Panel calls for revival of Indigenous movement in the US

Many students and workers attend Albuquerque event

Bethany Woody of ANSWER NM and Arizona Navajo activist Jerilene Jensen at Dec. 1 forum in Albuquerque.
Photo: Preston Wood

More than 70 community members attended the “500+ Years of Native Resistance” forum, sponsored by ANSWER New Mexico (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), at the University of New Mexico Student Union on Dec. 1 in Albuquerque. The panel-style forum with a Q & A session at the end was attended by young Native organizers, experienced activists and students. It was filmed by members of the audience.

Joel Gallegos, an activist with ANSWER NM, introduced the panel of speakers.

Before the introductions, Gallegos said, “1492 marked the year when the Indigenous people began their resistance in the Americas.”

Gallegos brought up occupied Indigenous peoples around the world who are continuing to struggle against colonialism, including Aborigines, Irish people resisting against British imperialism, Native Americans, Indigenous people in the Americas, and Palestinians.

The speakers included Amalia Montoya, an Apache/Mexican woman who is a leader in the (Un)-Occupy Albuquerque movement and an activist for Indigenous rights; Bethany Woody, a Diné Navajo who is an activist and an organizer for the ANSWER Coalition; and Sam English, a Chippewa artist and community organizer who has been involved in Native American civil rights issues since 1968.

Montoya spoke about tribal government corruption, violence against women and the process of decolonization, and connected the resistance of Native people in the Americas to the resistance of the Palestinians against settler colonialism.

“Palestine is no different than the reservations—we’re connected. This colonization has been happening and it is U.S. backed. The U.S. government and its militarized regime are neither natural or inevitable,” Montoya said. “We must resist with honor, dignity and humanity.

“For us to move from resistance to revolution, we have to change the way we look at each other. Indigenous people have a strong role in shared power,” Montoya stated.

“Our holocaust is still going on. It’s never talked about,” said Sam English. “We have high incidences of alcoholism, diabetes, cancer and teen suicide”

English continued, “We can’t expect tribal governments to do anything. They just put their hands out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., to give them money.”

“Our history is not in the history books, because they don’t want to know what happened to us,” he said. “We didn’t get free, the Indians are still incarcerated on the reservation.”

“If we’re to join and support each other, we can’t do this by ourselves,” English said. “We want to be self-determining instead of relying on government grants; we truly need to be sovereign in dealing with this nation.”

English thanked some of the people who have committed to helping other people, and told the audience how they pay a large price by getting jailed or killed.

“Leonard Peltier and Ché—we need to think about these people. I want to thank Rosa Parks for not giving the seat up to the white guy,” he said.

Bethany Woody discussed the harmful impact on Native people posed by the Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012, introduced by Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona.

“Water rights are a set of rights to protect enjoyment and access to water. A water claim is the enforcement of rights to use water,” Woody said of the Little Colorado River Act, also called SB 2109.

“Water rights affect my people, the colonized people of the Americas. If these [Indigenous] nations are put in a situation when they need water 100 or 200 years into the future, they’re not going to have that option,” Woody said.

Woody pointed out that Hopi and Navajo people are both widely opposed to the proposed bill.

“There are forces organizing to stop the settlement from being approved. There was almost an overflow of [Native American] citizens who could not get into town halls and had to wait in parking lots. These meetings were organized by people in the community for transparency,” Woody said.

Woody explained how “so-called representative” of the Navajo nation President Ben Shelley met in closed-door sessions with the senators.

“His alignments aren’t with the Indigenous people, but with the colonialist government. Any working class people in the Navajo nation could be arrested for protesting, while Shelley was accused of fraud, conspiracy and theft,” she said.

“Mistrust of the federal government is nothing new. Indigenous people have witnessed the stealing of land, breaking of treaties, and hoarding of resources. We should not have to pander to politicians. If we want something to be done, we must take a stand and fight for it,” Woody said.

She also added the Indigenous people’s struggle for sovereignty and self-determination as part of a plan of action.

“Youth on the reservation played a role in opposing SB 2109,” she said. She highlighted that a transition away from a coal-based economy is part of the struggle of the Navajo people.

“We will sign these things away if we approve these settlements,” Woody said.

“The time has come that we need to join together, not just Native communities, but oppressed people around the world and say enough is enough. Who is better at keeping the interest of the community alive than the people who work and live in these communities,” Woody said at the end of her informative talk.

“The only thing we can do as people is to unite under the premise of wanting a better future and fighting for it,” Woody said.

Sam Gardipe, a Pawnee activist from Oklahoma who helped plan the event, spoke during the discussion.

“I’d like to say that one step in the right direction would be for the U.S. government to recognize tribes as individual governments and then deal with us on that basis. The U.S. government needs to apologize to every Indigenous tribe in this country,” he said. “This town needs a movement—a Native movement.”

David Hill, speaking on behalf of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, and a long-time Choctaw activist from Oklahoma, went up to the podium to speak about Peltier's case and Native American rights.

“What we have on reservations is puppetocracy, you get to vote for the puppet of your choice,” Hill said.

“We have troops deployed in 150 of the 190 nations in the world. America spends 50 percent on military spending,” he said. “Taking more than you need is the problem. That’s U.S. encroachment and militarization. Our people believe that it’s wrong to take more than you need.”

Hill mentioned that in Oklahoma there are more women in prison than any other place. “They imprison our people up to seven times more,” he said.

Hill participated in militant actions including the Wounded Knee Occupation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs takeover in Washington, D.C.

“Peltier is still in prison when testimonies were recanted,” he said. “Peltier is still in prison over evidence that was proven wrong.”

The enthusiasm of the audience about the event was reflected in the discussion after the formal remarks by the panel, where the theme of reviving and re-energizing the struggle for Native rights dominated the comments.

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