larger regional mobilizations. We base our current safety practices on the zine, “Safety Practices for Food & Supply Distribution During the Coronavirus Pandemic.“
Important: If you start to feel sick (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or have come into contact with someone who is sick, please STOP volunteering.
At least 2-4 people.
This is the crew that coordinates the hotline, email, social media, and spreadsheet info. Due to the the sensitive nature of some of the information from forms, we highly recommend that only trusted community members or organizers have access to this information. Spreadsheets should not be shared with any organization, law enforcement, or other agency. The Hub crew should be as decentralized as possible and coordination should be broken into reasonable shifts. As calls, emails, or forms come in and needs are requested, a Hub volunteer will dispatch drivers for deliveries. The Hub should communicate to drivers what sanitizing protocols to follow, how supplies will be acquired, and how reimbursement will work if needed. The Hub will also communicate with the Supply. We currently make efforts to limit our numbers to five or less people at a time working with the Hub. Our Hub is currently comprised of an initial group of experienced volunteers who stepped into these roles to help manage a Facebook group, forms/spreadsheet (volunteers, needs requests, supplies, etc), phone, and dispatch as well as general communications. We maintain basic sanitizing protocols specific to this operation and it is fairly decentralized (we don’t all necessarily work together on site). We recommend establishing a vetting process for volunteers who wish to help organize, take shifts, and stand by as back up.
Supply Crew & Storage/Assembly Site
At least 2-4 people.
Supply crew volunteers are tasked with coordinating the storage of supplies, supply assembly and sanitizing for delivery, and resupplying. The Supply crew operates from a storage site where donations are dropped off and assembled for delivery as needed. The location for this site should have enough space to manage the processing and storage of large deliveries. We recommend a centralized site to maintain minimal traffic and limit possible contamination in the storage/assembly area. We also recommend having a backup location if one site becomes contaminated (for example if a Supply volunteer has indications of exposure, then the backup site could be activated while the other site is cleaned). Volunteers can be contacted to assist resupply as needed (shopping or donation pickup), this includes lots of loading and unloading especially for large deliveries. The Supply crew must maintain intensive sanitizing protocols at this site. This site can either function as or link to existing farming or food cooperatives.
At least 2-4 people.
The Hub reaches out to volunteers who have signed up for deliveries. Delivery drivers must be oriented with proper safe delivery and sanitizing protocols. Delivery volunteers can either pick up items from grocery stores, pharmacies and drop them at the storage/assembly site for sanitizing, or they can deliver them directly. This will be determined by information for the delivery received by the Hub. The Hub will coordinate reimbursement for delivery drivers if needed.
Distribution can be organized in conjunction with or aside from deliveries. Some Mutual Aid groups establish distribution for food supplies (food boxes, meals, etc) at either stationary or mobile sites. The Distribution crew can be comprised of Supply and or Delivery volunteers depending on the scale of your operations. Intensive sanitizing protocols must be maintained by all volunteers at this site.
We recommend onsite sanitizing as opposed to transporting sanitized supplies as the transportation process poses additional risk of contamination.
We also recommend no-contact walk-up pick up or drive up distribution.
Pods may not be necessary in some of our communities as our familial and clan relations have already kept us woven together. Originally developed by Mia Mingus for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, pod mapping is a tool that was initially created for accountability and dealing with harm in communities. Pods and pod mapping have been adapted by Mutual Aid groups to connect blocks, streets, apartment complexes, neighborhoods, or rural communities to share resources/supplies, information, and support. Pods are then connected through Neighborhood Point People (through social media apps, text or email groups, list-serves, slack channels, and so forth) through mutual aid hubs or their own networks to be able to link up entire areas. In some areas Pods are also being established around affinities. Considering that many of our communities are fractured due to colonial violence, we see critical importance of establishing Pods that operate by and for LGBTQAI2S folx.
Neighborhood Pods How-To
Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid
Organizing a Mutual Aid relief project:
- Crew up.
While some small scale efforts can be managed by individuals, mutual aid is all about working together. You may already have an organization or crew of friends you have worked with, if not, we recommend building an affinity group.
Typically an affinity group is a small group of 5 to 20 people who work together autonomously on direct actions or other projects. Affinity groups generally consists of like minded people who come together to get something done. They collectively establish their own goals, structure and group culture. For a mutual aid relief project with utilizing the above organizing methodology, we recommend an affinity group of about 6-16 people. We need to make sure there are enough people involved in critical roles that if one person gets sick another person can immediately fill their role etc.
Everyone in your crew should familiarize themselves and train on the most up-to-date sanitizing/safety processes. Check out the zine, “Safety Practices for Food & Supply Distribution During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” Don’t take shortcuts!
Affinity groups should establish internal organizing agreements, processes for accountability and responsibility, and decision making. Basically you want to be clear on how you work together and how your work with other groups. This can help address issues before they arise, or at least you’ll be better equipped to face them when they eventually occur. Everyone in the effort should be staying up to date on the latest information on the virus and best safety practices.
Some sample internal agreements for Indigenous Mutual Aid projects could include:
• This movement is Indigenous-led. Respect Indigenous cultural protocols.
• begin and close every day/meeting/delivery with a culturally appropriate prayer, offering, etc.
• Be strategic. Think through your actions so we can be proactive and not reactionary.
• Don’t put anyone at risk who does not want to be. Understand possible long-term consequences of actions for communities.
• Consensus based. Decisions will be made based without top-down/majority rule upholding cultural frameworks.
• Respect diversity of tactics. We can agree or disagree on what actions are appropriate but do not interfere, distance, or denounce.
• Practice mutual aid all of the time. Support each other. Don’t let anyone in this movement stand alone.
• Check oppressive behavior. No space for white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, neo-colonialism, or hetero-patriarchy.
