“They’ve Relegated Us to Authentic Concentration Camps:” Indigenous Woman from British Columbia

The Indigenous Peoples’ Encuentro Began with a Strong United States Presence

By Raúl Romero and Juan Trujillo
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

October 16, 2007

Vicam, Sonora, Mexico, October 11-12, 2007 - The First American Indigenous Peoples’ Encuentro, in the Yaqui tribe’s territory, began yesterday morning—after a traditional ritual celebrated in the ceremonial center of this community—with the participation of a little more than 547 delegates of native peoples and 800 observers, amongst whom were journalists and national and international civil society members who are adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle.

The ritual began in the sacred heart, were the Yaqui governors speak in their language, communicate with each other, and make decisions. In the ceremony a member of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI in its Spanish initials) and Subcomandante Marcos, representing the Sixth Commission and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN in its Spanish initials) were also present. While some listen, others observe the Encuentro of the delegations of those peoples in resistance that in the coming days will speak and listen to each other.

During the days leading up to the Encuentro, the EZLN delegation’s large presence and participation was expected, composed of the comandantes David and Zebedeo, the comandanta Miriam, Lupita (daughter of Comandante Hortensia), and Subcomandante Marcos. However, violent harassment—which ended with the rebel group being held up for 40 minutes by the Mexican Federal Army on a Sinaloa highway while the delegation was making its way to Vicam—precipitated the comandantes’ retreat to Chiapas for security reasons. The delegation explained this in a letter:

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, the 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.”

Then it was Juan Chávez Alonso’s turn to speak as representative of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), who noted that this encuentro is an opportunity to raise their voices against “the transnational corporations’ capitalist-colonialist interests and privatizing ambitions,” and described the encuentro as an “assembly of rebellion” of the peoples who are launching a defense of the “mother earth and against the ecocidal, ethnocidal, and genocidal capitalism” that seeks to eliminate the first inhabitants of the continent so that then they can take their lands for themselves.

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.”

The Word of the North American Land

Within the framework of working groups about “The history and the word of our peoples,” indigenous nations members’ participation, in particular those from countries that are called “Canada” and “United States,” has had special strength due to the large number of delegates who have attended this encuentro. That was the case for the Kanienk’haka, the Mik’maq, the Denen nations, the Hawdenaw swee nation, and the Anishanabe. This last group is an ethnic matrix that is also made up of the Ojibaway tribe. One component that draw attention was the critique the British Columbian women made of the organization that forces the nations and peoples onto reservations, which they call “authentic concentration camps.”

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 they’ve begun to take their culture, land, and natural resources 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’tham people from the United States explained that “our consciousness is being stolen… there are seeds that have been robbed.” They said that the Mar de Cortés (also known as the Gulf of California) was where their ancestors nourished themselves with fish. But now that the government and the military doesn’t permit them access to the area. Therefore, they proposed that the indigenous struggle seeks “to protect the world, the territory, and the communities.”

The Hopi tribe, also from the United States, dismissed the idea that its resistance began right after its territory was invaded by the Spanish in the 16th century. They explained that there have also been many conflicts between “indigenous brothers” that have also divided the Navajo and elaborated: “These conflicts have been created by the government and the multinationals. This is important to understand.” Also, they emphasized that their resistance has succeeded in closing some power plant and mining projects that were planned for the region.

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 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: “It won’t be forgotten who we are and where we came from.”

Silvia, another representative from this same people, denounced that “the women have suffered sexual abuses in our communities.”

The Aboloni people from the Achinawi nation, which is located in the state of California, denounced that 90% of their population had been exterminated by the so-called “Gold Fever,” 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, the messenger 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.

“We have begun to recover our lands, and we’ve brought the government to the bargaining table, which in reality is a learning table for them, because they illegally took our lands.” According to this representative, they have succeeded in getting the government to listen to them thanks to direct action.

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.”

We Are divided

“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.

Indigenous Women’s Resistance

Within the framework of these accounts, the situation of the Quexan Nation was emphasized. The Quexan 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 in 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 “Indigenous Act” was decreed in which it was noted that “the indigenous man is who commands and who has the final word, so ending a matriarchal system and giving way to a patriarchal one.”

These days the situation isn’t very different: a policy of discrimination and war against indigenous peoples is exercised by the governments, and it is even more aggressive when it comes to women. One example, continued the delegate, is the “Highway of Tears” where more than two dozen indigenous women have been recorded missing, all of them under 25 years old.

The Quexan 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.


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