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
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.”
The Word of the North American Land
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 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.
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.”
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.http://www.narconews.com/Issue47/article2834.html