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Marcos in Sonora, Mexico
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Photo: O'odham Lt. Gov. Jose Garcia, Mayo Gov. Victoriano Huichileme and Marcos.

Photo Brenda Norrell

Marcos revolutionizes indigenous rights in northern Mexico


By Brenda Norrell

U.N. Observer and International Report

October 2006


MAGDALENA, SONORA, Mexico – Subcomandante Marcos was welcomed as a hero of the indigenous rights movement, as Tohono O’odham, Mayo, Navajo and other indigenous told of the oppression that threatens their survival.

            During the northern Indian borderlands tour of the Other Campaign, Marcos listened as Tohono O’odham opposed encroachment on their lands in Mexico, the Bush administration’s planned border wall which is threatening the survival of their ceremonies and a proposed hazardous waste dump and the cancer it would bring.

            O’odham in Mexico Lt. Gov. Jose Garcia, among the event organizers, said Indigenous People are in need of good leaders and need to follow the example of the Zapatistas.

            “Instead of fighting with bullets, they are fighting with words,” Garcia told the listening gathering of more than 500 people outdoors at the Rancho el Penasco on Oct. 21.

Mayo Governor Victoriano Huichileme told of the struggle of his people in Sinoloa on the western coast, of their desperate need for jobs, education and homes.

O’odham in Mexico told Marcos of the threat they now face, as the government of Mexico plans a hazardous dump near their ceremonial site at Quitovac, less than 40 miles south of the international border.

            Brenda Lee, O’odham from Quitovac, Mexico, said the people living closest to the planned hazardous waste dump were never informed of the dump so they could speak out against it.

            “We believe we are of nature and want to continue to live a natural life. We do not want this contamination,” Lee told Marcos at the gathering.

Mike Flores, Tohono O’odham and member of the International Indian Treaty Council, said the Treaty Council is an arm of the American Indian Movement and provides Indian people with the opportunity to take their issues to the United Nations.

Flores, coordinator of the recent Border Summit of the Americas in the US, said O’odham are opposed to the border wall and militarization of Tohono O’odham tribal land along the US/Mexico border.

With the rampant spread of Border Patrol agents and National Guardsmen on tribal land in the United States, O’odham rights to practice their religion are being violated by the oppressive military. The border wall would separate the O’odham communities on both sides of the border and be a barrier on their traditional ceremonial route.

Flores said American Indians at the northern and southern borders of the United States are both targeted by the Bush administration. In the north, Mohawks and other tribes are battling threats to their territories and treaties. The Bush administration is attempting to nullify the Jay Treaty, which recognizes the rights of First Nations’ passage and commerce at the northern border.

            “George Bush wants to nullify the Jay Treaty, single-handedly, and we can’t let that happen,” said Flores, tribal councilman for Gu-Vo District of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona.

Flores urged indigenous people to purge their minds of colonized thinking, which is not the way of thought of Indigenous Peoples.

            Among those traveling with Marcos was a survivor of the brutal police violence at San Salvador Atenco, where police attacked and beat Zapatistas and townspeople. One 14-year-old girl was killed. Amnesty International recently released a report on the rape and large-scale sexual assault of the women carried out by the Mexican police while the women were in custody.

Marcos, now known as Delegate Zero on his listening tour through Mexico, gathered with northern tribes at the Rancho el Penasco, an ecotourism ranch that promotes biodiversity. During the listening session, presentations and translations were offered in Spanish, O’odham and English.

Mayos from Sinoloa on the western coast told Marcos that they have little opportunity to receive an education in Mexico, while Navajo from the United States called for a halt to the corporate machinations that are causing death for indigenous peoples.

            O’odham Lt. Gov. Jose Garcia said, “This gathering brought our people together in unity and gave us the chance for ours voices to be heard.”

            Garcia said the underlying message of all the indigenous present was that the government of Mexico has not honored the voices, or recognized the existence and rights of the Indian people of Mexico.

Garcia, who has traveled numerous times to Chiapas since the Zapatistas’ movement for indigenous rights began, said Mexico never adopted the San Andres Accords and watered down the Indigenous Rights Bill of Rights in Mexico’s Congress. He said both  reveal that Mexico continues to ignore and repress Indigenous Peoples

            Michelle Cook, Navajo, said the state and federal governments in the United States are not listening to Indian people. Cook demanded that corporate profiteering cease and the World Trade Organization and World Bank “desist from  their activities which kill our people.”

            Cook thanked Marcos and the Zapatistas for coming and listening, adding that the Navajos’ own state and federal governments in the United States are not listening.

After listening, Marcos said it was good to be present and listen to the voices of the Indigenous Peoples. Naming the tribes of this region, Marcos reminded those gathered that there are always repercussions for people speaking out with truth.

            Before the evening of listening, a traditional prayer was led by Salt River Pima. Members of the American Indian Movement, Tohono O’odham, Pima and Hopi/Zia Pueblo from the United States and O’odham from Mexico, provided security at the entrance and organized patrols. After consulting with AIM security, local Mexican police forces agreed to remain outside the indigenous AIM security parameters. Mexican police were surprised with hot coffee before leaving their posts at the highway on Sunday morning.

