Sunday, December 2, 2007

Indigenous Peoples speak out on racism and oppression

By Brenda Norrell
Print edition, Navajo Times

TUCSON, Ariz. – Indigenous Peoples remembered the teachings of Indian spiritual leaders, as they spoke out on the right of passage in their ancestral territories, demanding respect for human rights for Native people in their borderzones, during the International Day of Indigenous Peoples celebration in August.

Jose Matus, Yaqui and director of the Indigenous Alliance without Borders, said Indigenous Peoples have a right to travel their ancestral lands without harassment and abuse by border agents.“We have the right to cross the border without inspection. We have been here from time immemorial – Tohono O’odham, Akimel O’odham, Kickapoo, Kumeyaay and Yavapai. We all have that historic background,” Matus told dozens of Indigenous Peoples and news reporters.

Michelle Cook, Navajo, spoke of the struggle of Indigenous Peoples and an Anishinabe prophecy known as the teachings of the seven prophets, and the seven fires.

One of those prophets said, “In the time of the Seventh Fire, New people will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the elders, whom they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders, whom they will ask to, guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.

“If the New People will remain strong in their quest, the sacred fire will be lit again, it is at this time the light skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, the eight and final fire will be lit of peace, love, and brotherhood and sisterhood. If they make the wrong choice then the destruction that they brought with them in coming to this place will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people.”

Are we the New People the Seventh Fire? Cook asked. Cook said she believes that the people are.

“Today, as we meet here, the Mohawks meet with Hugh Chavez in Venezuela, meeting on a Nation to Nation basis for the first time. The work that indigenous people are doing today is historic, because we are suggesting a new good way of doing things a way that will eventually bring equilibrium between the peoples of the earth and all living things. It is my honor and pleasure to speak with you on this important day.”

Cook also remembered the words of Hopi elder Thomas Banyacya said to the United Nations in 1993.“Nature, the first people, and the spirit of our ancestors are giving you loud warnings. You see increasing floods, more damaging hurricanes, hailstorms, climate changes, and the earthquakes- as our prophesies said would come … If we human do not wake up to the warnings, the Great Purification will come and destroy this world as the previous worlds were destroyed … It is up to all of us, as children of Mother Earth, to clean up this mess before it is too late.”

Cook urged those gathered to work in unity and fight the forces that attempt to exploit the land and natural resources and divide Indian People.

Speaking to the group, Sebastian Quinac, Cakchiquel Mayan from Guatemala, described the pain of being sent by the Guatemalan government to look for the bodies of two Mayan women who had died on Tohono O’odham tribal land. Quinac searched with the permission of the Tohono O’odham Nation, working with O’odham David Garcia.

After recovering the Mayan women’s bodies, he was horrified to see Mayan migrants caged like animals in the Homeland Security detention center on Tohono O’odham tribal land near the border at San Miguel, Arizona.“I saw 13 young women in the cage, and three children, and about 20 men. They are from Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guatemala, they are Mayan people.”He pleaded with the Tohono O’odham Nation to stop allowing the Border Patrol to treat migrants in cruel and inhumane ways in the outdoor detention center enclosed by a wire fence.

“As Indigenous Peoples, we value the culture and the land we walk on. And to find bodies, to find people caged like animals in a zoo, it is an outrage. It is an outrage that an Indian Nation that is supposed to have respect, would allow this to happen.”

“Where is the outrage? Where is the autonomy to say, ‘Border Patrol, you can not do this on our land.”

There was, however, one cross-border union bringing great hope to Indigenous Peoples across the Americas at the same time as the gathering in Tucson. Mohawks were meeting in Venezeula with Venezuela President Hugo Chavez to unite in the struggle against colonial oppression.

Matus said the Embassy of Venezuela telephoned and invited the Indigenous Alliance without Borders to come to Venezuela and meet with Chavez. Although the members were unable to go because of the press conference at this time, they hope to meet with Chavez later.

“When the Embassy called us and invited us, we were very surprised.”

Matus said the Indigenous Alliance was asked to come to Venezuela to share how anti-immigrant hysteria is affecting Indigenous Peoples at the border.

Across the border region, Indian people in the United States are reuniting with relatives in Mexico, relatives who are sharing their ancient culture and language.

In recent years, Yavapai from Fort McDowell and Camp Verde in Arizona have journeyed to Baja, Mexico, to reunite with Pai Pai, relatives separated by the unnatural border and the passage of years.Among the Indian tribes now reuniting with relatives in the south is the Gila River Akimel O’odham, planning a reunion with Pima relatives in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico during October.

Matus said border passage for Indigenous Peoples has become increasingly difficult and at times impossible.“Now with the anti-terrorist war, and the war on drugs since the 1980s, policies have been created that have not been beneficial for anyone at the border,” he said.

Matus said in the 1950s that one of the Yaqui ceremonial deer dancers was deported, even though he had served in the U.S. military. “He was a World War II veteran who earned a Purple Heart and he was deported because he did not have his documents.”