• No movement policing.
• Accountability and responsibility. We offer no space for sexual violence & hetero-patriarchal behaviors. We will practice survivor centrism and fiercely ensure transformative & restorative justice.
• We don’t work with cops, military, or government agencies. Doing so could compromise support for undocumented, unsheltered, or other relatives.
• Do not financially exploit the struggle for personal or organizational gain. (This extends to non-profit organizing and financial gatekeeping, resource hoarding, etc).
• No drugs, no alcohol.
Further non-Indigenous agreements:
• Not every space, conversation, prayer, role, etc is for you.
• Step up, step back & curb your enthusiasm. Sure, you’re awesome at whatever skill you think you are, but we guarantee that there is someone else in our communities with those same skills.
• Read: “Accomplices not Allies” for further info regarding roles.
- Establish roles.
We recommend the roles outlined in the framework above. No one can or should be doing all of these roles at once.
- Establish Security Culture & Digital Security.
Security culture is a culture where people know & assert their “rights,” it also establishes “security consciousness” or being aware of and knowing what behavior compromises safety and security. Developing good security culture helps us hold insecure behavior accountable. The practice becomes a culture when group makes security violations socially unacceptable in the group. Oppressive behaviors are violations of security culture.
• Rumors. Always double check info that appears to be a rumor.
• Putting others at risk.
• Turning people and info over to any law enforcement agents.
• Interfering with other groups.
• Denouncing others & their actions.
Security culture is about more than just targeting specific behaviors in individuals such as bragging, gossiping or lying. It is also about checking movement behaviors and practices as a whole to ensure that our own oppressive practices don’t feed into intelligence operations being carried out against our community.
For example, racism or sexism in the movement can help to spread division, make some people more open to infiltrators (those who feel marginalized by group practices), and create openings that can be used by state operatives. Obviously, our movements have a lot of work to do before we address the bigger questions – what’s important here is to recognize how oppressive behaviors play into bad security culture overall.
Digital Security: We highly recommend studying this guide from the Electronic “Frontier” Foundation: www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/03/keeping-each-other-safe-when-virtually-organizing-mutual-aid
- Develop a plan/strategy.
Your crew should ask and answer:
• What are the critical needs in our communities? Who are those most vulnerable? What should our priorities be?
(Are there some organizations already doing work but parts of the community falling through gaps?)
• Whats our capacity?
Do we have the time, energy, emotional and spiritual capacity? Do we have enough people to launch and sustain an effort? Do we need to outreach to grow that capacity?
• What are our short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals in terms of mutual aid?
We highly recommend exploring scenarios, making contingency plans, and preparing for escalations for organizing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• What actions do we need to take to meet those goals?
• What resources do we have? What resources do we need to achieve our goals?
• How will we manage resources responsibly? Who are we accountable to and how can we be transparent?
• Establish your Facebook group, website, or other channel for communicating to those who may have requests, wish to join, or support your effort.
Consider who you are reaching out to and what access they have to internet, language, etc and choose appropriate channels.
• Create your forms for volunteers and need requests. Though many people use Google Forms, we recommend Airtable or creating your own forms through a website for security purposes. View a combined google form example here. Overall you want a form that can input data directly into a manageable spreadsheet. The spreadsheet should have a section to indicate if a request has been fulfilled.
• Create a hotline. We highly recommend having a phone number available for requests. Google voice is an option some groups use, but you can also get a burner phone as well.
• Provide updated info to local resources available for those in need during this crisis.
• Consider how your delivery system will work for acquiring supplies and build a reimbursement system into the process. Some groups have created funds to provide supplies for free, others coordinate payment for those delivering via venmo, paypal, or other digital payment system.
• Identify a Supply/Storage site that has good ventilation for the sanitizing process.
• Establish clear physical safety and sanitizing protocols. Please view this zine, “Safety Practices for Food & Supply Distribution During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
• While most outreach is centered online, direct outreach and flyering at community spaces may be necessary in communities with limited internet access. We recommend printing materials and leaving them in a ziplocked bag or sealed container for at least 72 hours. These flyers then can be distributed safely with proper hygiene, protective gear, and maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Here are leafleting guidelines from www.covidmutualaid.org/resources/#tab-con-6
It is important to follow safety guidelines when distributing leaflets to ensure that as far as possible we are not exposing people to the virus and putting anyone at more harm. Here are some guidelines that everyone distributing leaflets should follow. You should not do this if you are ill at all.
– Do not leaflet if you are unwell at all, even if you’re only experiencing mild symptoms.
– Leaflets should be stored in smaller piles within ziploc bags.
– Listen to social distancing guidelines and don’t leaflet in large groups. When leafleting in small groups, avoid physical contacts or exchanging resources.
– Make sure to wash your hands well before starting leafleting and use hand sanitiser if you are able to at regular intervals.
– Only one person should handle leaflets from each zip-locked pack, putting them directly from the bag through the door for each house and minimising contact as far as possible
– Make sure to wash your hands after you are finished too
Radio: In many Indigenous communities radio is still the best way to outreach. Contact your local radio station and ask to provide a public service announcement or have an your group’s information placed on the community calendar. Pirate radio is also an option.
- Follow Through.
• We must be able to follow through with commitments and communicate openly if we cannot fulfill requests. We must also be clear on what we can and cannot support.
- Stabilize and proliferate!
• Mutual aid organizing should spread and be decentralized. We should make every effort to ensure that we educate, empower, and share resources openly so that all our people can grow and build. Non-profit charity-based models in Indigenous communities have trained so many organizers to gatekeep, compete, and over-focus on building hierarchical organizational power. Indigenous Mutual Aid is not just about redistributing resources, it’s about radical redistribution of power to restore our lifeways, heal our communities, and the land.