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Tonatierra in solidarity with Cancun
 
By Brenda Norrell
Indian Country Today correspondent
 
PHOENIX - In solidarity with corn farmers protesting World Trade Organization meetings in Cancun, Mexico, indigenous protesters held high their signs, "WTO kills Indians," and proclaimed that farm subsidies to the worlds elite have left poor farmers starving around the world.

"Corn is our sustenance, our flesh," said protester Billy Aguirre, addressing the Tonatierra Annual Human Rights Conference at the Nahuacalli Indigenous Embassy on Sept. 13.

The indigenous workers that gathered here, far from being tiny as worker ants, are giants in the struggle for international human rights.

Tupac Enrique Acosta urged those protesting outside to remember others who have no shoes, have no food, and to stand strong for the millions of indigenous people slaughtered in the Americas.

Urging all to begin with truth in their hearts, Enrique said, "When one person stands for truth, the multitudes multiply.

"Our agenda is to take action."

With tears in their eyes, a group of workers from Mexico performed the tragedies of their lives in a theater production. Macehualli, a theater group of laborers, performed as a Mexican family of corn farmers, desperate for food. After hiring a "coyote" to take them across to the other side, (America) one woman dies in the desert. Then, the father, after laboring in the fields is told, "We will not pay you because you have no papers."

Macehualli received a standing ovation. Enrique said "Macehualli" refers to the common people. "They are the ones who make offerings to the earth and because of those offerings, they are the deserving ones."

During the day-long gathering, Hopi youth from the Black Mesa Water Coalition rallied support for the protection of Hopi and Navajo pristine aquifer water on Black Mesa, now being drained by coal slurry.

"People are starting to find out what has been happening to us all these years," said Jonah Hill, Hopi-Quechan, traditional artist and herbalist from Kykotsmovi Village.

Hill said Peabody Coal has been pumping 3.3 million gallons of the pure underground water daily for coal slurry, from Black Mesa to Nevada for electricity production, since 1965 and the springs are drying up.

"Growing corn traditionally is who we are. We have made food out of very little."

Hill said Hopi and Navajo are dry farmers, planting their corn and vegetables with a minimum amount of water. "We are finding we have to dig deeper and deeper for water."

The animals, too, are affected by the mining pollution and traditional hunting is no longer possible. "Rabbits have tumors on their necks."

Cindy Naha, Hopi-Tewa from Hano Village, said since the enormous coal beds were discovered on Black Mesa in 1908, Hopi and Navajo have suffered. After the discovery, traditional governments of councils and elders began to disappear with the U.S. policy of the Indian Reorganization Act. It was the first step towards the United States government seizing tribal lands for energy development.

With Hopi and Navajo no longer turning to their tribal chiefs, tribal members went to the polls. Then, without the Hopi Tribes knowledge, attorney John Boyden worked simultaneously for the Hopi Tribe and Peabody Coal, furthering the interest of Peabody to obtain leases on Black Mesa, she said.

"Boyden secretly persuaded the tribe to do what Peabody wanted," Naha said. She asked how long the aquifer water will last on Black Mesa. "This water is what the Hopi and Navajo survive on.

"If the water goes, what will become of our people?"

Hill and Nada pointed out that the Black Mesa Water Coalition, formed by American Indian students in the Flagstaff area, has already successfully halted Reliant Energy from building a power plant on sacred Black Mesa land.

Hill said it was to be built at Bluebird Springs, where fresh water bubbles up and wildlife gather. "They told us that it would not pollute it. But if they had taken that over, it would destroy who we are."

Nada said all people begin in a place of water. "When you were born, you came from the womb, you were inside water, that is where you come from."

Urging action, Nada said when the work is done from the heart, anything is possible. "We will no longer be oppressed."

Jose Matus, Pascua Yaqui and co-coordinator of Derechos Humanos (human rights) organization in Tucson, said indigenous people crossing the border of the United States and Mexico are being denied their rights in increasing numbers.