Matus said it is important that the O’odham ancestors of this region, the Hohokam, be treated with respect and honor. Recently, Hohokam were unearthed during construction in downtown Tucson.“They should be given proper burial.”

Shannon Rivers, Akimel O’odham from Gila River Indian Community, welcomed the people to the land of his people. “You are sitting in the land of my ancient people, the Hohokam people.” Rivers pointed out that long before settlers arrived, Indian people had their own governments and communities here. Rivers recognized Corbin Harney, Western Shoshone and his great efforts for Indigenous Peoples, who passed recently to the Spirit World. He also recognized the efforts of Oren Lyons, struggling for Indigenous rights at the United Nations.

“There are many issues that face our Indian communities here. Those are diabetes, because of the onslaught of the Untied States’ government and its relocation of Indian people and first putting them on reservations, and commodity foods that have affected us for generations, alcoholism and drug addiction. Those are just the tip of the iceberg; there are more social issues that we admit we want to deal with,” Rivers said.Rivers said because of colonization some Indian tribal governments are allowing human rights abuses to occur along the border. In the complex conditions at the border, many O’odham elders live in fear of the Border Patrol. There are also threats and violence by agents along the border. Further, Rivers said it is important to educate tribal governments on the rights of Indigenous mobility and offer a reminder of the tradition of hospitality and humanity.

Julian Hernandez, Yaqui ceremonial leader from Barrio Libre in South Tucson, spoke of the difficulty of bringing Yaqui ceremonial leaders across the border for temporary visits to carry out ceremonies. Yaqui elders travel from Rio Yaqui pueblos, near Obregon on the west coast of Mexico to the border, a journey of about six hours by bus.

When the Yaqui ceremonial leaders arrive at the United States border at Nogales, Arizona, they are treated badly by U.S. border and immigration agents. At best, they are harassed, and in the worst scenarios, the Yaqui ceremonial leaders are turned back or their ceremonial items are desecrated during searches.Hernandez said U.S. border agents “make us feel like we have some sort of disease, they don’t want to treat us like people.”Speaking of the lands that were taken away from Indigenous Peoples, Hernandez said, "Our Indigenous Peoples are here and are here to stay.”

Matus said problems began to arrive in the 1970s, as policies began changing regarding documents. Those policies included Yaqui from Mexico having to prove that they had money in the bank and owned land, in order for them to enter the United States.“A lot of people in Mexico don’t have $250 in the bank,” Matus said. Further, many Indigenous Peoples may not have copies of bills paid for rent or electricity in their own name, because they may live with relatives. Few Indigenous crossing the border have letters from employers in Mexico, usually because employers do not want to provide the documents.

Kat Rodriquez, co chair of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, said people are still being racially profiled at the border.Rodriquez announced the Border Peoples Conference, an alternative to the Border Governors Conference, held in September in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, about two hours drive south of the border.

The Border Governors Conference brings together governors from the Southwest United States and northwest Mexico.However, the Governors Border Conference is establishing policies that affect Indigenous Peoples, but do not allow Indigenous Peoples to have a voice at the conference. For this reason, the Border Peoples Conference was created to take place at the same time, at the same place.Rodriquez said the Border Peoples Conference would provide Indigenous Peoples with a platform to voice the human rights abuses ongoing at the border.

Speaking of those who cross the border, and too often die along the border, Rodriguez said, “It is vital that we recognize that the majority of those people are Indigenous Peoples. They are people that are coming because they are displaced.”Rodriguez said the ongoing war is one where poverty is being waged against all people of color

.“This isn’t just an anti-immigrant time. This is an anti-Mexican and anti-people to the South time. This is an anti-brown people time.”“It is not specifically not just about immigration, it is about what we fear to the south.”

Tupac Enrique Acosta, coordinator for Tonatierra from Phoenix, read the statement from the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations for the International Day of Indigenous Peoples.

Enrique said Indigenous Peoples are urging the United Nations to move forward with passage of the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Rights. The United States general assembly is in session until Sept. 18Enrique said the struggle for Indigenous preservation of territories, culture and identity is vital in a time of climate change for the preservation of Mother Earth.

“Indigenous Peoples are on the front line of the fight to preserve the integrity of the world’s eco-system in its entirety.”Enrique said the Indigenous Peoples right to self-determination, includes reciprocity, respect, humanity and respect for the world of nature.Indigenous ceremonies from time immemorial -- corn, water and deer ceremonies -- are a confirmation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said.

“Self-determination does not include a border.”

(This article appeared in the print edition of Navajo Times, following the Indigenous Peoples Day event in August. It is published here with permission.)
Photo 1: Jose Matus, Shannon Rivers and Julian Hernandez. Photo 2: Michelle Cook, Shannon Rivers, Julian Hernandez, Kat Rodriguez and Tupac Enrique. Photos Brenda Norrell

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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