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Struggles around the world: 1992 - the year of indigenous peoples.

Spain, Italy, the Vatican, The United States, European and Latin American governments, and other colonial governments are spending millions and billions of dollars (as of 1990, the U.S. Congress alone had appropriated $87 million) to commemorate what they call the 500th anniversary of the "Discovery of America," the "Encounter of Two Worlds," the "Columbus Quincentennial," or the "Conquest of America."

Outraged at this racist version of history, the offense to their dignity, the continued racism, lies, and insensitivity that these governments would perpetuate, indigenous people have held meetings and planned events throughout the Americas. The following is an outline of some of those meetings and events.

November 1986, Quito, Ecuador -- First Congress of the Indian People of Ecuador

At this meeting it was recognized that, rather than representing a conquest, Columbus' arrival in the Americas was the beginning of a colonial invasion complete with oppression, exploitation, racism, and the removal of natural resources from the land of indigenous peoples. In consideration of this, the First Congress of Indian People of Ecuador declared as follows:

1. We reject the planned celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Discovery of America promoted by the Spanish government together with the colonial governments that are dependent on the capitalist system, since the celebration of this event reaffirms the policies of neocolonialism and demonstrates the dependency of the countries of the "Third World" on interests of the powerful capitalist economies;

2. The planned celebration violates all principles of free self-determination, and is contrary to all norms of international law;

3. The planned reenactment of the invasion demonstrates a warlike and militaristic attitude, which constitutes an immoral and inhumane offense against the dignity of Indian Peoples; all together, these activities are a provocation against Indian Peoples;

4. We are demanding that the Spanish government suspend the promotion of this event, which represents a celebration of the anniversary of the genocide and ethnocide of the Indian Peoples of the Americas;

5. We are demanding that the Spanish government, instead of investing $5 billion in the activities surrounding the 500th anniversary of the invasion, provide compensation to the Indian Peoples of the Americas, as a matter of moral principle; and

6. We are calling upon all democratic governments, artists and intellectuals, workers, campesinos, students, religious, solidarity and humanrights organizations, the United Nations...and Indian organizations of the world to coordinate actions that will prevent the realization of this 500-year celebration, and to join together in a campaign of general protest in all the countries of the world by whatever means possible.

April 1989, Quito, Ecuador - Meeting of Representatives of Indigenous Organizations

At this meeting a call was made to indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South America to organize a unified response by indigenous peoples to the planned 1992 commemorations. It was recognized that no "encounter" had taken place, but rather an armed invasion resulting in the genocide of indigenous peoples throughout the continent. The year 1492 was also when indigenous resistance and struggles for land and self-determination began. It was further recognized that "Manifest Destiny" still prevails in modem society and, consequently, indigenous peoples, in particular, continue to suffer from military abuses and the plundering of natural resources by the multinational corporations. Indigenous peoples continue to be persecuted: in Guatemala, soldiers are ordered to kill the old Indians in particular, because they teach the ways of the Maya, and the children because they are the seed of humanity.

A call was made to all indigenous peoples to reflect upon the real meaning of the "conquest" and to participate in the First Continental Meeting of Indigenous Peoples - 500 Years of Resistance.

July 1990, Quito, Ecuador - First Continental Conference of Indigenous Peoples - 500 Years of R

Just before this meeting, there were reports of more than 500,000 indigenous people marching in the streets of South America to protest government abuses. At the conference itself, over 300 indigenous peoples from throughout the Americas came to coordinate efforts and work in response to the planned 1992 events. Some of the goals of this meeting included developing a unified plan of action to coordinate national and international events to communicate indigenous perspectives and to encourage the participation of the general public in the "500 Years of Resistance" campaign organized by indigenous peoples.

A call was made for the United Nations to declare the right of self-determination of all indigenous peoples by 1992. There was a call of protest against specific human-rights violations occurring in Guatemala and El Salvador. It was demanded that the United States free Leonard Peltier, a U.S. political prisoner since 1976. It was resolved that 1992 be declared "The Year of Indigenous Peoples."