Matus said visas have been taken away from Yaqui who speak only their traditional Yoeme language. While indigenous villagers are harassed for documents they have no way of obtaining, such as electricity receipts and bank account statements, women are murdered and violated with little or no police investigation.

Recently, a Raramuri family from Mexico, making their regular visit to family members at Gila River in Arizona, were detained and humiliated by border patrol agents.

"The government official said, Show me how the Indians dance!" Matus said.

Kumeyaay, Cocopah, Oodham, Yavapai and Kickapoo are among the tribes living on both sides of the border between California and Texas.

"We are not illegals here. We are not immigrants. We are the original people of this land. Yet, they do not want to recognize our indigenous people in Mexico," Matus said.

During the gathering, human rights workers said the delicate balance of the earth is shaken by the greed of corporations and anarchy of politicians. They said "mom and pop" stores are disappearing, being bought out by large corporations. The result is that political campaign dollars are disappearing to candidates opposing the corporate takeover of America.

"We know that this is the darkest time," said human rights worker Sergio Guerrero Barraza. "It is a time when crime and violence are legalized.

"The media only publicizes Bush Light and the people are left behind."

Guerrero said people are now arrested in America based on the color of their skin. "The government surrounding us is the greatest violator of civil rights. People can be detained just for the way they look."

Indigenous and poor farmers everywhere are struggling. "We are asking for such little crumbs," he said.

Enrique, coordinator of Tonatierra community center in downtown Phoenix, said indigenous peoples have been under siege by a world war for 500 years. Twenty million people were killed in Mexico.

He said the present regime of global economic trade agreements is a "war against humanity." The drop in corn prices, a result of the collusion between North American agribusiness corporations and governments supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement, affects about 15 million Mexicans.

"Since 1994, the price of corn flooding Mexico dropped 70 percent, a result of U.S. taxpayer subsidies to the agribusiness industry," he said. Now, farmers have become economic refugees. If they travel north, they are treated as "a disposable and undocumented labor force in the U.S. economy."

"This is a form of economic terrorism," Enrique said, calling it the culmination of 500 years of colonization.

Enrique said it is easy for one to believe, to have the power of conviction and bring about change when the masses believe. But the elders say that it is the first few who must have the strongest faith, the strongest belief.

Hopi youth distributed a statement written in 1971. "Water under the ground has much to do with rain clouds. Everything depends upon the proper balance being maintained."

Hopi elders said ground water attracts rain from the clouds like a magnet, raising the water table under the ground for roots and crops. They prophesized that extracting ground water for strip mining would signal the beginning of the end.

"Should this happen, our land will shake like the Hopi rattle; land will sink, land will dry up. Rains will be barred by unseen forces because we Hopis have failed to protect the land given to us, as we were instructed. Plants will not grow, our corn will not yield and animals will die.

"When corn will not grow, we will die, not only Hopi, but all will disintegrate to nothing."


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Guadalupe Parra and Billy Aguirre protest WTO during Tonatierra's human rights conference. Photo Brenda Norrell 
 
 

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Robert Free (right) with Garry Rowland of Wounded Knee, S.D. The two had not seen one another since they were together at the occupation of Wounded Knee. Photo by Brenda Norrell

Robert Free, After Cancun
 
Seattle activist says scales of coffee and corn hold futures in the balance
 
By Brenda Norrell
Indian Country Today correspondent
 
SEATTLE - Seated in the Seattle home that has been a center for resistance movements with a tipi on its front lawn, Robert Free talks of the pressing dangers of free trade to indigenous peoples and lessons learned from protests of the World Trade Organization negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.

"I visited with Mayan Indians who work long days and get only a couple of dollars for a kilo of coffee," Free said after traveling through southeast Mexico.

While in Cancun, Free met with a delegation of 500 Mayan elders. They found it hard to believe that coffee sells for $2 a cup in Seattle.

