Native Americans and Immigrants Share a Common Struggle
Native Americans and Immigrants Share Common Struggle
ATLANTA, Jul 1 (IPS) - One group has lived here for millennia, while
the other has just arrived. But Native Americans and immigrants have
much in common, particularly the alienation and oppression they
experience in U.S. society, activists and community leaders said on
day three of the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) Friday.
The USSF, which concludes Sunday, has drawn about 10,000 civil society
activists from around the United States to discuss their work on
issues like gender, native and gay rights, immigration, and the
"Indigenous rights are the foundation of human rights in this country
and we have to come to terms with that," said Julie Fishel of the
Western Shoshone Defence Project at a Plenary Session on "Indigenous
Voices: From the Heart of Mother Earth."
Fishel joined Native American and indigenous speakers who spoke of
indigenous heritage, gradual encroachment on indigenous land, and the
lasting ill effects of U.S. oppression of indigenous peoples.
"We have experienced many things that have been passed down through
generations," said Patty Grant-Long of the Eastern Band of Cherokee
Indians. "Because of our spirit, our relationship with our creator,
and our relationship with our ancestors, we are still here."
Grant-Long was born to parents brought up in Native American boarding
schools where they were forced to give up their identities.
"It is an amazing testament to resilience that indigenous people are
still here," noted Ikaiki Hussey of the Aloha Anina Society based in
Hawaii. "That says a lot about strength and the ability to withstand
in the face of all those struggles."
Hussey spoke of the militarisation of Hawaii, which has lasted for so
long and become so prevalent that many visitors do not even recognise
it as a problem.
The Aloha Anina Society is leading a charge to demilitarise Hawaii
"because it helps the people of Hawaii and because it is part of
taking apart the U.S. empire," Hussey said.
Faith Gemmill of the REDOIL Network in Alaska said 95 percent of
indigenous land there is open for oil and gas mining.
"It is my hope that in my lifetime I will see our land returned to its
rightful owners," Gemmill said. "People must change the way they are
living. We must give Mother Earth time to repair and heal itself."
"Our Mother Earth is not for sale," Enei Begaye of the Black Mesa
Water Coalition told the audience.
Begaye's organisation is a collective of Navajo and Hopi Native
Americans that fight to keep corporations from destroying their land
to extract natural resources and from polluting the water.
"There is a path toward peace," she said. "It will take all of us...
Native American perspectives were also shared in several of 900
workshops offered throughout the USSF.
"Ninety-eight percent of indigenous people died during the East to
West movement," said Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone Native American.
"Why doesn't America want to talk about it?"
Dann spoke at a workshop called, "Where Have All the Indians Gone?",
where attendees learned more about the plight of Native Americans as
pioneers moved west during the 19th Century.
The Western Shoshone still own land in Nevada where there have been
1,000 nuclear bomb tests and where companies conduct dangerous and
destructive strip mining for gold.
"They are destroying the land while exploiting it for money," Dann
said. "The Earth should be taken care of and it isn't happening."
"So little attention is paid to indigenous peoples," agreed Ward
Churchill, whose family is Cherokee.
It is important people have their attention drawn to the destructive
practices that are destroying the Western Shoshone land, Churchill
"We take a lot of people to the United Nations because rallying
indigenous people internationally is important," Alberto Saldamando,
General Counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC),
told attendees at a workshop about international efforts to mobilise
indigenous peoples. The workshop was called, "Holding the U.S.
accountable for discrimination against Native Americans."
The IITC works on all levels to build grassroots participation from
indigenous peoples in order that they might address their concerns and
work together to achieve their goals.
"We're all oppressed, just in different ways," Shauna Larson of the
Indigenous Environmental Network said. "It takes everybody working
together to achieve our goals."
The IITC is interested in working with groups who focus on
environmental justice and women's rights because those issues overlap,
During "Defending Immigrant Rights," a workshop conducted in Spanish
and English, presenters discussed the history of immigration in the
United States, positive and negative immigration legislation, and
activists' efforts in Florida to mobilise Spanish-speaking immigrants.
One presenter spoke of a five-part, three-year plan to move from
defensive to offensive organising strategies focusing on local and
state levels. Hispanics should work with African-Americans because of
their history of struggle and oppression, she added.
"There is one objective: to respect all human beings as human beings,"
said Herman Martinez of the American Friends Service Committee.
"The only way to forge lasting alliances is to understand each other,"
said Gerald Lenoir of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration during
the Immigrant Rights Plenary Session Friday. "African-Americans can no
longer look at civil rights as a black and white issue."
"We are the testing ground for all the repressive issues you all face
at home," said Alexis Mazon of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos.
It is crucial for trade unions to include immigrants in the fold of
organised labor and that both groups should work together to achieve
their rights, said Ed Ott of the New York Central Labour Council.
"We have shown the power of people in the streets," Ruben Solis of the
Southwest Workers Union said. "We want a world where everybody can
"We are making history because we are making a new world," noted Glory
Kilanko of Women Watch Afrika. "We want to build a network that
challenges the oppressors."
"If we begin to allow the oppressors to build walls, then we are
allowing them to win," Kilanko said.