August 2020

Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Monday, November 15, 2010

'Amexica' reveals heart of O'odham border struggle

Amexica: War Along the Borderline
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
Photo below: Angie Ramon at the site of her son Bennett's death. Photo copyright Brenda Norrell/Censored News.

TUCSON -- There’s a new book out on the border. But this isn’t your regular stale book review, because this book is a work that I watched grow, often wondering whether the writer managed to stay alive when he was south of the border, asking questions about drug trafficking and violence.

This isn’t even a book review about the bulk of the book, or the drugs and murder that have become a red stain on this desert land, rupturing the hearts.

“Amexica: War Along the Borderline,” by London Guardian reporter Ed Vulliamy is a punctuation in history. Vulliamy took the time to be present on the borderline, to walk with, and talk with, Tohono O’odham who live and struggle, grieve and survive, in their homeland.

With a thank you to Ed and O'odham, I share with you these quotes, and urge you to read more about the border in Amexica.

Ed spent time driving around Tohono O’odham land with Mike Flores, a longtime member of the American Indian Movement and a tribal councilman that the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council always seems to enjoy removing. But it is the heart of the land and life that Mike talks of, not politics, from sacred Baboquivari to the borderline.

Mike tells Ed, “My grandfather told me: This is our way, the four directions, the four winds and what we call him’dag, the way, the journey.”

Wearing his AIM hat, Mike talks to Ed in Sells, Arizona, on the Tohono O'odham Nation, about hearing the old ones at night, the warriors preparing for battle. “The past is very close by around here, you know -- it’s with us all the time. And the ancestors are watching to see how we deal with this latest situation.”

Mike describes what the US Border Patrol is doing to the land, to his people and even to the fragile desert plants and turtles. He describes how the Border Patrol halted an O'odham ceremony and arrested the hunters.

Ed also tells of the tragedy of Angelita Ramon, whose son Bennett Patricio, Jr., was run over and killed by the US Border Patrol. Angie has taken her fight to the federal courts, where the courts failed the family. Angie said her son walked upon a drug transfer by the US Border Patrol in the desert and was murdered by the Border Patrol. Bennett, 18, was crushed beneath the Border Patrol vehicle while walking home through the desert, down a Tohono O’odham highway in the predawn hours. (Photo: Angie at the site of her son Bennett's death/Photo Brenda Norrell.)

Shouldering more grief than any mother should, Angie tells how another son, at the age of 16, because of the police, committed suicide. Since publication of the book, Angie’s third son was shot repeatedly and killed.

Ofelia Rivas, founder of O’odham Voice Against the Wall, describes what has happened to this land, what has happened to her people. Ofelia describes what this wall and this US military invasion has done to this sanctuary, the sanctity of this way of life.

“Now it’s not just a border,” she says, “it’s a wall across our land. It stops people crossing, including our elders, and has already disturbed our burial sites. Some of our ceremonies are in Mexico, and I can’t go. We’ve had tribal members on the American side arrested and deported while visiting relatives on their own tribal land, because they came from Mexico and didn’t have the right papers. It’s even disrupted the pathways of mountain lions which have to find new areas of habitation because they can’t migrate.”

It is the mountain lions, jaguars, antelope and desert tortoise; it is the ancestors and the elders that are held here in this precious balance.

Ofelia says, “You must understand that we feel the eyes of our ancestors upon us, and have to explain to them that our history’s being eradicated at this pace.”

The book came in the mail today as Ofelia booked her flight to the UN Climate Summit in Cancun, as an Indigenous grassroots delegate. She served as cochair of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples at the Bolivia Climate Summit.

The book came in the mail today as Angie, like so many Tohono O'odham without a home, continued to search for a place for her family to live.

Thank you Ed for taking the time to do it right, to stop and listen, and go to all these places along the border, from Baha to Texas.

Thank you to Mike, Angie and Ofelia for having the courage to never give up.

Western Shoshone Report from US Periodic Review: Optimism and Concern

UN Human Rights Council Recommends the United States Address Indigenous Rights
By Western Shoshone Defense Project
Censored News
November 11, 2010
CRESCENT VALLEY, Nevada -- On November 9 the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a draft report on the United States’ human rights record as part of the historic first review of the US under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The HRC incorporated multiple recommendations that the US address indigenous rights.
As part of this review process, the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) filed joint stakeholder submissions in April 2010 with the assistance of the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program (IPLP).
Western Shoshone delegates Larson Bill and Rick Spilsbury and IPLP Staff Attorney Seánna Howard travelled to Geneva last week to participate in the review process.
Seánna Howard stated, "The Western Shoshone were in Geneva once again to speak to the United States’ ongoing failure to respect their rights to their lands and resources. The Shoshone have a persistent presence at the United Nations and their concerns are well known and respected among the international community.
On this occasion, Shoshone representatives had an opportunity to engage in a face-to-face dialogue with the State, which hopefully will result in the US making some effort to recognize and protect their human rights."
Indigenous issues were successfully raised during the UPR process. On November 5, high-level officials from the US responded to questions and recommendations put forth by 57 countries. Significantly, 17 of these countries specifically raised indigenous issues, including adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, implementation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) recommendations, and rights to participation and consultation regarding activities affecting their lands. Additionally, dozens of countries urged the US to establish a National Human Rights Commission, something the WSDP has recommended in order to comprehensively address indigenous rights.
Delegates appreciated the opportunity to engage the US on indigenous issues. As delegate Rick Spilsbury stated, “the periodic external review of a nation’s human rights record is necessary to get a more realistic picture of that nation’s performance. The United States has been a beacon of human rights in some ways, but our record has been far from stellar. The Universal Periodic Review is the closest thing we have to a mirror to see our true selves.”
Delegates also attended a US town hall meeting held in Geneva and a sit-down with Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Larry EchoHawk.
Delegate Larson Bill spoke positively of WSDP participation, saying, "Overall, the Shoshone issue was received amongst the United States and all attendees globally." He stated, "The UPR process seems to be a good concept … [and] could turn into a process for NGOs to present ongoing issues, old and new. I believe that this could be a very productive step towards adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples...."
However, US responses to indigenous concerns focused almost exclusively on addressing disparities in housing, education, health, and other socioeconomic indicators. Officials failed to adequately address underlying issues concerning land title and resource extraction. Despite several recommendations, the US refused to address environmental destruction as a human rights issue, leaving Western Shoshone concerns about Nevada water resources and the toxic effects of gold mining unaddressed. The Western Shoshone will continue to engage the US in an effort to seek implementation of the Human Rights Council’s recommendations.
Contacts: Larson Bill, Western Shoshone Defense Project, 775-744-2565/775-397-6726; Seánna Howard, University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, 520-626-8223

'Return of Navajo Boy' at French Film Festival

Congratulations to Navajo filmmaker Bennie Klain, now at the French International Amiens Film Festival, showing 'The Return of Navajo Boy' and 'Weaving Worlds.' The Return of Navajo Boy tells of a child taken from his family in Monument Valley, and the genocide of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

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