Indigenous Leaders Speak in Philadelphia

September 29, 2015

Proclamation of the Continental Commission of the Great Turtle Island, Abya Yala, September 24, 2015, Wampum Lot a.k.a. Welcome Park, 2nd & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia PA

While world leaders met in the UN to discuss sustainable development goals, Guarani Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia were and are suffering violent repression as they demonstrate against oil extraction on their land. Thousands of Shuar and Achuar Indigenous have taken to the streets of Ecuador demanding an end to large scale extractive projects in the Amazon, and a group of Qom and Wichi Indigenous begin their sixth month camped on a main avenue in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires to demand a meeting with the government about the loss of their ancestral lands to mass soy cultivation.

Across the world, Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront of struggles to defend the Earth’s remaining habitats from the relentless advance of extractive industries, from open air mining, to oil driling to and single crop industrial agriculture.

Alberto Aguirre, a Qom Indigenous activist from Argentina, sees the effects of this obsession with endless growth. “In the last 30 years we have seen an unprecedented pillaging of the Earth’s natural resources. This has brought with it hunger and environmental devastation,” he says. “Market economies have caused pollution, hunger and death. In the past, communities lived in harmony with Nature, the rivers were not contaminated, people did not go hungry and species were intact.”

And he should know. Until relatively recently, hunger and poverty as we understand them did not exist in Indigenous communities. We now live in a world where Indigenous Peoples make up only 4.4 percent of the global population, they account for about 10 percent of the world’s poor. The same pattern is evident across continents: evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for industrial development and the “miracle” of economic growth, Indigenous communities suffer some of the highest levels of hunger, illiteracy and preventable diseases.

“It pains us today to see our children go hungry, rivers with so few fish and acres of forest, which provide so much, ravaged in minutes by bulldozers,” says Antonia Zeron, a Guarani Indigenous leader from Boliva. “When my grandmother was a child, she did not go hungry, the land belonged to everyone.”

Representing their cause to the Pope and others in the US were indigenous representatives from Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and various parts of the United States gathered at the Wampum Lot, in Philadelphia.  This piece of land in the central part of the city was given to the Six Nations by a grandson of William Penn in 1755 as a place where they could camp when doing business with the colonial government. Now called Welcome Park, the lot is lined with displays about the life of William Penn. In the photos below, you’ll notice the Penn story portrayed on the wall behind the Indigenous speakers.

The Indigenous representatives gathered as the Continental Commission, dedicated to dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery . They proclaimed their message to Pope Francis during his visit to Philadelphia, urging him to rescind the papal bulls that constitute the Doctrine of Discovery and justify European Christian domination of non-Christian peoples and their lands.   The Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation said leaders of the Six Nations have brought Pope Francis a letter asking him to rescind the document signed by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which stated that Christian leaders had a right to claim land in America, but Native Americans could only inhabit it.

Their proclamation reads, in part:

“We have been called to the lands of the Lenape to unite and reaffirm our ancestral responsibilities as caretakers of Mother Earth in a time of severe climate change…. We acknowledge and recognize the ongoing impacts of climate change which affect us all, and that the most severe impacts will befall future generations. The denial of this reality by political leaders at the highest level in the world today amounts to the criminal violation of the human rights of future generations which we will not allow to continue…We are calling again to our younger brothers of the immigrant settler republics of the Americas to recognize the collective trauma of colonization, and the ongoing destruction of the natural world which has brought the human species to the threat of extinction…. As children of Mother Earth may we all find the courage and vision to address these challenging issues in peace, friendship and justice. “

Lenape leader Rev. John Norwood welcomes all. “Let us work to overturn the Doctrine of Discovery, and be as one people.”

Lenape leader Rev. John Norwood welcomes all. “Let us work to overturn the Doctrine of Discovery, and be as one people.”

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Haudenosaunee spiritual leader, offered a shortened version of his people’s traditional Thanksgiving Address, greeting and expressing gratitude to the Creator, the sun, the moon, the stars, the animals, the birds, the fish, the people, the wise teachers, the thunder, lightning, and all things on the earth. This prayer brings our minds together as one. Today, more than ever, we need to bring our minds together as one to face the challenges of a changing climate.

