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Indigenous Latino and the consciousness of the Native Americas

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Borders between Indian peoples - as psychological as language and as legalistic as those of national frontiers - are coming down. A sense of relations, all our relations, is increasingly apparent in the communications between Indians throughout North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. It is a refreshing trend that we encourage.

We note the recent repatriation of Taino human remains from the United States' Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian to a small Indian enclave in Cuba's eastern mountains, the community of Caridad de los Indios. Navajo, Mohawk, Algonquin, Kaw, Paiute, Chicano and other peoples, including scholars and participants from several countries, witnessed the unique ceremony, which coalesced the forces of many people to guarantee its success.

The re-interment gave evidence, too, of the survival of Native traditional culture and peoples in the most remote and unpredictable places in the Americas. For the small enclave of Taino descendents at Caridad de los Indios, high up in the mountains of Guantanamo, Cuba, to make themselves known and respected at an international level, after nearly 500 years of supposed extinction, is a marvel in itself. That a repatriation could be conducted between two countries still in the throes of political hostility gives evidence of the growing level of cooperation going on among Indian peoples of the countries of Latin America and North America.

Jose Mart?, the Cuban national hero, was quoted by elders at the repatriation in Caridad de los Indios. Mart? is one poetic voice from the anti-Spain liberation movements that has become an integral part of the Cuban spirit. The prophetic Mart?, who is respected throughout Latin America, declared to the world, over 100 years ago: "The American intelligence is to be found in an Indian head dress." He also wrote, "America will not walk until the Indian walks."

The American Indian is walking today. There is nothing crestfallen about this moment for the peoples of Indian country and the Native Americas. The Indian peoples of the Americas are relatives to each other and constitute the primary cultural and sometimes human foundation of the modern American republics. This is a large idea, but a true one and, we believe, a desirable one for all Native peoples to ponder with an open mind. Throughout North America Indian peoples are advancing their interests.

In Canada, the Aboriginal population surged over the past century; increasing by some 22 percent in the past five years alone. Aboriginal Canada has developed a great national presence in the midst of significant challenges and is now projecting an awareness of indigenous affairs internationally. As one example, The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) recently launched the Indigenous Peoples Partnership Program (IPPP), a $10 million, four-year pilot initiative to support development partnerships between indigenous peoples in Canada and indigenous peoples around the world, while focusing on the Americas.

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In the U.S. an economic base of muscle-flexing proportions - upheld by legal rights based on Indian jurisdictions and the reality of government-to-government relations - has begun to emerge. All of this is quite different and the result of much self-determined efforts over the past 30 years. These are trends that usher in a new era of possibility for Native nations.

The Indian presence in Latin America is particularly strong. Lowest estimates are 40 million, but in fact it is much more than that. Indigenousness is the reality of an identity that has many dimensions. There are core Native populations in some countries, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, that are huge. Then, too, it could be argued that Latin American cultures are more fused and layered than in Anglo America; Canadian or U.S. Indigenous beliefs are much more interwoven into many of Latin America's national cultures. And indigenous Latin America is migrating north in bigger waves.

In many places in North America, Native tribal sectors are taking hold. The Maya community of Central Florida, for example, sustains its own Native population (tens of thousands), languages, ceremonial fiestas, even a midwifery project, all signaling a permanence as Native people coalescing from a modern yet already mythical migration. Mexican Miztecas and Zapotecas have ethnic and linguistic communities coming together in parts of California and the Northwest. Garifuna from Belize and Honduras number around 60,000 just in the New York metropolitan area. The Boricua-Taino identity is resounding in Puerto Rico and the diaspora. In the arts, people like Carlos Santana, who has mystically wandered the landscape of spirituality, is deepening into his own indigenous Mexicano roots.

There is a very large and potent underbelly and undercurrent to the American indigenous world. It is transforming itself with its great surge of activity and it just may help change the world's perception of itself. Of the approximately 40 million Hispanics (or Latinos) counted by the U.S. Census, a large proportion has indigenous American roots. This is an identity in the very throes of revitalization and actively searching, and often finding, its own indigenous legacy. This is a phenomenon whose time is here.

For long-standing, federally recognized North American Indian peoples, the growing relations with Southern Native peoples are best seen for their positive potential. Rather than offering a competing agenda, the alliances and collaborations of communities based in Native legacies can have substantial cultural, political and economic benefits for all Indian peoples.

It is true enough that some of the relationship brings tension. A case in point is the Mexican border, where Native Mexicans cross American Indian lands, sometimes heightening lawlessness. However, the search for common roots, for what makes us similar rather than what makes us different, usually furnishes the greatest rewards. Indigenous initiatives at the United Nations, for example, which have provided valuable contacts and effective advocacy for indigenous rights, have generally grown out of strategic sharing and cooperative lobbying in that international body.

The Indian Americas, by seeking and sharing fundamental human values and recognizing the common objectives of all tribal and kinship communities, is, indeed, beginning to get into a good stride. We celebrate indigenous intelligence in setting the direction and destination of that steady pace. Nothing will be easy, but at the turn of a challenging century, Indian peoples of the Americas are continuing to provide a unique yet practical set of answers to the serious problems facing their communities and humankind. And, bound together on that journey, the consciousness among American Indians and many Hispanics is inexorably linked.