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By Brenda Norrell
TUCSON -- The Indigenous Alliance without Borders hosted a Southern Border Indigenous Peoples Roundtable Symposium Thurs., Nov. 18. The panel focused on the political climate and racism in Arizona and how this affects Indigenous Peoples.
Sponsored by the Indigenous Alliance without Borders/Alianza Indigena sin Fronteras, the panel was broadcast live by Earthcycles and Censored News. It is now available online.
Julian Rivas, Tohono O‘odham in Mexico, said he was stopped by Border Patrol, with search dogs, three times on his way here. “We say we are Tohono O’odham, but that doesn’t matter. It is the color of your skin.”
“I feel safer in Mexico than here.”
Rivas said he sits at the table with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, pushing for human rights. He said Zapatistas understand the need to push for the true return of traditional rights in their homelands.
Speaking on the oppression at the border, Rivas said during the panel today, “Homeland Security is labeling everyone as terrorists.”
“The tribe on this side has not said anything on our behalf,” Rivas said, referring to the Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, Arizona. Rivas said the Tohono O'odham elected leaders are not promoting human rights, but are instead controlled by the BIA's strings.
Rivas’ talk was preceded by Shannon Rivers, Gila River Indian Community, who spoke on the need for the US to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Rivers said Native Americans should press the US to fully adopt the Declaration, as opposed to “endorsing” it the way Canada did. Although Canada endorsed the Declaration, Canada endorsed it only to the extent of existing laws. The Declaration includes upholding ancestral homelands and “free and prior consent.”
Rivers said Native people are asked to make cultural gestures, even "bless" fast food restaurants, but are not invited to the table by policy makers. Rivers urged Indian people to halt with the cultural gestures which are continuing the colonization and genocide.
Jose Matus, director of the Indigenous Alliance without Borders, organizer of the event, said traditional leaders should be recognized by the US government. Matus is a ceremonial leader responsible for bringing Yaqui ceremonial leaders across the border for the purpose of conducting ceremonies. Matus deals constantly with the issues of border crossing, the high cost of visas and border immigration agents.
Matus said all people need to come together to protect the spiritual and cultural rights of Indigenous Peoples and to assist in the battle for civil rights in the face of racism.
Kat Rodriguez of Derechos Humanos said Arizona is now known as the most racist state in the United States, but this is nothing new. Arizona has a long history of abuse of migrants, with a long history of the presence of Minutemen and other groups.
Referring to the anti-migrant climate in Arizona, Rodriguez said, “We are looking at this as an attack on our children and an attack on our future.”
Derechos Humanos is now assisting with the recovery of remains. Now primarily, Pima County recovers remains, because the majority of migrant bodies are reduced to remains by the weather and animals.
“You’re not finding bodies, you are finding remains,” Rodriguez said, describing the sad details of searching for clues to finding missing relatives for loved ones back home in Mexico.
She said there are many people dying in Mexico that no one hears about.
“Many of the people are Indigenous Peoples from Indigenous communities,” she said of the increase in migrants from Guatemala, Oaxaca and Chiapas. She said Spanish is not their first language and most are farmers, who have spent their lives growing their own food.
Rodriguez said people should have the right to remain in their homeland, not forced out because of trade policies, economic policies, hunger and violence.
“People have a right to survive in their home communities.”
Rodriguez said too often only an urn of ashes can be returned to families in Mexico. “Even the dead have rights.”
She said it is not by chance that so many migrants are dying in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. The US has funneled migrants into Arizona intentionally and by US policy.
Migrants are people who have no voice.
“Who is going to advocate for them? This is a human rights crisis. Thousands of people have died.”
Rodriguez said it is too often misrepresented.
“Immigration is not a problem, it is an issue. It is an issue we have not dealt with.”
"What Arizona is dealing with are the effects: racism, xenophobia and death," she said.
Sarah Gonzales, Racial Justice Director at the YMCA, championed the youths who are taking on the struggle against racism in their communities. At the YWCA, programs focus on the elimination of racism.
Gonzales described the racism and trauma that local youths are dealing with.
Vicarious trauma is the trauma felt by youths who live with the daily reality that a family member might be deported, or in detention. Young people and their families are living with anxiety and trauma, some fearing leaving their homes. One doctor termed it, “the pre-deportation syndrome.”
She said youths are stepping up and organizing protests. Many are suffering for the first time the racism stemming from new legislation, such as Arizona SB 1070. Some are experiencing for the first time being spit on.
Artforms are now a focus for the frustration at the YWCA, where youths talk about SB 1070 and how it impacts them. Youths are producing videos, recycling sculpture and using slam poetry as outlets for the frustration.
“Slam poetry is born out of emotion,” Gonzales said. “It resonates with them.” During recent programs, youths came to believe that as young people, they have something to say.
The art expressions led to a platform where youths could vocalize their feelings. Congressman Raul Grijalva was among those who came and listened.
Gonzales said legislation, media and personal experiences are playing a role in shaping youths and their voices.
“There is a lot of power in the youth voice,“ Gonzales said.
Tohono O'odham in the audience pointed out their struggle with the elected Tohono O'odham government as they struggle to maintain the sacred Baboquivari Mountain.
Columnist and professor Roberto Rodriguez thanked the panel and pointed out that Indigenous Peoples have not been the focus of policy makers on immigration. Rodriguez also pointed out that "most of the experts on Arizona are not from Arizona."
One O'otham from Gila River in the audience said the US-established tribal governments are there to "divide and conquer," established by corporations. She said it is time to charge the tribal governments with fraud and exploitation of the culture and resources.
The Indigenous Alliance without Borders/Alianza Indigena sin Fronteras has spent the past 13 years documenting abuses of Indigenous Peoples at the US/Mexico border.
The Alliance said, "For over a decade the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders has worked to be an international voice for traditional southern borderland indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Alliance promotes respect for indigenous rights, border rites of passage and recognition of our indigenous relative’s cultural affiliation with Southern Border Indigenous Nations from California, Arizona and Texas. To ease border crossings for all indigenous peoples residing in Mexico to attend ceremonies, social events and visit family."
"For more than two centuries indigenous peoples have inhabited the southern border long before the establishment of the U.S. and Mexico Nations. Indigenous peoples have been impacted by policies set in the far off capitals of these two nations, but have continued to maintained their cultures and social networks despite these bad government policies indigenous peoples continue to maintain their way of life and address their every day needs; We have continued to maintain our ancient indigenous cultures and social networks within our traditional homelands now divided by the U.S. – Mexico international boundary.
"Since 1990, our Indigenous brothers and sisters have been faced with legislation and restrictive border enforcement policies, militarization/border wall, heavy migrant and undocumented traffic, environmental destruction of indigenous borderlands, ceremonial grounds, and sacred sites. We need to educate and inform the general community on border indigenous concerns affecting the southern border indigenous peoples."
•Recent Changes to U.S. Immigration & Border Policies could erode or affirm indigenous peoples rights to maintain their cultural connections across the U.S. – Mexico border;
•Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does not apply to Indigenous Mexican nationals who are culturally affiliated by blood relative, language, ceremonies and traditions
•Affects of Racism and negative political climate in Arizona on indigenous communities
•Potential Regulatory Solutions and Strategies to promote Southern Indigenous Rights and Justice.