DENVER – Native issues were at the forefront outside the high-security Democratic National Convention as activists gathered to raise their voices and their multicolored banners against losses of land and freedom.
But American Indian groups were set apart from others on at least one basic point.
“Right here it’s still occupied Indian land – they’re profiting off the misery of Indian people,” said a member of Savage Family, a Native hip hop resistance group that travels nationwide. “Even these protesters have no idea they are protesting on stolen land – and they don’t care.”
The alternative events began Aug. 24 outside Colorado’s gold-domed capitol with an “End the Occupation” antiwar march to the central convention site at the Pepsi Center and continued Aug. 25 with a “Free Political Prisoners” march from Civic Center Park in downtown Denver to the federal courthouse.
Riot-clad police lined the routes and mounted police were at several locations, where both horses and riders wore protective face-gear. Although only minor scuffles occurred during the day Aug. 25, a major confrontation took place in the evening at Civic Center Park between police and predominantly non-Native anarchists.
“There wouldn’t be a corporate America” if it had not been for the use of resources extracted from Native nations’ lands, said Ward Churchill, a scholar and former ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado, who addressed the initial rally.
Churchill has long been an outspoken proponent of the Native point of view in U.S. history and is a member of the American Indian Movement. His remarks about 9/11 as blowback from U.S. foreign policy drew the ire of CU, which later fired him for alleged research misconduct.
Describing an “ongoing war against the indigenous population” of this country, he drew parallels between the massacre of Native people and the killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. The occupation of Native North America is “here in Denver – not half a world away,” he said.
The next day, Savage Family’s lyrics fueled a 10-block march from Civic Center Park to the federal courthouse and a rally for Native issues and political prisoners.
“We want to give youth a voice and be a voice for them in the meantime,” said a Savage Family member. “Our children right now are dying. They’re saying, ‘I don’t want to live’ and they may kill themselves. But our future is through them.”
Suicide, over-medication, substance abuse and other problems plague youth on reservations and the reasons are many; but in part, it is because in some reservation communities “youth are despised” and there is no one to listen to them, the member said.
“We want to represent the voice of people held hostage in our homeland,” he said, noting “Savage Family” is a code of conduct and an acronym for “Standing against a Violent Adversary in Genocidal Environments/Forever Always Movement.”
Others who participated in the rally included Ann-Erika White Bird, Sicangu Lakota, who gave a spoken word presentation, and Josh Dillabaugh, Lakota, Cheyenne River, S.D.
“All Indian people are prisoners within the imperialistic United States,” Dillabaugh said. “We need to stand up in an effort to ask people to assure justice for Indian people.”
Shannon Francis, Hopi-Dine, of Colorado AIM, said she has worked many years in Denver’s Indian community and is “spread pretty thin,” but is concerned for Native children, and said of her own, “I’m not going to teach them the fairytales they teach them in school.”
She said her children know about Leonard Peltier, who has “become a legend.”
“If something happens to Leonard Peltier in prison, it’s probably going to take that for our people to take action,” she said.
Peltier was convicted in 1977 in the murder of two FBI agents on Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Now 63, he has spent nearly 33 years in prison.
The moderator for the second-day rally, Natsu Saito, an activist and law professor, said she often uses the case of Peltier in her classes to show the inadequacy of credible evidence in his trial.
Ben Carnes, Choctaw, read a statement from Peltier, Anishinabe/Lakota/Dakota, who is in a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., that said in part:
“When I think of the things that I hear and see in the media, about how many different special interest groups speak of various subjects, like the right to live – or pro-life – I can’t help but think of the children around the world, who never get a chance to live because of the exploitation of their resources of their country and their people.
“All of the destruction that is taking place here and abroad is a direct result of people, special interest groups, whose interest is primarily wealth and taking more than they need.”
Other speakers on both days were from a variety of antiwar, protest and environmental groups.