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."