Yesterday, I went to Columbia University for the opening reception of Winona La Duke. It was a wonderful event to meet people who were interested about Indigenous culture, politics, history, and so forth. Thanks to Facebook Group All Ivy Native Council, I was able to find the events at Columbia University a couple of weeks ago. If you are interested in learning more about Fractured Lands: Reconfiguring Indigenous Spaces, I suggest you click the link below or take a look at the poster below: https://www.facebook.com/NAHM.Columbia.NYC
Fractured Lands, the title itself, caught my attention from the very start. Many Indigenous communities are going through the struggle where their lands are divided by outsiders, squandered by foreigners, and polluted by big-time petroleum or pipeline companies. Los comuneros in Santa Elena, Ecuador are losing their ancestral lands to foreigners who want to make big time profit simply by extracting crude out oil out of our sacred grounds. A few tourist companies are knocking down trees in the beach to construct fancy hotels and attract worldwide tourism. To this day, we are entitled to 515,000 ha. and we lost 100,00 ha. of ancestral land to foreign invasion.
La Duke said, “It’s funny when people call me or others activists when we are only asking the right to live and continue our instructions to respect Mother Earth.” My mother also talks about respecting Pachamama since I was kid. She calls her La Madre Tierra. She asks us children to give thanks to food everyday. To walk barefoot in the forest to reconnect with Mother Earth. To look at the stars and speak to our ancestors. To bathe in the river. Like La Duke said, we are only asking the right to live, to eat, to sleep, to walk, to breathe in nature. Without the land, what are we as a people? What would be of our culture without our lands? The comuneros thought about this four hundred years ago when they bought their lands back from the Spanish king in 1650. They said that we needed land to be a community, to continue our culture, to grow our crops, and to reproduce and pass down the culture to the next generation.
La Duke also mentioned that we need to start now. We can’t wait around. She said we are the future leaders of our communities. We are the voices of our communities and collectively we stand together to resist the Jackhammer that goes from one community to the other and smashes our culture, our traditions, and our land into pieces. We need to be ready for it and fight back. She said we need to challenge the terrorists (her suggestive definition to the people who exploit Mother Earth) to the places where they feel like they can do this. That means we need to step out of our comfort zone and that makes us warriors. Just do it!
It takes a leap of faith to just do it. You become a warrior when you defend the people who really need your help and support. You are the sons and daughters of Mother Earth and She needs your help. Don’t let anyone hurt our only Mother who gave us life, provide us food, and take good care of us. Just do it! Don’t sit around and think about your next steps when you can just go out there and be an action-taker and not a list-maker. Just do it! Believe me, it is scary feeling, but you are not alone in this.
At the end, Lakota rapper Frank Waln performed four of his songs. His lyrics spoke to what I went through as a child and as a member of my own community in my very own family. We left our reservation in 1954. We carried our culture to New York City. In an urban setting, we felt challenged by so many cultures. We felt like outsiders and we were always poor. I grew up with a mother who went through domestic violence, and like the song to his mother, she sacrificed a lot to raise the three of us with love, care, and hope. Even though she and my stepfather did not have much to offer, they gave us as much as they can. His song “Aboriginal” spoke to me about the time when people questioned my identity and looked at me and us Indigenous people as an extinct species. Someone once said to me, “You’re not Indian. You’re Latino.” I was small, but I knew better than letting someone speak to me like that. Inside, I still held my Indigenous identity through all these years.
That’s the problem with our Indigenous communities. Outsiders speak for us. They tell our stories. They tell our history. They tell us who we are and what we do. That comes to an end with our generation because we are taking charge of who we are. We are reclaiming our roots and traditions. Labels that also fracture our minds and divide our thoughts into pieces. Outsider confuse us into thinking that maybe we are not Indigenous.
I started this blog for that reason: to tell the story of my Indigenous-mixed people and to encourage “Latino” communities of mixed-Indigenous ancestry to take an initiative in exploring who they really are and where their roots really come from.
Speak for you, don’t let others do the work for you. You are the only person who knows yourself better than anyone else in this world.