August 1990, Geneva, Switzerland -- United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples from throughout the world attended these U.N. Working Group meetings (I attended as a representative of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice). The indigenous people held meetings among themselves in which the 1992 plans were discussed and a network of indigenous peoples and organizations from throughout the world currently working on this issue was formed. It was resolved at this meeting that, in support of the July 1990 meeting in Ecuador of the First Continental Conference of Indigenous Peoples, 1992 be declared "The Year of Indigenous Peoples," and that there be a proposal that the U.N. declare 1992 to be "The Year of Indigenous Peoples."

June 1991, Protecting Mother Earth Conference, Black Hills, South Dakota

At this conference (which I also attended as a representative of SNEEJ), "The Decade of Indigenous Peoples" was proclaimed for 1990s. There was also a call for a national boycott of all events celebrating "Columbus Day" on October 12, 1992.

September 1991, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justi

The representatives of native nations and organizations attending the first annual gathering of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice declared their concordance with the 1990 July Declaration of Quito, Ecuador, and proclaimed 1992 as "The Year of Indigenous Peoples." They also extended a hand of friendship to all who have suffered the discrimination and racism of the past 500 years and to all those in the struggle to stop the destruction of Mother Earth.

Many indigenous, nonindigenous, social and economic justice, human rights, multicultural, environmental, anti-nuclear, and other organizations have since joined in the efforts of "500 Years of Resistance" that are being planned and in the declaration of indigenous peoples that 1992 be known as "The Year of Indigenous Peoples." Many events and activities are being planned by indigenous peoples throughout the world for 1992, but especially in the Americas. There has been a call for all indigenous organizations-peoples-tribes-communities-confederations-nat to organize events in their areas focusing on the "500 Years of Resistance," and many are doing so.

It is being requested that the nonindigenous organizations that will be participating and/or joining in events pertaining to 1992 be respectful of the indigenous peoples and organizations and that they not exploit indigenous efforts to further their own agendas.

Events and Resources

The U.S. government is planning major events in many major cities across the country. One of the main areas that the government has focused on, with monstrous plans for celebrations, is San Francisco. Replicas of Columbus' three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, were scheduled to sail into San Francisco Harbor for "Columbus Day" 1992, as well as other "gala" celebrations, parades, etc. [but the San Francisco call was cancelled -- eds.]

In response the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), whose main offices are in San Francisco, is planning major actions in San Francisco, which include blocking the ships from coming into the harbor with support from the Greenpeace Peace Navy. Many natural-food companies and other "natural" and "environmental" type organizations have already endorsed and/or are sponsoring actions by indigenous peoples and organizations as opposed to being a part of the government-planned celebrations. For more information on events in San Francisco and California, as well as other areas throughout the country, contact the IITC at 710 Clayton Street, No. 1, San Francisco, CA 94117,(415) 566-0251.

The South and Meso-American Indian Information Center (SAIIC), headquartered in Berkeley, California is calling on all people to create alternatives to the "Columbus Day" celebrations and urges people to demand that the truth be taught in schools and that Indian organizations and events be attended and sponsored. For more information contact: SAAIC, P.O. Box 7550, Berkeley, CA 94707, (415) 834-4263.

Massive events and marches are being planned in Central and South America and more information on these events can be obtained by contacting: Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas de Ecuador (CONAIE), Casilla Postal No. 92-C, Sucursal 15, Los Granados 2553 y de Diciembre (Batan), Quito, Ecuador, Sud America.

The Alliance for Cultural Democracy, a multicultural association, puts out a quarterly newspaper, Huracan, opposing what it considers a "celebration of colonialism and genocide." Contact The Alliance for Cultural Democracy or Huracan, P.O. Box 759 1, Minneapolis, MN 55407, (612) 721-5491.

Columbus in Context is a group of concerned professionals working with people of color and specifically Native Americans in opposition to what they are calling the official "Quincentennial Jubilee," which they claim to be the largest corporate-sponsored festival of its kind in this century. Columbus in Context, c/o Clergy and Laity Concerned, 198 Broadway, New York, NY 10028,(212) 964-6730.

Rethinking Columbus, a 96-page resource guide published in collaboration with the Network of Education on Central America, provides lessons, essays, short stories, poems, interviews, and an annotated bibliography for teaching about the upcoming 500th anniversary. This can be ordered from: Rethinking Schools, 1001 E. Keefe Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53212, (414) 964-9646 (single copies $4.00; bulk 10-49, $2.00; 50-199, $1.50).

