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Tonatierra celebrates sacredness of land

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PHOENIX - Mayan, Lakota and Hopi women representing the strength and resolution of indigenous women everywhere, launched Tonatierra's human rights campaign as they called for governments in the Americas to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.

Ixtz'ulu' Elsa Son, activist from Guatemala, said the governments in the Americas have never respected any agreements entered into with Indian people, whether it is in Guatemala, Chiapas or elsewhere.

"The governments do not recognize indigenous people as people with rights," Son said. Pointing out that Mayans in Guatemala have formed strong bonds with Mayans in Belize and Honduras, Son said, "The movement continues."

Rosalie Little Thunder, Lakota, and Cindy Naha, Hopi, joined Son on March 7, as Tonatierra ignited a weeklong series of prayers, panel discussions, films, a spirit run and sacred lands concert to honor the rights of indigenous peoples.

Little Thunder said, "We cannot just dwell on our own problems, we have to help outside of ourselves if we are to ever realize help for ourselves."

Naha, among the organizers of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, said Hopi and Navajo youths formed the coalition to protect the land and water, and bring to a halt the pumping of pristine aquifer water on Black Mesa to transport coal for energy production.

Tupac Enrique Acosta said it is better to go through the door to the spirit world with the power of truth than to live on this side in a world of lies.

After screening a Mayan-made video of the history of Zapatista resistance in Chiapas, Enrique pointed out that there is a collective assassination going on in the Americas; an assassination of indigenous peoples based on corruption, greed, fear, lies and ignorance.

"We must act in the spirit of truth - without exception!" Enrique, coordinator of Tonatierra, told the gathering at the Nahuacalli, Embassy of the Indigenous Peoples.

Enrique said Zapatista community leaders are being assassinated by paramilitaries supported by landowners and municipal authorities in Chiapas; on a broader scale, there is the psychological assassination of indigenous people.

"We had better be fighting for the truth," he said, adding that those with traditional minds can easily detect manipulations.

At the Nahuacalli, there is a prayer altar in the center of the room and the posters, news clippings, photographs and banners on the walls tell the story of lives and movements, heroes and passages. From the portrait of Cesar Chavez to the banner of the Peace and Dignity runners through the Americas, the Nahuacalli is living history. News articles of border rights and campaigns to help day laborers are posted; in the corner are coffee and cake.

As Native people arrived from distant states and countries, Enrique took out a cloth and exposed what he found 10 years ago in Chiapas - pieces of bomb and rifle bullets, paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars under the guise of the war on drugs. These were the fragments of bombs and high-powered rifle bullets used to kill Mayans in Chiapas.

At the Nahuacalli, the night began with the screening of "In the Light of Reverence," produced by Christopher McLeod and narrated by Peter Coyote and Tantoo Cardinal. The film documents the struggle for protection of sacred sites of the Lakota in South Dakota, Hopi in Arizona and Wintu in northern California.

Author and professor Vine Deloria Jr. pointed out that people can go out on the land to strip mine, but they can not go out on the land to pray. Places have power, and one of those powerful places is Devil's Tower in Wyoming, near the South Dakota border.

Johnson Holy Rock, Lakota, is among the spiritual leaders that tell of the sacredness of the Black Hills. By treaty, the Black Hills and Devil's Tower belong to the Sioux. Yet, the gold rush was followed by the longest legal battle in U.S. history as Sioux struggled for their treaty rights to the Black Hills.

Elaine Quiver, Lakota, said everything comes back to life in the month of June, and this is the place for this "re-creation."

It is however, "recreation," specifically rock climbing, that led climbers and the Mountain States Legal Foundation to challenge the National Park Service's request for climbers to voluntary abstain from climbing during ceremonies in June. Now, rock climbers have the legal right to climb Devil's Tower, even when the sweatlodge ceremony is under way.

Meanwhile, it is a federal crime to climb the faces of Mount Rushmore.

Thomas Banyacya, who passed to the Spirit World after the film was produced, describes the Hopi emergence in the Grand Canyon. Some Hopi shrines and places of pilgrimage are now on private land, including Woodruff Butte. On Black Mesa, the sacred places on Hopi land are strip-mined for coal. On San Francisco Peaks, where the Kachina spirits live and bring the rain, a pumice mining company, White Vulcan Mine, destroyed the mountain's face until the government paid the company $1 million to cease operations.

On Woodruff Butte, bulldozers scraping rock for federal highway gravel bulldozed a Hopi shrine as Hopi watched, unable to take any action to stop private landowner Dale McKinnon. McKinnon said he sees nothing sacred about the butte and calls it a "barren piece of rock in a barren piece of land."

Remembering the destroyed shrine and the highest peak of the butte now demolished, Hopi elder Dalton Taylor asks, "What can I do to replace it?"

In the fragile ecosystem of northern California, a fragile language and culture is held in the balance. Florence Jones fought a proposed ski resort and New Agers on Mt. Shasta as she carried on the prayers and ceremonies of the Wintu people. She is one of the few Wintu who survived the government's attempts to exterminate them. The government paid bounty hunters $5 a piece to kill Indians. The Wintu that did survive were never given reservation land.

Wintu elder Leona Barnes speaks of the importance of maintaining the spiritual ways on the pristine Mt. Shasta. "I don't want to see it die out."

"In the Light of Reverence," offered a foundation for Tonatierra's human rights campaign, in preparation for the celebration of Nican Tlacah Ilhuitl, Dawn of Indigenous Peoples Day, on March 11.

Greeting those arriving, Son urged great respect for Mother Earth and the entire cosmos surrounding humanity, the land, water, plants and animals.

"We as indigenous people are the hope of Mother Earth. "We can't rely on anyone else to do it for us."