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Stolen generation reclaims identity

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - An indigenous panel of leaders urged passage of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and lessening the stranglehold of the corporate media, as they encouraged indigenous people to rise up with self-determination and self-actualized identity.

Reminding indigenous students at Northern Arizona University that they are the seeds of the consciousness of humanity, indigenous from Australia and the Americas said it is time to proclaim their indigenous citizenship and demand human rights from the governments of the world.

Sonia Smallacombe, Torres Strait Islander from Australia, joined Aztec, Onondaga and Maya on the indigenous peoples panel.

Smallacombe told the story of the late Vincent Lingiari who led the Gurindji Aboriginals to strike for wages at a cattle station and then to demand the return of their land in Australia. It became the premiere movement for land and human rights in the 1960s and 1970s for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

Aboriginals were receiving no wages and living in shanties at the Wave Hill cattle station owned by a British Lord, in the Northern Territory, in 1966. Gurindji workers were paid with flour, sugar, tea and jam. "That is why so many Aboriginals have diabetes today," Smallacombe said.

The Gurindji demanded wages of $25 a week as they camped by a riverbed and maintained their strike. When the cattle rancher finally agreed to pay wages, Lingiari said, "You can keep your gold. We want our land back!"

Describing her home city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, Smallacombe said there are 95,000 people, including 28,000 indigenous people and 75 different nationalities. "It's what I would call a very redneck city. There is extraordinary racism."

Smallacombe serves as the head of the Faculty of Indigenous Research and Education at the Charles Darwin University in Darwin. She pointed out that Darwin did not rate indigenous people very high. "We could have named this university after an indigenous person, but we missed that opportunity."

Smallacombe said two individuals own all Australia's media. "When it comes to freedom of speech, we don't have any." She said the stolen generation - Aboriginal babies and children taken by force from their families and raised in institutions or with whites - has not received the apology from the government of Australia that they had hoped for.

Tupac Enrique Acosta, among the founding members of the community-based Tonatierra in Phoenix, said Indigenous Peoples Day on March 11 signaled the beginning of the Aztec New Year and a new dawn for indigenous people. "We're taking time back for our people," said Enrique, among the organizers of a weeklong series of events in Arizona to proclaim Indigenous peoples rights.

Enrique praised Hopi and Navajo youths of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, who joined Latin American Studies and others as the sponsors of the Indigenous peoples forum. Speaking of the Hopi and Navajo youths, he said, "They have had the courage to face truth; they have the courage required to face the future." Enrique said indigenous people are the surviving seeds of humanity. While the systems based on greed and fear would fade, the spiritual foundation of indigenous people would prevail and endure.

Enrique said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day and the Phoenix mayor pledged to attend ceremonies at the Nahuacalli Indigenous Embassy in downtown Phoenix. Enrique said that by recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, Mayor Phil Gordon went beyond the countries of the United States and Canada. Those countries have failed to support passage of articles of indigenous rights at the United Nations.

Tonya Gonnella Frichner said the Decade of Indigenous Peoples, 1995 - 2004, is coming to a close. While some governments in the world put great efforts into the indigenous rights decade, the United States contributed only $100.

Frichner is Onondaga of the Haudenosaunee, Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy and president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has been a success, she said, but the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been stalled. "The United States is the government putting up the most barriers." Frichner said, however, the principles can be implemented.

Frichner said there are 300 million indigenous people worldwide.

Describing the first efforts of her people, she said indigenous literally "kicked in the doors" of the United Nations in their quest for justice. The United Nations holds the ultimate power of international law, beyond the U.S. Supreme Court.

Enrique, responding to pleas of support to protect the sacred San Francisco Peaks from the defilement of snow made from recycled sewage water, said the ecosystems depend on preservation of purity. Pointing to the connection between the Rain Forest Basin of the Amazon and the Desert Basin of Arizona, he said, "They are twins.

"All of the ecosystems of the earth help and support one another."

Octaviana Trujillo, former vice chairperson of the Pascua Yaqui Nation and now chair of NAU's Applied Indigenous Studies, served as moderator. "On this panel is an enormous wealth of knowledge and power," she said during the introductions of the panel.

There was also humor.

Remembering the cattle stations in northern Australia, Smallacombe questioned if there are rednecks in Flagstaff. "Every time I see cowboys, I think rednecks."

Smallacombe arrived during a snowstorm the first week of March. "It was the most horrifying experience I've ever had in a small aircraft."

Later, she hiked down the rocky Grand Canyon to visit Havasupai. Her muscles were still sore.

"When I go home they're going to ask me about the Indian people here. I'm going to say, 'They're tough.'"