"I told them I would challenge the many Indian casinos in the United States and other corporations and organizations to at least buy fair trade coffee that gives Mayans a decent price for their long toil."

Free said it would be a gesture of solidarity for Indians in the north to support Indians in the south in this way.

"The vast majority of indigenous people are not privileged like the Indians in the United States and Canada who have treaties and reserved land - even though they are kept manipulated in the U.S. and Canada by imposed puppet governments.

"Most indigenous live marginalized, facing their own poverty without food stamps or anything. Yet they are the caretakers of the vast majority of the resources on this planet."

Free said gold from indigenous lands funded the empires of Europe and the great artworks like those of Michaelango. Now it is a time for this wealth to be returned.

"The Catholic Church is the greatest land owner, yet they are the perpetrators of child sexual abuse and the destruction of family and culture. They have a moral obligation to return the wealth, like the gold they have stolen," he said.

As an example in the United States, he said, "The gold of the Black Hills funded the United States economy."

Free is a veteran of the struggles at Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, the Longest Walk, fishing rights in the Northwest and freedom for Leonard Peltier. He created the BEAR Project for Indians with AIDS.

Free attended the Cancun protests at the invitation of indigenous campesinos and is now editing video footage for a film on trade issues and protests in Cancun from the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Calling the practice "corporate welfare," Free said WTO negotiations in Cancun for crop subsidies for elite farmers in wealthy countries would have led to more suffering for indigenous peoples.

The negotiations were halted after Korean farmer Lee Kyong-hae, 56, stabbed himself to death in Cancun on Sept. 10 during a protest.

Free said he interviewed Kyong-hae on video the same morning he killed himself on the fence with a knife wound to the heart.

"It was a very sad time, but it changed the whole tone of the demonstrations. It helped defeat any negotiations for agreements for agricultural subsidies."

Free said 70 percent of all corn in Mexico is now genetically modified. One reason it places poor farmers in peril is because of the transfer of pollen.

If pollen from a corporate-owned strain of corn pollinates an indigenous farmers crops, it is a disaster for an indigenous farmer. "They can shut down your farm."

With cheap, subsidized corn from the United States flooding the market in Mexico, indigenous farmers find it difficult to sell their corn.

"People can by cheaper corn," Free said.

Further danger lies in the fact that the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization agreements now supersede the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. "This is happening so that corporate trade law will be the global law of the planet."

Free said the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas would expand free trade into South America. It is being pressed forward without consultation with indigenous people and would drive more indigenous into slave labor, without unions, health care or any benefits.

"The corporate people make massive profits and the people suffer."

While in Mexico, Free saw another reality of the protests, non-Indians using indigenous as a focal point, while keeping them out of the front lines of forums and negotiations.

Free said organizations release "bureaucratic-babble" about Indian rights. "It is linear western thinking, they leave out the spirit. That is what I saw in Cancun."

"Seven-thousand Indians were camped in tents in hot weather with mosquitoes in fields and schools, eating beans and rice." Meanwhile, organization leaders stayed in nice hotels. Some non-Indian protesters wanted to create violence without consultation with indigenous leaders.

"I challenged them to stop trying to use indigenous people to hide behind. They didnt care that women and children were in the front of the march, they wanted to hide behind them and throw rocks.

"Its OK to do that if they do that with the approval of indigenous people."

Free said those working in indigenous issues should follow indigenous protocol, including consultation and respect for elders.

"Those who want to defeat the WTO and globalization must unite with indigenous peoples." Free said there must be more inclusive representation.

"Otherwise, its just the same people talking to the same people."

He said the enemy is real.

"Globalization is the attempt to have corporations rule the world. It lives on the lands and resources indigenous peoples around the world.

"The success of indigenous peoples to keep their lands and resources will be the defeat of colonization which has been going on for 500 years."


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Jonah Hill and Cindy Naha, Hopi members of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, join Tupac Enrique Acosta (right) at the Tonatierra Human Rights Conference in Phoenix. Photo Brenda Norrell

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