Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 21, 2019

Borderlands: Language and songs as resistance, waiting for the wall to come down

During the Borderlands Panel, Ofelia Rivas shares a painting by Casandra Productions honoring  Jakelin Caal Maquin. Jakelin, 7 years old, died in U.S. Border Patrol custody after being arrested near Lordsburg, New Mexico. Ofelia said Jakelin's death and the separation of migrant children from their parents is a continuation of the U.S. policy of genocide of Indigenous Peoples. Photo by Brenda Norrell.
Language and songs as resistance, waiting for the wall to come down

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

SAN RAFAEL Calif. -- The United States is imprisoning migrant children and separating families. It is building a wall as a symbol of racism and separation and continuing the genocide of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. The onslaught, however, has not silenced the languages or the songs, it has not killed the spirits.

With renewed spirits and strength Indigenous Peoples know that all walls can come down.

"Learn your language, that is our resistance. Learn your songs. That is our resistance," Ofelia Rivas, Tohono O'odham said, speaking at the Borderlands Panel of the Bioneers Conference.

Ofelia joined Cara Romero, Chemehuevi; Nany Zepeda Sanic; Mayan from Guatemala, and Josue Rivas, Mexica/Otomi, on the Borderlands panel at the Bioneers 30 year anniversary conference on Sunday, speaking out on Indigenous rights, history and culture in the border region.

Ofelia began by showing a map that makes it clear that O'odham today have only one-tenth of their original territory in the countries of the United States and Mexico.

"Those vast lands hold our people's remains and our seeds," Ofelia told those gathered at Bioneers.

Referring to the Tohono O'odham Nation, she said that today the small place is like a "concentration camp, choking our food system and carrying devastation to our people."

Ofelia, founder of O'odham Voice against the Wall, said, "The border continues to devastate our way of life."

When the border was first placed there, dividing O'odham lands, it was just a metal stake in the ground, the U.S. survey marker establishing the international border. Now, however, O'odham are forced through ports of entry and subjected to the abuse of the U.S. Border Patrol.

"There are things we need from both sides of the border."

The O'odham in Mexico have successfully fought off a chemical waste dump on their lands.

"We won that small victory."

After 9/11 O'odham lands became more militarized. The Tohono O'odham Nation is the size of Connecticut and has three sectors, each sector has 700 U.S. Border Patrol agents.

"Our reservation is totally militarized."

She said O'odham must carry their identification cards when they go out to pick cactus or face abuse from the U.S. Border Patrol.

As for casino revenues, those stop at the border, and O'odham living south the US Mexico border receive none of the benefits.

She said the O'odham gatherings and ceremonies require travel across the border.

"I have to bring the elders to the meetings."

As they go about their lives, she sees O'odham elders forced to kneel down and have weapons pointed at their heads by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Now, thirty-seven protection laws have been waived to build the border wall.

Ofelia described the sound of the contractors digging into the earth and filling it with concrete when the border vehicle barrier was constructed near her home at the border.

She could hear the sounds coming from within the earth.

"It sounded like screaming to me."

Speaking of the ongoing abuse of O'odham by the U.S. Border Patrol on Tohono O'odham land, she said, "They can walk into your home anytime and put a gun to your head."

"That is what your tax dollars pay for."

Now on the border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Arizona, they are bulldozing all the protected Saguaro Cactus for the Border Wall.

Ofelia shared what an O'odham elder said when she described the border separation to them.

The O'odham elder said, "So when the wind blows, are they going to stop it and ask if for papers?"

Ofelia said she was put in boarding school and forced to speak another language.

But she resisted.

"Our songs survived. Our ceremonies survived."

Ofelia said O'odham need help to maintain their traditional communities south of the border. They need legal help and construction supplies.

Sharing their history, Ofelia said O'odham were given a number. They were enumerated, in order to control them. They were given numbers for benefits and this was the first stage of separation.

Today, some who are assimilated are happy with the status quo.

Ofelia, who was unjustly imprisoned in a migrant prison for four days while traveling in southern Mexico, while visiting the Zapatistas, said that the United States is a model for the incarceration of migrants. She pointed out that last year, she and Michelle Cook, Dine', posted a welcoming video to the migrants.

Regardless of what has been put before O'odham, they still have their joy.

"We still have our joy in our hearts."

"The resilience of the people is inspirational."

"Learn your language, that is our resistance. Learn your songs. That is our resistance."

Trump contractor Southwest Valley Constructors of Albuquerque, N.M. is now bulldozing protected Saguaro Cactus at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for the border wall in October 2019.
On the Borderlands panel, Nany Zepeda Sanic, of Mayan ancestry Mayan said she has lived in Texas and Hawaii as an immigrant and a refugee, due to the corruption and persecution in Guatemala.

Relating to others' struggles has helped her heal her wounds.

She said the idea of the American dream must be abolished.

