Sunday, July 1, 2007

US Social Forum: Native Americans speak out

RIGHTS-US: Native Americans and Immigrants Share Common Struggle

Article By Jonathan Springston
IPS News

(File photos by Brenda Norrell)

ATLANTA, Jul 1 (IPS) - One group has lived here for millennia, while the other has just arrived. But Native Americans and immigrants have much in common, particularly the alienation and oppression they experience in U.S. society, activists and community leaders said on day three of the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) Friday.The USSF, which concludes Sunday, has drawn about 10,000 civil society activists from around the United States to discuss their work on issues like gender, native and gay rights, immigration, and the anti-war movement.

"Indigenous rights are the foundation of human rights in this country and we have to come to terms with that," said Julie Fishel of the Western Shoshone Defence Project at a Plenary Session on "Indigenous Voices: From the Heart of Mother Earth." Fishel joined Native American and indigenous speakers who spoke of indigenous heritage, gradual encroachment on indigenous land, and the lasting ill effects of U.S. oppression of indigenous peoples.

"We have experienced many things that have been passed down through generations," said Patty Grant-Long of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. "Because of our spirit, our relationship with our creator, and our relationship with our ancestors, we are still here." Grant-Long was born to parents brought up in Native American boarding schools where they were forced to give up their identities.

"It is an amazing testament to resilience that indigenous people are still here," noted Ikaiki Hussey of the Aloha Anina Society based in Hawaii. "That says a lot about strength and the ability to withstand in the face of all those struggles." Hussey spoke of the militarisation of Hawaii, which has lasted for so long and become so prevalent that many visitors do not even recognise it as a problem. The Aloha Anina Society is leading a charge to demilitarise Hawaii "because it helps the people of Hawaii and because it is part of taking apart the U.S. empire," Hussey said.

Faith Gemmill of the REDOIL Network in Alaska said 95 percent of indigenous land there is open for oil and gas mining. "It is my hope that in my lifetime I will see our land returned to its rightful owners," Gemmill said. "People must change the way they are living. We must give Mother Earth time to repair and heal itself."

"Our Mother Earth is not for sale," Enei Begaye of the Black Mesa Water Coalition told the audience. Begaye's organisation is a collective of Navajo and Hopi Native Americans that fight to keep corporations from destroying their land to extract natural resources and from polluting the water. "There is a path toward peace," she said. "It will take all of us... stand[ing] together." Native American perspectives were also shared in several of 900 workshops offered throughout the USSF.

"Ninety-eight percent of indigenous people died during the East to West movement," said Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone Native American. "Why doesn't America want to talk about it?" Dann spoke at a workshop called, "Where Have All the Indians Gone?", where attendees learned more about the plight of Native Americans as pioneers moved west during the 19th Century. The Western Shoshone still own land in Nevada where there have been 1,000 nuclear bomb tests and where companies conduct dangerous and destructive strip mining for gold. "They are destroying the land while exploiting it for money," Dann said.

"The Earth should be taken care of and it isn't happening." "So little attention is paid to indigenous peoples," agreed Ward Churchill, whose family is Cherokee. It is important people have their attention drawn to the destructive practices that are destroying the Western Shoshone land, Churchill said.

"We take a lot of people to the United Nations because rallying indigenous people internationally is important," Alberto Saldamando, General Counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), told attendees at a workshop about international efforts to mobilise indigenous peoples. The workshop was called, "Holding the U.S. accountable for discrimination against Native Americans."

The IITC works on all levels to build grassroots participation from indigenous peoples in order that they might address their concerns and work together to achieve their goals. "We're all oppressed, just in different ways," Shauna Larson of the Indigenous Environmental Network said. "It takes everybody working together to achieve our goals." The IITC is interested in working with groups who focus on environmental justice and women's rights because those issues overlap, Salamando said.

During "Defending Immigrant Rights," a workshop conducted in Spanish and English, presenters discussed the history of immigration in the United States, positive and negative immigration legislation, and activists' efforts in Florida to mobilise Spanish-speaking immigrants. One presenter spoke of a five-part, three-year plan to move from defensive to offensive organising strategies focusing on local and state levels. Hispanics should work with African-Americans because of their history of struggle and oppression, she added.

"There is one objective: to respect all human beings as human beings," said Herman Martinez of the American Friends Service Committee. "The only way to forge lasting alliances is to understand each other," said Gerald Lenoir of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration during the Immigrant Rights Plenary Session Friday. "African-Americans can no longer look at civil rights as a black and white issue."

"We are the testing ground for all the repressive issues you all face at home," said Alexis Mazon of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. It is crucial for trade unions to include immigrants in the fold of organised labor and that both groups should work together to achieve their rights, said Ed Ott of the New York Central Labour Council.

"We have shown the power of people in the streets," Ruben Solis of the Southwest Workers Union said. "We want a world where everybody can fit." "We are making history because we are making a new world," noted Glory Kilanko of Women Watch Afrika. "We want to build a network that challenges the oppressors." "If we begin to allow the oppressors to build walls, then we are allowing them to win," Kilanko said.

Photo 1: Julie Fishel, third from left, with friends on Mount Tenabo. Photo Brenda Norrell
Photo 2: (L) Enei Begaye, Navajo, with Caleen Sisk-Franco, Winnemem Wintu from Northern California at the Cocopah Climate Conference. Photo Brenda Norrell

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