Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 9, 2019

Poetry and Literature on Tohono O'odham Nation -- The Power of Words and Presence

Ofelia Rivas, O'odham, Photo by TD Garcia
Photo by TD Garcia

Native Poetry and Literature 
Resistance and inherent sovereignty in the age of US Border Patrol militarization, the commercialization of DNA, and the historic denial of the US genocide of Native People

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

TOPAWA, TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION -- Ofelia Rivas, O'odham founder of O'odham Voice Against the Wall, shared her poetry of the smell of rain and memories of corn. Remembering her childhood on the land, she shared one poem from her aunt, and the gift of new black shoes that laced up to the ankles.
Rivas read her poetry during the Survival of Colonial Genocide forum at the Tohono O'odham Cultural Center and Museum on Monday. The event was sponsored by Red Ink.
Rivas, who lives on the Tohono O'odham Nation at the so-called border, exposed the Israeli spy towers, which are now planned for her community. She continues to battle the planned desecration of burial and sacred places planned for the construction of the towers by way of US Homeland Security on sovereign Tohono O'odham Nation sacred land. She battles the US Border Patrol on O'odham land as agents continue to abuse O'odham and migrants here.

As Native speakers and guests were driving across the Tohono O'odham Nation to the event, they were closely followed by tribal police and U.S. Border Patrol.
During the reading of poetry, literature and research, James Riding In, Pawnee from Oklahoma, spoke on inherent sovereignty, which Native people have always had, since time immemorial.
Riding In said sovereignty was not granted by treaties or the U.S. Congress.

"Sovereignty does not come from the US government," Riding In said, adding that it predates the arrival of the colonizers here.
"Sovereignty comes from our people."
Riding In, professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, is an author who has spent his life in the struggle for Indigenous rights.

Riding In has served as an expert witness on Native American rights in numerous court cases, including the Snowbowl case, the Cleveland sports team case, and a case involving hair in Texas.
Riding In said the goal of colonizers was to annihilate Native people, with a system of taking Native children from their homes and putting them in boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their language.
Speaking on repatriation, he spoke of the importance of bringing the ancestors home from museums.

Speaking on the need to rethink tribal governments, he spoke of the need for tribal governments which are based on the cultural ways.
There is also a need to hold tribal governments accountable, he said.
Riding In said he doesn't believe in DNA testing. "We know who we are."
Dine' Poet Bojan Louis told how he came back to Crystal on Navajoland and how he had longed to smell the pinyon trees again. Louis' poetry was filled with scorpions, Sheriffs and the rawness and contrasts of Arizona.

Louis, whose mother is from Coal Mine Mesa, is a professor and published poet.
Krystal Tsosie, Dine' from Shonto, began with a photo of her grandmother's hogan, where she grew up.
Tsosie is a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University.
Tsosie described her research and the importance of Indigenous scientists working in genomics. She pointed out how researchers used O'odham and Havasupai blood samples in research without their knowledge. Havasupai filed a lawsuit over this.
Today the search for ancestry has become commercialized. Companies are seeking out Native peoples' DNA for profit. Those companies are targeting Native people who live in urban areas, to avoid working with, and getting permission, from tribal governments.

Tsosie also pointed out that research has been done using samples taken from Native Americans using permission forms that were never understood by Native people who speak their own language.
During questions from the audience, the speakers were urged to write down the histories for future generations and make sure the facts are included in textbooks.

Speaker Bios

Krystal Tsosie (Diné/Navajo), MPH, MA, is currently completing a PhD in Genomics and Health Disparities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She also co-manages the Genetics and Preeclampsia Study within the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indian Nation in Belcourt, North Dakota where she studies the genetics pre-determinants of women's health clinical phenotypes while also contributing to advancing equitable genomics research in indigenous communities.

In 1998 Ophelia Rivas begin working with an indigenous women organization, First Nations North & South to support the Zapatista movement in the Mexico state of Chiapas.
In May 2002-2006, Ophelia attended as a delegate to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues under the UN Economic and Social Council in New York to present an intervention on protection of our Right to Exist, our Inherent Right to continue our way of life called the Him’dag and Rights of Mobility to continue to cross the United States and Mexico International Border that bisected our original homelands and Human Rights. In 2006, the O’odham VOICE Against the WALL hosted the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues on O’odham lands.

James Riding In is an activist scholar and a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Dr. Riding In is the editor of Wicazo Sa Review: A Journal of Native American Studies. He writes from the perspective of an American Indian Studies Paradigm that empowers Indian nations, communities, and peoples in their struggles to overcome the harmful consequences of colonialism.

BOJAN LOUIS (Diné) is the author of the poetry collection Currents (BkMk Press 2017), which received a 2018 American Book Award, and the nonfiction chapbook Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona (The Guillotine Series 2012). His fiction has appeared in Ecotone, Numéro Cinq Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review; nonfiction in MudCity Journal and AS/US. Former poetry editor at RED INK and former poetry editor and co-founder of Waxwing, Louis has been a resident at The MacDowell Colony and is the inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence at Arizona State University. He will be joining the University of Arizona MFA and AIS faculty in Fall 2019.
Listen to an interview with Bojan Louis, about his award winning "Currents," winner of the American Book Award.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, may not be used without permission. Photos copyright TD Garcia.

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