Six members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been indicted by a federal grand jury for the murders of Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa and two companions in 1999. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictments on May 1.
The indictment named German Briceno "Granobles" Suarez as the intellectual author of the crime. Five others listed ? El Marrano or Fernando or "The Pig", Jeronimo, Gustavo Bocota Aguablanca, Nelson Vargas Rueda, and Dumar ? were named as the actual executioners.
Ingrid, well-known Menominee activist, development specialist and beloved representative of many Indian people to national and international forums, had gone to that country to plan projects with the U'wa Indian people. She intended to help that embattled tribe with their dream of building a school system based on their traditional culture. This was Ingrid's work and life's passion, in many places across the hemisphere: to keep the elders' teachings alive, to help Native people continue their ancestral knowledge and to strengthen the use of their community-building traditions. Her two companions, Hawaiian activist Lahe'ena'e Gay and environmentalist Terrence Freitas, shared Ingrid's proposed intentions to help the U'wa, who are confronting major issues of war and violence and an overwhelmingly unwanted energy development scheme.
Returning from their visit among the remote U'wa communities, Ingrid and companions were kidnapped by a FARC unit, which held them for just over a week and, despite direct pleas to FARC's international offices from family and many influential friends, wantonly and grossly ordered and conducted their execution.
The deaths outraged many. Ingrid's funeral at Menominee, Wis., and memorial in New York City drew thousands of people ? a wide circle of intimate friends, alongside an impressive representative cross-section of the world's progressive and social empowerment movements. Many clamor for justice in the case. They clamor as well for an ongoing work on behalf of the ideals that drove the remarkable Ingrid Washinawatok El-Issa.
The U'wa have seen a measure of success with the withdrawal by Occidental Petroleum from the lands of the U'wa people. Oil development within their ancestral lands had been imposed on the U'wa. They opposed it vehemently though peacefully, and have suffered deaths both in incidents with FARC and with the Colombian military. The company cites economic reasons for its withdrawal from the battle-worn area. Nevertheless many observers point to the intense public relations campaign in the U.S. and among stockholders at Occidental annual meetings about the company's unwelcome intrusion in U'wa country.
On the occasion of the federal indictments, Ingrid's memorial foundation, the Flying Eagle Woman Fund (NYC), issued the following statement on behalf of the two Native women's families. We commend its sincerity and clarity. And we could not agree more with its focus of vigorous defense of human rights protections for Native leadership and peoples.
"We welcome the Grand Jury indictments against the assassins of our beloved Ingrid Washinawatok and Lahe'ena'e Gay. The FARC commanders who ordered the murders and the henchmen who carried them out deserve to be brought to justice. Both Colombian or American court systems are acceptable as long as justice is done.
"Terrorism has been going on for a very long time and in many forms. The terrorism that killed Ingrid and Lahe'ena'e has long plagued Native leaders, whether from the Right or the Left. Just three days ago, Guillermo Ovalle, an associate of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Quiche' Indian leader Rigoberta Mench? Tum, was assassinated by unknown gunmen in Guatemala.
"In welcoming the indictments we reiterate that we do not endorse any actions of war, neither by governments or countries nor by armed bands of insurrectionists. We endorse only the strongest quest for the truth to be known and for justice to be done."
So be it.