PHOENIX - Tribal, national and international leaders met at the Arizona state Capitol on March 8 as part of an Indigenous Peoples Consultation, hosted by the Legislature's Native American Caucus and organized by the Nahuacalli, Embassy of the Indigenous Peoples.
The consultation was a daylong series of events that included an overview of its goals and objectives, statements by dignitaries and guests, and the reading of the Indigenous Peoples Proclamation on the floor of the state House of Representatives. It was held to provide a forum for Arizona and Sonoran tribal leaders to discuss issues of global impact in the context of international law. High-priority subjects included self-determination, decolonization and sacred sites, as well as border crossing issues.
''The Indigenous Peoples Consultation has as its purpose an assertion of the self-determination, sovereignty and autonomy of indigenous peoples and our territories,'' said consultation co-organizer Tupac Enrique Acosta, Xicano Nahuatl and community leader. ''The event today, which took place at the state Capitol, was the implementation of a strategy by the indigenous leadership in the region to come together and assert the right of self-determination and take a stand on the declaration of indigenous peoples.''
A prepared statement read on behalf of Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., stated: ''Each of the [seven] nations has a rich culture, history, language and strong government. Today's Indigenous Peoples Consultation [...] celebrates these strengths and the need to ensure that all indigenous communities are honored and that all communities, indigenous and non, work to improve the health care and education, eliminate poverty and stop human rights violations to indigenous peoples. This week's discussions and celebration are important if we are to decolonize and be united in our advocacy for the promotion of indigenous rights and cultural preservation.''
Organizers and speakers of the consultation share the common goal of bringing justice to the indigenous peoples of the territories now known as North and South America.
Shannon Rivers, Akimel O'otham and co-organizer of the consultation, said, ''In order for us, as indigenous peoples, to have a level playing field, we have to bring our issues to the international community.
''We are literally telling the country that there are indigenous issues that need to be addressed. What we did today was a creation of a thought process of decolonization.''
The Indigenous Peoples Consultation has been developing since the Third Committee of the General Assembly in the United Nations rejected a declaration put forward by the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. For decades, indigenous leaders have been pushing for the international community to recognize their rights to self-determination and rights to their territories. The rejection of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in November 2006 was a serious loss for the millions of indigenous people worldwide and their struggle for liberation.
Wilton Littlechild, secretariat of the Permanent Forum and a presenter, spoke on the forum's humble beginnings and of the first and second Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples. ''We decided we were going to declare a decade for indigenous peoples. [...] One of the objectives of the decade was to a pass United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Sadly to say, that was not met in the first decade.
''We are now in the second decade, the theme of which is 'partnership for action and dignity.' That is what I see here. ... Arizona is leading the world,'' Littlechild said after the reading of the proclamation.
The organizers and speakers are certain that indigenous peoples' participation in the international struggle is one worth fighting for, and that efforts similar to the consultation will help the movement.
Speaking on the 500 years of colonization and the contribution of the consultation in decolonization, Acosta said, ''The fact is we will never recover unless we face [colonization]. And that is what we are doing with these types of actions.
''It is to the benefit and betterment of the world for the future generations. We can't allow these things that have happened to us to be repeated.''