Newcomb: Indigenous summit: 'Our world is not for sale'

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In March 2007, a colorful and historic gathering took place in Iximche, Guatemala. The III Continental Summit of Indigenous Nations and Pueblos of Abya Yala was opened in a ceremonial manner by Mayan spiritual leaders in an area near Mayan pyramids. About 2,800 indigenous people from some 24 countries attended, including 125 Aymara representatives who arrived in their own plane. They represented the Bolivian government and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

The summit attendees had a lot to say during the weeklong gathering. In the ''Declaration of Iximche,'' subtitled ''From resistance to power,'' the delegates stated in part:

''We have survived centuries of colonization and now face the imposition of the policies of neoliberalism that perpetuates the dispossession and sacking of our territories, the domination of all social space and ways of life of the indigenous peoples, causing the degradation of our Mother Nature as well as poverty and migration by way of the systematic intervention in the sovereignty of our nations by transnational companies in complicity with the government states.''

Of particular note was the arrival of Western Shoshone National Council Rep. Joe Kennedy, who traveled from North America to Guatemala on a Western Shoshone passport.

Advance work was done to inform the Guatemalan government of Kennedy's arrival. When Kennedy arrived in Guatemala, he said, ''I feel good and I feel honored that the Guatemalan authorities welcomed me into the country, recognizing me as a Western Shoshone national.'' The fact that the passport of an indigenous nation was respected internationally was quite uplifting to the summit organizers and participants.

Also attending the summit were Western Shoshone representatives Larson Bill and Sandy Dann, daughter of Western Shoshone elder Carrie Dann.

When asked for a comment about the passport issue, Kennedy said: ''I was just being who I am.''

As for the summit itself, Kennedy said that he liked the sense of talking about solidarity, 500 years of oppression and the damaging impact that multinational corporations are having on indigenous peoples throughout the hemisphere. He liked the fact that the same issues that the Western Shoshone and many other indigenous nations in the north are dealing with by are also being addressed by the indigenous peoples and nations in the south.

''The people down there are talking about the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor coming together,'' Kennedy said. ''If we pull together we'll have a big voice.''

Indigenous representatives at the summit focused in particular on the need to create meaningful and practical alternatives to Western and capitalist models of development, models that have proven so destructive, disrespectful and costly to indigenous lands and territories. The summit attendees focused more on political issues rather than cultural ones.

According to an online article by Marc Becker, a Latin American historian and founder of NativeWeb, the mayor of Tecpan, Guatemala, welcomed the indigenous delegates; and afterwards, ''Ecuadorian indigenous activist and Continental Council member Blanca Chancoso called for indigenous peoples to be treated as citizens and members of a democracy.'' She stated unequivocally, ''Our world is not for sale.''

Tupac Enrique, a member of the organization Tonatierra, Phoenix, Ariz.-based, one the Continental Summit organizers and a facilitator for the delegation from the north, said that one of the central goals of the event is developing a ''bridge of communication and coordination between the indigenous peoples of South, Central and North Abya Yala [the Americas].''

Of Kennedy's courageous act of traveling on a Western Shoshone Nation passport, Enrique said: ''In this context, it was absolutely historic and precedent-setting.''

On a side note, other Western Shoshone representatives have traveled internationally on the Western Shoshone passport. Former Western Shoshone National Council Chief Raymond Yowell did so when he went to Switzerland and Sweden in 1993. Elder Carrie Dann and Lori Doescher traveled to Sweden on Western Shoshone passports to accept the 1993 Right Livelihood Award for Dann and her sister Mary.

In 2004, Bernice Lalo traveled to Peru on a Western Shoshone passport. She was detained by Peruvian authorities in Lima for about 24 hours, however, because, as Bernice explained, ''the U.S. Consulate told the Peruvian government that the Western Shoshone is a 'tribe' and not a nation.'' Traditional Hopi representatives have traveled to Europe on Hopi passports; and traditional Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) representatives, such as Onondaga diplomat Oren Lyons, also travel on Haudenosaunee passports.

According to Becker's report on the summit, there were three plenary panels. Speakers discussed the dynamic of relations between indigenous peoples and nation-state governments, along with the issues of territory, natural resources and indigenous governments.

Rodolfo Pocop pointed out the need for a different term than that of ''resources.'' The term resources, he said, is reflective of a Western conception of commercial enterprise that is alien to indigenous worldviews. As Becker reported, Pocop ''suggested using instead 'mother earth' because if we don't live in harmony with the earth we will not have life.''

However, Isaac Avalos, secretary general of the Confederacion Sindical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, suggested that the term ''territory'' is a more comprehensive term than ''land,'' as it is inclusive of land, air, water, petroleum and gas, among others. Becker paraphrased Avalos as saying that ''we must take care of the earth as our mother so that it can continue to provide a future for its children.''

Gender equality was also a focus of summit participants. As Becker said in his report, ''Women participated actively and massively throughout the summit.'' However, the number of male speakers ''outnumbered women by about 3 - 1 at the speakers' tables.'' This numerical imbalance was also evident during the discussion period, thus inspiring one indigenous woman from Peru to rise and state that men tend to dominate these kinds of discussions. She called for greater parity, ''both individually and collectively.''

Enrique said that a rhythm has been created that has ''a life of its own. From now on, indigenous nations and peoples coming together continentally will no longer happen as just as an event, but as an integral part of a long term process.''

The next Continental Summit of Indigenous Nations and Pueblos of Abya Yala is scheduled to take place in Chile in 2009.

Steven Newcomb, Shawnee/Lenape, is the Indigenous Law Research Coordinator in the Sycuan Education Department of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today.