Tricia Shore, co-clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Indian Committee, said it was an honor to host the Indigenous guests at the Arch Street Meetinghouse. She pledged to continue walking on the path of friendship that began with the Lenape people and William Penn hundreds of years ago.

Angela Mooney D’Arcy, founder of the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, spoke on behalf of  the Indigenous peoples of California.

Shannon Rivers, of the O’Odham Nation in Arizona, reported on a tribunal held by Indigenous people last week in Phoenix. They carried out a mock trial of the governments and corporations that continue to act according to the Doctrine of Discovery today, persistently violating the rights of Indigenous peoples. The consequences of these abuses are visible in Native communities today, in the prevalence of suicide, degradation, violence, and chronic poverty.  The Pope could do a lot of good by rescinding the Doctrine of Discovery, but will he?

A Mayan woman from Guatemala, Lola Marina, testified to the repression of Indigenous people in that country, especially women, continued in the Catholic church.  Tupac Enrique Acosta translated for her. She said she is proud to practice and defend traditional Mayan spirituality, but that it is dangerous to do so in Guatemala. Five of her brothers are currently in jail there for defending life, and she fled to this country to protect her family. “I join with the Continental Commission of Abya Yala in calling for an end to the Doctrine of Discovery.”

Felix Diaz, Qarashe Comunidad Qom Potae Napocna Navogoh, from Argentina

Felix Diaz, Qarashe Comunidad Qom Potae Napocna Navogoh, from Argentina

Felix Diaz, Qarashe Comunidad Qom Potae Napocna Navogoh, from Argentina, said that by being here today we can all realize we are not alone in the struggle for justice and for life on earth. “We bring you our strength,” he said, “and we gain strength from you in our struggle to defend life. The Catholic church in South America is silent about the injustices committed against Indigenous peoples, removing us from our land. We need to recuperate our territories. Our land is our life, our medicine, our food, our ancestors, our spiritual home.  It is time now for us to speak the truth. Countries must stop the wars, stop the prisons, stop building walls on our borders. We Indigenous people must strengthen ourselves to take leadership for the sake of the whole world. We are the moral reservation of humanity. ”

Ari Maco (note: I’m not sure of his name), Arhuaco , said his people in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountains consider Europeans their “little brothers,” who came into the world later than the Arhuaco and still have a lot to learn from their “older brothers and sisters.”  “Sometimes it seems that the little brothers are crazy, the way they destroy everything, the way they tell lies.
My people know we must teach our younger brothers how to take care of the earth.  In Colombia right now oil companies are coming into our mountains, into the mountains that are our guardians. This is happening to Indigenous peoples everywhere.  Our little brothers are not paying attention to our teaching. But we are one family made by the same Creator. I hope I don’t offend you. This is the truth we are saying.”

Tupac Enrique Acosta, O’Odham Nation, Arizona, leads the non-profit organization Tonatierra He has hosted a series of intercontinental conferences on Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. He said the doctrines of the church and state have no power compared to the laws of the universe.

Tupac Enrique Acosta of the Nahuatl Nation, Arizona, leads the non-profit organization Tonatierra He has hosted a series of intercontinental conferences on Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. He said the doctrines of the church and state have no power compared to the laws of the universe.

Tupac Enrique Acosta of the Nahuatl Nation leads the non-profit organization Tonatierra and calls together the Continental Commission of the Great Turtle Island, Abya Yala. He has hosted a series of intercontinental conferences on Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. He said the doctrines of the church and state have no power compared to the laws of the universe. The church and the state can make their laws and their doctrines and carry them out at the expense of all the Indigenous peoples of the world – but they cannot escape the laws of the universe. Indigenous peoples live by the laws of the universe. Now, throughout this hemisphere we are committing ourselves to keep hope alive for all life.

Youngest delegates, from Guatemala

Youngest delegates, from Guatemala