"A lot of Mayan young people are ashamed of who they are."

"This country is full of immigrants."

She said there is so much trauma from war and violence for Guatemala. There are now a lot of U.S. weapons in Guatemala. Many of her people do not speak Spanish, only their Indigenous language.

"My mother had to leave because her life was threatened."

Speaking of the misconceptions in this country, she said, "The people migrating are looking for a better life."

They are looking for the way of life that is portrayed, one that is not the reality of life in the United States.

"People lose their identity to the system that oppressed them once, and then oppressed them again," she said of the U.S. violence in Guatemala and of the oppression of Guatemalans in the United States.

Nany spoke of how the United States is separating people from their children.

A lot of Guatemalans crossing the border are mothers with children.

"The criminals are running the country that we are running away from. A lot of people are being incarcerated."

Artist Josue Rivas, Mexica Otomi, is the founder of the Standing Strong Project and co-founder of Natives Photograph.

"The artist is the one who pushes culture forward," Joshua said.

Speaking at the Borderlands panel, he said he sees a future where there are no borders. He sees a future when that "silly line" does not exist any longer.

When asked about the future, he said the real history of this country must be taught in schools.

"America is not real. Americans could explore their own ancestors in Europe."

Josua said the goal of the U.S. imperialism at the border is to "beat down your spirit and control you."

"People need to be recognized as people of value."

Master of ceremonies of the Borderlands panel, Cara Romero, Chemehuevi, spoke of the imprisoned migrants and separated families. Cara is the director of the Indigenous Knowledge Program at Bioneers.

Cara Romeros’ “Jackrabbit, Cottontail & Spirits of the Desert” photo series comprises portraits of Chemehuevi brothers in feathered headdresses and traditional dress posing and interacting with the desert landscape. Romero says she hopes the series challenges the viewers’ perception of Native Americans and their connection to the land. Photos by Lance Gerber. More here.
Cara said she has ancestry from both sides of the border. She said Trump has ordered a separation decree and now there are migrant children in concentration camps.

The border wall is "a violent wall crossing ancestral territory."

Cara said her billboard art installations at the southern border in the Coachella Valley represent the people as spirit people who walk on this land.

"The billboard was placed there to show migrants we care."

Cara told Los Angeleno news, “The boys are manifestations of that concept, spirits in the landscape. They’re the future, they’re from now, they’re from pre-colonial times … Ivankürur,” she says using a Chemehuevi word. “It means those that sit beside me, speaking to this indigenous worldview that we exist and our ancestors are all around us.”

Bioneers Borderland Panel

Donald Trump ordered the children of migrants and refugees to be forcefully removed from their parents and placed in concentration camps, resulting in numerous deaths. These atrocities represent a small fraction of an ongoing border crisis fueled by a hyper-capitalist economy historically rooted in genocide and slavery. This panel presents heartbreaking stories about and hopeful solutions to the border crisis from an Indigenous perspective. We will hear first-hand accounts of what it feels like to have a border cut through your ancestral territory, explore ways to reduce the need for migration through traditional economies, and discuss how re-indigenization offers a pathway of hope for migrants after they settle in the U.S. Hosted by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi). With: Josue Rivas (Aztec); Nany Zepeda (Maya); Ofelia Rivas (O’odham).

Ofelia Rivas, an O’odham traditional seeds gardener from southern Arizona, in 2003 founded O’odham VOICE Against the WALL, a grassroots organization that seeks to defend O’odham cultural and human rights, which include, because her people’s ancestral lands and population straddle the U.S./Mexico border, their right to unfettered access to historical crossing routes along that border.

Nany Zepeda Sanic, of Mayan ancestry, originally from Guatemala, has lived in Mexico, Texas, and now on a regenerative agriculture farm in Hawaii, where she is co-creating an educational center. Focused on Indigenous activism through food, land and community-based wisdom, Nany has collaborated with chefs, farmers, weavers, women-run cooperatives, immigration and Indigenous advocacy groups, educators, and entrepreneurs, seeking to build bridges through food.

Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Program Director of the Bioneers Indigenous Knowledge Program, previously served her Mojave-based tribe in several capacities, including as: first Executive Director at the Chemehuevi Cultural Center, a member of the tribal council, and Chair of the Chemehuevi Education Board and Chemeuevi Headstart Policy Council. Cara is also a highly accomplished photographer/artist.

Josué Rivas (Mexica/Otomi), founder of the Standing Strong Project and co-founder of Natives Photograph, is an award-winning visual storyteller and educator working at the intersection of art, journalism, and social justice whose work challenges mainstream narratives about Indigenous peoples and builds awareness about issues affecting Native communities. His work has appeared in many publications including National Geographic, The Guardian, and World Policy Journal.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News.

Censored News series at Bioneers

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Floranet said...

Worth Appreciating. Great work.

Ruthanne said...

Thank you, Brenda!