New Red Order
October 8, 2020
New Red Order (NRO), a public secret society that works with networks of informants and accomplices to create grounds for Indigenous futures, models itself in contradistinction to an older, extant secret society: the Improved Order of the Red Men, an American organization, revived in 1934 as a whites-only fraternity, whose redface rituals and regalia are inspired by the country’s most famous, foundational act of Indigenous appropriation: the donning of Mohawk disguises by the Sons of Liberty during the Boston Tea Party. If America is premised both on desires for indigeneity and the violent erasure of Indigenous peoples, NRO asks how those desires can be routed into something productive and perhaps even sustainable. Here, core NRO contributors Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, and Jackson Polys discuss the group’s savage philosophies and use of humor, all while reflecting on what it might mean to become an informant. You can initiate your own informancy by calling 1-888-NEW-RED1 or visiting newredorder.org.
NRO’s work is currently featured in the exhibition “Errata” at Haus der Kulturen Welt, Berlin. Their solo exhibition “New Red Order: Crimes Against Reality,” originally scheduled to open on July 9 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), was put on hiatus by the artists, who agreed to open the show only if the MOCAD board of directors agreed, in writing, to meet all five of MOCAD former staff’s actionable items regarding inclusive staffing and workers’ rights amid the pandemic. The preconditions also included MOCAD’s pledge to implement a land acknowledgment practice, support the establishment of an Indigenous community council, and to work to dismantle the ongoing effects of settler colonialism by adopting a concrete list of actions that the museum will take to serve Detroit’s Indigenous communities.
The exhibition opened on October 1.
NEW RED ORDER is rapidly expanding. Before joining, we’d shown work at museums, universities, film festivals, and other sites of representation where Indigenous artists are often invited to redwash institutions and check boxes, and also to fulfill a pedagogical function, to teach people about Indians. We were continually called upon to inform on our own communities. We wondered: If those familiar dynamics, with their attendant desires, were seemingly unavoidable, how could they be leveraged toward and through power? How to amplify the agency of the informant, rather than capitulate completely to compromised positions where we’re helping non-Indigenous people extract information from our communities in nonreciprocal ways?
New Red Order, Never Settle: Calling In, 2020, video, sound, color, 3 minutes 57 seconds. Recruitment video.
We acknowledge ourselves as informants—complicit, a bit unclean—and enjoin others to inform with us. Becoming an informant can come from a place of desire: the desire for indigeneity from a settler perspective, sure, but can also include Indigenous peoples’ own desire for indigeneity, to perform “authenticity” and one’s identity for acceptance or opportunities—something we see and participate in ourselves to varying degrees. However romanticized, the representations and reconstructions of past Indigeneity—from both Native and non-Native perspectives—become a necessary if unruly portal for the continuance and amplification of our concerns. Chief among them is the repatriation of all Indigenous land and life. “Decolonization is not a metaphor” has already become, for many people, a metaphor. We’ve been pursuing language that pushes beyond “re-” or “de-,” that offers alternatives to the vocabulary of repatriation or decolonization, which centers acts of displacement and dispossession. That’s been a frustration we’ve felt with Indigenous politics in North America, or the world, even, where Native concerns are constantly framed as a return to something that can’t exist anymore. But even though not everyone wants to live in a wigwam, we still want a place: to feel at home here. Give it back.
At the same time, Indigenous politics often entail seeding emotional kernels of settler guilt or shame. Many calls for decolonial actions aim to reflect a lot of guilt and shame back on people as opposed to helping them participate. Our ultimate aim is to transcend the guilt and shame—not to remove it, and thus get over it, but to imagine something through and beyond that, something that can address and promote Indigenous futures. One small step to getting there is to encourage everybody to figure out how to weaponize their privilege and stand alongside Indigenous people as accomplices. For example, we work to push interpretations of what a land acknowledgment can be. What is it really for? There’s utility in simply reminding people that the ground they’re occupying is stolen. But if acknowledgments are not combined with commitments to dismantling the ongoing effects of settler colonialism, accompanied by concrete steps to realize those commitments, then what are they doing? Committing themselves? As hosts? To inertia? Discourse deploys forces, and we say this in recognition and acknowledgment of those, past, present, and future, who want to help but who may be stuck or embedded in their inheritance of settler institutions. You too can become an informant.
Many informants have likened their experience working alongside and with us to the John Carpenter movie They Live, with the sunglasses. When you have the sunglasses on, American propaganda and ideologies are laid bare. Like Michael Taussig’s articulation of “the public secret.” One of the biggest public secrets is the fact that the US is predicated on the removal and replacement of Indigenous people. Everyone knows it. It’s on the New York City seal, an A (for Acknowledgement?) on every restaurant: There’s representation of a Lenape guy, but it’s not discussed, queried or reinternalized until you put the sunglasses on. Before, the light had been too bright.
We are reminded that representations make realities. Informing, above all, involves self-reflection and positive critical engagement. Informants can identify the fantastical Indian that exists in a lot of people’s brains and clarify the modes and means of its construction. That’s a really big first step. It’s a product of American mythology and nation-state making more than anything else. We want to help people engage with their desire for indigeneity even if it feels icky, or wrong, because despite its extractive potential and risk of occlusion, denying that desire or converting it into disinterest is a huge obstruction to anything positive happening.
In the essay “Indian Humor” by Vine Deloria Jr.—a Native philosopher from the ’60s and ’70s—he talks about the darkness of Indian humor, how it has been shaped by centuries of violence. Our humor is a way to unpack (stay a while—yet never settle) things without feeling overwhelmed, to cope with the absurdity of our history and find a way to live together in this public secret. The immensity of this seeming incommensurability expands and percolates, grows so much as to become a joke. And, although a lot of political work doesn’t make much space for fun, we’ve found that it’s a good recruitment tool.
— As told to Giampaolo Bianconi