Healing Global Wounds. In Nevada, major events are being planned to take place at the Nevada Test Site in October 1992. The test site is located on Western Shoshone land, in violation of the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley, and despite the fact that no agreement exists giving the U.S. permission to test nuclear weapons within Western Shoshone territory. An unprecedented 10 days of events will take place in Las Vegas and at the Nevada Test Site, October 2-12, to demand an end to the 500 years of injustice to Native Americans, and an end to nuclear testing on native lands. For more information on events being planned at the Nevada Test Site, the following organizations may be contacted: Western Shoshone National Council P.O. Box 140115 Duckwater, NV 89314 Citizen Alert Native American Program P.O. Box 5339 Reno, NV 89513 (702)827-4200 American Peace Test P.O. Box 26725 Las Vegas, NV 89126 702)386-9834

European Peace Pilgrimage

A European organization has planned a "Walk across America" or "European Peace Pilgrimage 1992." This event is being held to show opposition to nuclear testing, to put an end to the production of nuclear weapons and "because we feel guilty about what our ancestors did to the Indians, but also to acknowledge our responsibility for what is happening to the Shoshone today." Participants plan to march across the United States, over 2,600 miles, which they estimate will take seven to eight months, to arrive in time for the October 1992 events at the Nevada Test Site. For more information, contact: Hans Horeman, c/o Vrienden Van EPP '92, A Sniederslaan 14, 5615 GE Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

These are just some of the many events planned for 1992. People are being encouraged to contact their local indigenous organizations, tribes, etc., to find out about events in their areas and how they may be able to participate and support those events.

It can often be very difficult to stomach the inherent racism that accompanies and lies behind events such as the "Discovery of America" being promoted by the "colonial" governments, and multinational corporations. Those events, however, do provide us with an opportunity and a forum to unite against and to expose the racism, deceit, and devious nature of these colonial" governments and the multinational corporations, which continue to torture, murder, exploit, and commit genocide against the indigenous peoples of the world -- acts that the corporate-run mainstream media continues to cover up.

It is important that children are taught the truth and also that adults are reeducated as to the true history of what has happened in the Americas. This may only come about if parents keep their children out of the public school systems altogether, or find alternative schools. In the U.S., where most history books are written by white males, it is in the best interests of the government to conceal the truth about U.S. atrocities committed in the past and present. Also, since the funds used to buy school books come from the federal government, it is unlikely that the truth will ever be taught in the U.S. public school system.

We need to challenge those who would have us believe that the "Discovery of America" was a good thing and an event to be celebrated. When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he was looking for gold. The indigenous peoples of the Bahamas, the Arawaks, swam out to greet Columbus and his men as they approached. Columbus and his men proceeded with a campaign of enslaving and imprisoning the Arawaks, many of whom died in captivity. In order to fulfill his promise of gold to the King and Queen of Spain, and to pay back those who had invested in his expedition, Columbus ordered the Indians to collect large quantities of gold, an impossible task as the only gold around was bits of dust in streams. The Arawaks' hands were chopped off in punishment and they would bleed to death. In their resistance, the Arawaks faced armed invaders and had little chance of surviving a conflict, and so they committed mass suicide and killed their infants rather than succumb to the Spaniards. Others were enslaved and taken to work on huge estates where they died by the thousands. It is said that by the year 1650 none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island.

This was the beginning of what has been celebrated as "Columbus Day," and what is now being promoted as the celebration of the "Discovery of America." We must challenge these planned celebrations and denounce them for what they are -- celebrations of the genocide of indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Information contained in this article was obtained from the following publications and journals: Treaty Council News, December 1987 and August 1989 issues. SAIIC Newsletter, Fall 1989 and Winter 1990 issues. Z Magazine, December 1990 and February 1991 issues. The Test Banner, Spring 1991 issue. A People's History of the Unites States, by Howard Zinn.

ODESSA RAMIREZ works as a legal assistant in Carson City, Nevada. She is on the council of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice based in Albuquerque, New Mexico (a multicultural organization made up of activists from throughout the southwestern states); a Board member of Citizen Alert, Nevada (a grass-roots statewide environmental organization); and Advisory Board Member of the Citizen Alert Native American Program, Nevada. The author can be reached at P.O. Box 208, Carson City, NV 89702.
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Author:Ramirez, Odessa
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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