            News reporters and documentary filmmakers poured into the evening listening session from Sweden, Italy, Japan, China and the United States, representing a wide range of media, from indymedia to the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Ariz. and an independent Swedish film crew.

            During Marcos’ overnight stay here, O’odham prepared favorite Sonoran foods of red chile stew, the favorite large and thin O’odham tortillas, pinto beans and strong coffee. Tucson restaurant owner Maria Garcia, wife of Jose Garcia and among the event organizers, arrived with huge pots of red chile and beans.

While several hundred supporters arrived with Marcos’ delegation in a large bus and several cars, Indigenous traveled by bus from distant communities, including Mayo from Sinoloa, Yaqui and O’odham from the coast and Tarahumara from Chihuahua.

Crossing the border to attend, hundreds of people arrived from the United States, including human rights groups and EZLN members from Oakland, Calif. Among the large delegations were members of “No More Deaths,” in Tucson, Ariz., which maintains water stations north of the border in an effort to prevent migrant deaths from dehydration in the desert.

            When Marcos and the delegation left on Sunday morning, ecotourism ranch owner Wenceslao Monrroy said Marcos said he had a good rest here, where sheep and goats often wander through the outdoor crowd.

Already, Monrroy had removed the previous plaque from the door of the private room where Marcos stayed as his guest at the hostel, also known as the Centro Cultural de Biodiversidad del Kiche.

“It will now be the ‘Marcos Room,’” he said of the room decorated in the folk art and carvings distinguishing Mexico for hundreds of years.

Marcos had planned to be here in June, but the attack by police in Atenco in the south delayed the northern Indian borderlands tour until October.

During the weekend here, food and support poured in from the Dry River Collective from Tucson; Cooperativa “Just Coffee,” in Agua Prieta and Sonora; Citizens for Border Solutions in Bisbee, Ariz.; Desarollo de Pueblos Indios Inmigrantes y Nativos in Sonora.

            Earlier in the week, while meeting with the Kumiai (Kumeyaay) in Baja California, Marcos announced a meeting to bring together Indigenous Peoples from the north and south continents in the fall of 2007 in northern Mexico.

Marcos arrived at the O’odham gathering on Saturday, immediately after establishing a camp to protect the Cucapa and Kiliwa near Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Facing extinction because of the loss of fishing rights, tribal members earlier entered into a “death pact.”

Narco News, providing coverage of the Other Campaign, reports of the new Zapatista camp and encouragement to the people.

“In protest against the forceful dispossession of their lands and the destruction of their culture, the Kiliwas took a death pact. The women have agreed to stop having children, and the Kiliwas will die with this generation. Marcos, however, intends to use the power of the Other Campaign to convince them that they are not alone, and that it is not worth it to die from a death pact when they can die fighting.”

During the last week of October, Marcos plans to meet with Indigenous in Yaqui, Seri, Mayo, Pima, Tarahumara and other communities in northwestern Mexico.

Narco News link:


Amnesty International on the rape of the women of Atenco:


"The Other Campaign in Sonora, our Struggle is for Humanity"
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Narco News

"Marcos: forced labor camps in Sonora"
World War IV Report

"Zapatistas will defend Cucapa and Kiliwa people"

"Subcomandante Marcos crosses into the US"
World War IV Report

'Corporism': The Systemic Disease that Destroys Civilization,
by Ken Reiner


Maurus Chino, Acoma Pueblo, on oppression:


New at IRC Americas Program

"A New World of Citizen Action, Analysis, and Policy Options"

Introducing the latest policy analysis from IRC Americas Program

Indigenous Border Summit Opposes Border Wall and Militarization
By Brenda Norrell

Indigenous peoples at the Border Summit of the Americas on Tohono O'odham tribal land opposed the construction of a border wall, which will dissect indigenous communities on ancestral lands split by the U.S.-Mexico border. They also issued a strong statement against the ongoing militarization of their homelands.

During the Border Summit, held Sept. 29-Oct. 1, organized by Tohono O'odham Mike Flores and facilitated by the International Indian Treaty Council and the American Indian Movement, indigenous peoples unanimously opposed the Secure Fence Act, passed by the Senate. The wall will divide the ancestral lands of many Indian Nations, including the Kumeyaay in California, Cocopah and Tohono O'odham in Arizona, and the Kickapoo in Texas. The wall is expected to be completed by May 2008.

Brenda Norrell has been a news reporter in Indian country for 23 years, working as a staff reporter for Navajo Times and Indian Country Today and as an AP correspondent during the 18 years she lived on the Navajo Nation. She is currently a freelance writer based in Tucson and a contributor to the IRC Americas Program, online at www.americaspolicy.org.

See new IRC article online at:

With printer-friendly pdf version at:

For media inquiries Siri Khalsa, media@irc-online.org, 505-388-0208