|English | Español||January 21, 2018 | Issue #47|
Indigenous Woman from British Columbia: “They’ve Relegated Us to Authentic Concentration Camps”
The Indigenous Peoples’ Encuentro Began with a Strong United States Presence
By Raúl Romero and Juan Trujillo
Photos: D.R. 2007 Raúl Romero
“We…a delegation named by our peoples were excitedly coming…. The supposed government is now demonstrating that it has decided to impede at all cost the organization and the exercise of the Indian peoples’ rights in the exercise of their autonomy in self-organization, and they use all their political, economic, ideological, and military strength to beat us. On behalf of the neo-liberal servant, we, the indigenous, are confronting their authoritarianism, their arrogance, their decadence. But we want to tell you that they are not going to stop the spreading of the words to the whole world. In this Encuentro, although we, the comandanta, the comandante, can’t be physically present, our compañero Insurgent Subcomandante Marcos is, and through his voice, all of the men, women, elders, and all of the EZLN comandantes and comandantas speak… We will be awaiting the process of the Encuento and whatever can occur after that… In 515 years, they couldn’t finish us off, even less so now because we will all be united against a common enemy.”
The letter is signed by Comandante Guillermo, Comandantas Susana, Miriam, Hortensia, Florencia, Insurgente Elena, Lupita, and “third generation Toñita.” It was written after the Sixth Commission decided to not send more delegates due to the violent harassment they were subjected to by the Federal Army.
Meanwhile, Subcomandante Marcos greeted all of the representatives of the native peoples and observers present in this encuentro, which “was reached despite everything opposing it: distances, language, borders, governments, lies, persecutions, deaths, and the false divisions they impose on us from above.”
He also said that the native peoples of the American continent, who have resisted for 515 years, will tell their stories of “pain and dignified rebellion” in this encuentro, as well as sharing “experience and wisdom” and naming the demands for justice and liberty that are shared by all of the indigenous nations who, since the first war of conquest, have been condemned to oblivion. With this dialogue “the continent will recover its voice,” continued Marcos, “that today they silence with fire, oblivion, and noise.”
The rebel leader ended his participation communicating the Zapatistas’ decision to not participate in this event. Their pains, dreams, and hopes would be told by the voice of other peoples because the situation of the indigenous nations in all of America is similar: “the oblivion, the misery, and the resistance extends over all of the continent.”
He also said that after 515 years of resistance, in Vicam they will begin to unite forces to construct a “new project of life” for humanity and nature, as well as against the “neoliberal-capistalists’ programs of death and destruction.”
A representative of the Mik’maq people spoke through their spokesperson about their history and reality: “I come from strong people. We came from the west coast were we have suffered a lot of pain.” He explained that they have resisted colonization, genocide, and globalization. And as a consequence of those phenomena their culture, land, and natural resources have been taken away from them: “We have lost our culture and our language; we have to put a stop to this. We are fighting many battles. The urgency of the warrior spirit is important among our people in order to recognize responsibility. We are waking up, we have the opportunity to be part of a warrior alliance that is growing and that’s why we are here.”
The Tohono O’odham people from the United States explained that “our consciousness is being stolen… there are seeds that have been robbed.” They said that the Sea of Cortés (also known as the Gulf of California) was where their ancestors nourished themselves with fish. But now the government and the military don’t permit them access to the area. Therefore, they proposed that the indigenous struggle seek “to protect the world, the territory, and the communities.”
The delegate from the Lakota people of the United States recognized that the struggle of Mexican indigenous peoples is “very similar to ours, because we struggle for life.” He remembered that this began with the Black Hills War in 1876 when “we were separated,” and from then on not even their religious centers have been respected. At the end of this messenger’s speech he strongly declared: “Who we are and where we came from won’t be forgotten.”
Silvia, another representative from this same people, denounced that “the women have suffered sexual abuses in our communities.”
The people of the Achumawi nation, which is located in the state of California, denounced that 90 percent of their population had been exterminated by the late-1800s gold rush, because “they contaminated our waters with mercury and murdered our people, which (in reality) was a government policy…our women were raped and they stripped us of our land.” They strongly criticized the “energy colonization” that the communities suffer as a result of hydroelectric dam construction.
They also denounced that there are about “450 sacred ceremonial sites that are being threatened by construction. And in the University [of California] Berkeley, there are 14,000 ancestors’ remains, which makes up the second largest collection of bones in the world, and this is also being threatened by a museum that took one of the ancestors.” They equally criticized white anthropologists.
In the name of the Mohawk people, a nation located in upstate New York, Montreal, and Toronto, a messenger named Ketenia explained that “Our lands are close to the Hudson River. We have been struggling against the corporations that want to steal our land from us. We are one of the biggest organizations. Our land is rich in minerals and corporations.” She explained that in 2005 the state of New York wanted their lands to build a casino, so they had to intervene.
The delegate from the Grand River nation, located in Canada, said that “before they came to our lands we were five nations, but we had conflicts and we were self-destructing. But one of us was born and came to bring us a message about how to live and govern ourselves. We’ve succeeded in recovering our identity.”
“In February 2006 we recovered land were they wanted to construct a housing development. The police came, but we managed to make an encampment that in the beginning looked pretty small.” She reminded the participants that one form of struggle is to impose “the law of peace,” which isn’t just a flag, but an attitude.
She added that one of the most important struggles is the fight against the business projects which, according to her, produce unjust arrests, which is why indigenous culture and identity is lost, because they become “Canadians” or “United States citizens” in order to not be legally persecuted. “For us to rise up means to have judicial problems and to go to jail,” she said in closing.
Within the framework of these accounts, the situation of the Gitxsan Nation was emphasized. The Gitxsan Nation is a community in Canada which is occupied by the English and is now known as “British Columbia.” The delegate began by saying that it is a lie that this country is peaceful, because for her community war is a daily matter, especially for women. She explained that the first form of domination exercised by the English was to displace the women from the different roles that they originally had, because “the women, just like in other cultures, were in charge of maintaining the land and the culture… They were the protectors, those who cared for the children.” For this reason, she continued, the colonizers saw the women as the first obstacle and began to implement a series of laws that limited their rights and participation. This is how in 1876 the “Indian Act” was decreed in which it was noted that “the indigenous man is the one who commands and who has the final word,” thus ending a matriarchal system and giving way to a patriarchal one.
The Gitxsan woman ended her participation by calling all indigenous women to unite and demand better justice, and that they imagine new forms of organization that provide them with better security, because “they can’t hope for anything from the bad governments.”
During the morning of October 12, the participation of the North American delegations ended and in the afternoon the messengers from the Latin American, Caribbean, and Mexican indigenous peoples were introduced.
Translated by Kristin Bricker. Originally published in Spanish October 14.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism