Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 11, 2015

Hopi's Owl and Panther Project for Refugee Children Celebrates 20th Anniversary

The Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Project for refugee children of torture, violence and displacement, includes children and youths from Iraq, Bhutan, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Congo
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
The Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Program is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, with a second showing of the artwork and sharing of poetry of refugee children at Tucson Museum of Art.
The following article is published in memory of Amy Shubitz, and her work with the Hopi Owl and Panther Program, which allows child victims of torture and displacement to have a creative voice. The Sanctuary Movement gave birth to this program. Before she passed, Amy stood in the church, Southside in Tucson, and turned to me, remembering the thousands of Indigenous Peoples who escaped torture and death in Central America and South America in the 70s and 80s, who passed through this church and were given sanctuary here. It was a powerful moment, one I will never forget. 
The Owl and Panther artwork was first on exhibit in 2013 at the Tucson Museum of Art. Below is the article I wrote of the heart moving exhibit. 
Also, in the news today, Arizona Wildcat has an article on the current exhibit in 2015.
Museum as Sanctuary: Giving Voice to Tucson's Refugees
By Brenda Norrell
July 17, 2013
Someone is dying on the border today. It is 108 degrees beneath the sun and hotter to the west of here. Here, in the Sonoran Desert, there is always a need for sanctuary, for refuge.
Just north of the border , the Tucson Museum of Art opened a new exhibit, “Museum as Sanctuary: Giving Voice to Tucson’s Refugees.” It is collaboration between the Tucson Museum and the Hopi Foundation’s Owl and Panther Program, where art is medicine for refugee children healing from the trauma of torture and exile.
On the museum walls, the real story of this border, and borders around the world, comes alive in the vivid color of the paintings and the haunting self portraits of refugees. It is dramatic self expression that is in itself a voice for refugees who find solace here. The exhibit is the result of a three year project of the museum and the Hopi Foundation. It is not a single voice, but the voices of 31 individuals.
Epiphanie has painted the Ethiopian flag. Another’s father is in political exile from Chile. There is a painting of a woman fleeing from her burning village. One painting is black, except for the stars in the sky, and shares the dark feelings of the painter.
Still, however, there is also the field of dreams.
Mohammad has painted “Soccer Man.”
Bhagat says, “I plan on being a world famous soccer player.”
In another self portrait, a young woman is blindfolded. Wendy is from Guatemala. “Escaping machine guns, bullets, hunger, running from place to place. Seeing people get killed and sleeping with my shoes on. That was my childhood.”
Nada’s husband was disappeared in Iraq. Sarah, from the Congo, says her favorite animal is the cheetah because it can run faster than the others. These expressions
are the original energies of refugees from all parts of the earth, from a mining town in the Atakama Desert in Chile to Ethiopia, Nepal , Bhutan and other countries.
In a collaborative poem from the children of Owl and Panther, there is a description of a “square mile of heaven,” which includes peanut butter cookies, vegetable curry, mesquite and coming together to solve problems without hurting anyone.
In the handcrafts, there is a magnificent bird fashioned from paper towel and toilet paper rolls, painted with brilliant colors. “It is old from 1,000 years ago. I’ve seen this bird in Iraq,” are the descriptive words.
Anish writes of the story of the Owl and Panther, adapted from a Cherokee legend, which gives the program its name.
“They must look into the dark with the wisdom and vigilant eyes of the owl and panther. The great medicine comes to those who are watchful.”
In the Owl and Panther legend, the plants and animals were asked to stay awake for seven days and nights. Those that were able to do, were given great gifts. On the museum walls, the program shares the teaching that children must stay alert, like the cedar, spruce and pine that stay green all winter. They must look into the darkness with the wisdom and vigilance of the owl and panther, who were given the gift of seeing in the dark night.
Here there is the field of dreams, but in border regions around the world, refugees and migrants fill cells and in the US, they fill private prisons for profit. On the border of Guatemala and Mexico, women, sick and hungry, who have walked across continents are imprisoned with their children in migrant prisons.
Tucson is a place of sanctuary, because here there are people who are awake. On the US Mexico border, there are those that walk in this heat, in this death inducing heat, and search for the bodies along the border. Tohono O’odham human rights activists are among the few who respond to the pleas of families in Mexico or Central America. They walk in this sun, cheating death, and search for the living and dead in the Sonoran Desert. The migrants have often survived the beatings and torture of robbers and kidnappers while walking through Mexico.
In this militarized zone of the border, life is precious, all life, including life beyond these borders. In 2007, protests in Tucson focused on US torture and the role of the US Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, southeast of Tucson.
The tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo reveal the same torture techniques that were used in Central America by the Latin military leaders trained by the US at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. The result was the rape, mutilation, disappearance and murder of masses of Indigenous Peoples in Central America in the 1980s.

The School of Americas torture manuals, confirmed publically in 1996, were produced at Fort Huachuca. More recently, soldiers trained at the Fort Huachuca U.S. Army Intelligence Training Center, have gone on to torture at Abu-Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo.
Here in Tucson, torture comes full circle.
During the Fort Huachuca protest, the Hopi Foundation Center for the Prevention and Resolution of Violence, which serves refugees and victims of torture, offered a presentation of poetry from its Owl and Panther Program. The Owl and Panther Program began in 1995 with creative writing, giving young victims of torture and exile an opportunity to express themselves through poetry.

Vicki Hernandez, among the youths, said, "You can't just torture a little bit."

"Torture in any form is a crime against humanity."
Years earlier, in December of 2000, Amy Shubitz, director of the Hopi Foundation's Center for the Prevention and Resolution of Violence, insisted that I not miss the poetry readings of the children of the refugees in the Owl and Panther Program. Amy said the project serves torture victims and perpetrators arriving from around the world. She said it grew out of the Sanctuary Movement, which provided shelter to those fleeing persecution, primarily in Central and South America.
At one of these gatherings, speaker Federico Anaya Gallardo, a human rights attorney from Mexico City working closely with the Zapatistas, told the children in
the program, “Take care of the pain. Humans are not animals, not coyotes. We are more like bees or wolves, we cannot live if we are not together."
Frederico shared the story of Eleanor Roosevelt's initiation of the Declaration of Human Rights, as the world was recovering from the horror of the Holocaust.
"We struggle so no one can take our accomplishments away from us," he told the children. "Human rights are for everyone, even those who do not respect them. We respect the rights of our enemies. The difference between a good person and a bad person is the good person works also for the rights of the bad.
"The first rule of human rights is not to remain silent. All witnesses have the duty to say what we saw."
Amy walked with me through a small adobe church and said that more than 10,000 Indigenous Peoples had passed through this church fleeing torture. Amy asked me to tell this story, her story, and I agreed.
Shortly after that, Amy became ill and died in 2003. She never reached old age and the time when we hoped to write this story. When she passed, Marge Pellegrino wrote, “Refugees from Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and Uganda cry with those from Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras, part of the more than 10,600 Amy helped usher through Tucson in the 1980s when they escaped the death squads in Central America.”
Today, in the art of Amy’s beloved Owl and Panther Project, are the words of Tek on the walls of the Tucson Museum of Art.
Love to mix color and show the beauty of the desert,” says Tek. Tek’s colors are wild color, vibrant colors.
Wrapped in these images are the Sonoran Desert itself, the blood red color of the cactus fruit, deep red of the earth, the blue of the water and sky, and the green of the pungent chaparral. There is the yellow of the sun, with its dualities of life giver and life taker.
Now, at the end of the day, the sun has ended its machete blows. The monsoon rain clouds have gathered, providing some shade and promise. With those dark monsoon clouds comes the threat of deadly torrents rushing across the top of the dry baked earth, torrents of rain in the arroyos that carry away people and cars,
mangled with trees and cows.
Meanwhile, on the Tucson Museum wall, a butterfly necklace hangs on the self-portrait of a young woman with long dark hair.
“The butterfly necklace represents happiness and beauty of the worlds,” she writes.
Amy would have liked that.
Poem: Collaboration of Owl and Panther, March 2012
A square mile of heaven,
just what I needed,
windy and loud,
my tummy full of
peanut butter cookies,
going for seconds
of vegetable curry,
the smell of mesquite,
people working together
solving problems together
without fighting,
having fun
lots of little hands,
yowls of laughter,
floating on the wind,
talking our way
through border patrol,
snoring in the van
on the way back home,
a day in that
square mile of heaven,
just what we needed.

The Tucson Museum of Art hosted the exhibition of works created by the Museum as Sanctuary participants entitled Museum as Sanctuary: Giving Voice to Tucson’s Refugees. This exhibition is an opportunity to display works of art—and stories—that highlight culture, community, and identity.
The Museum as Sanctuary Program is a unique partnership with The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther Project and the Tucson Museum of Art. The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther Project works with refugee families in the Tucson area who have been impacted by torture, trauma or traumatic dislocation.  At TMA individuals have focused on the benefits of creative expression through art-making and in-gallery activities.  Participants of the program come from countries all around the world such as Iraq, Bhutan, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Congo to name a few.

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