CARACAS, Venezuela – American Indians from the north joined with Indigenous from around the world in Venezuela to unite in the struggle for Indigenous rights and opposition to colonial oppression.
The delegations included members of the International Indian Treaty Council, American Indian Movement and tribal members from the Tohono O’odham and Mohawk Nations in the United States and Canada.
Robert Free Galvan, Native activist from Seattle, said it was a rare opportunity to sit with Indigenous Venezuelan leaders as the country passed a new law recognizing Indigenous languages.
During international gatherings, both formal and informal, the delegations from the north urged their Venezuelan allies to vote “Yes” to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Galvan, who earlier spearheaded the delivery of low cost oil from Venezuela’s CITGO to Indian communities in North America, said the latest American Indian delegation to Venezuela, which follows several delegations, continues the commitment to create strong bonds between Indigenous in the north and south.
“Indians met with the Venezuelan people, government and communities to build awareness, solidarity and strong bonds to help each other with their struggles."
“We have met some of the most powerful people in this country and all happen to be Indigenous women! They have taken us under their wing and taken great care of us. We are honored,” Galvan said.
While in Venezuela, the Indian delegations attended the First International Meeting of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples of America, held in Venezuela on August 7-9, in conjunction with the celebrations of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. Sessions took place in Anzoátegui and Bolívar states.
The Minister of Indigenous Peoples Nicia Maldonado said Indigenous Peoples from 22 nations attended the Congress. The closing ceremony was held in the Indigenous Community of Pemón Kumarakapay, in Bolívar state.
After returning to Seattle, Galvan reflected on socialism, capitalism and Indigenous Peoples.
"The real challenge for socialism is how much Indigenous views will be incorporated to truly protect the earth in a sustainable manner. It must evolve beyond the Euro-centric world views that the planet is here to exploit -- beyond both capitalism's free-wheeling and open-ended approach and socialism's rationale that if it is done in the name of the people, then it is alright. These views have left this planet in dire need of respect and sustainability.
“Studies by Henry Morgan in the 1800s of how Indigenous governments functioned in the best interest of the community formed the bases for Engles and Marx's theories on socialism. Europeans left out the spiritual respect guiding Indigenous governments. This is the challenge now before the two opposing world systems," Galvan said.
Galvan, with Tribal Connections which does consulting for bridge building between north and south Indigenous communities, said he was invited to participate in the gathering with Indigenous Peoples from the South Continent at the last minute. “I met up with others who had been invited, Robert Cruz, Tohono O’odham from Arizona and member of the International Indian Treaty Council and Vernon Belcourt of the American Indian Movement. Our plane was delayed several hours in Atlanta and in the mix-up, we arrived very late in Caracas.
“We missed going to the southern Indigenous states in Venezuela, but were rescued by my friend Doctor Noly Fernandez, Minister of Indigenous Health for all of Venezuela.
“She immediately made accommodations for us and got us to be part of another event going on, the meeting of the Indigenous Parliament of South America, where we met with Indian legislative representatives from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala and other countries.
“Then, on Thursday, we were taken to participate and witness the passing of new Indigenous laws in Venezuelan respecting language and culture for Indigenous day activities across South America. We were seated next to the podium before the Venezuelan National Congressional Assembly, as Noeli Pocaterra, lobbied for the law.
"We were the first to enter the Parliament ever, as non-Venezuelan legislators," Galvan said, following the enactment of a new law which made this possible.
“We were next to other invited Indigenous representatives from the Indigenous Parliament of the Americas. All the proceedings were broadcast nationally across the country!
“The Law is the Law of Indigenous Languages which states that Indigenous languages are official languages of Venezuela, alongside Spanish. Therefore, they should be taught, promoted and preserved by the State as part of our Indigenous heritage.
“The Law was approved in its first discussion unanimously. We later attended a lunch and met with President of the Indigenous Parliament of the Americas Isabel Ortega Ventura of Bolivia.
“We discussed with the Indigenous Congress representatives that the Indigenous issues of the North Continent could be included in future meetings of the Congress. The president of the parliament agreed to the idea and also invited us to come to Bolivia where she would host us once we got there.
“The next day we spent several hours with long time Indigenous activist Noeli Pocaterra of the Wayuu Tribe. The very prominent member of the Venezuela National Assembly, Congresswoman Pocaterra, serves as second vice president.
“Venezuela Indigenous Congresswoman Maria Andarcia of the Kariña Tribe, who we met, hosted us most warmly and introduced us to fellow legislators. Jose Guido de Freitas of the National Assembly and others, asked about conditions for Indigenous Peoples in the North Continent and history of self-determination efforts.
“The one reason of priority for this trip to Venezuela was to inquire and lobby for Venezuela to vote ‘Yes’ for the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Venezuela abstained in the previous vote. After reiterating the history of the International Indian Treaty Council efforts for several decades at the United Nations and the global awaking and self-determination efforts against globalization and theft of Indigenous lands, resources of Indigenous Peoples, the legislators agreed it was imperative that Venezuela support and lobby other nations to pass the declaration.
“The Congressional representatives then asked for a report on the oil program to low income families, regarding how it was being implemented. I shared that hundreds of inquiries from tribal activists, traditional leaders, elected leaders and Indigenous organizations across the country continue to come in, as they seek participation in the oil program,” Galvan said.
The Chavez government was asked in August 2005, for low cost oil for Indigenous communities. “Implementing the program has resulted in Tribes becoming aware of their status as emerging nations and the need to act as nations with other nations,” Galvan said.
“Venezuela acknowledges the role of Indigenous nations in the world,” Galvan said, reiterating their words.
“I shared problems as I saw them. Ms. Pocaterra was very interested in the details. A power point presentation of 35 years of Indigenous struggles in the North Continent was shown to representatives. Ms. Pocaterra suggested showing it on their national television.
“Later that night, there was a huge banquet for all the Indigenous representatives. Ms. Pocaterra spoke of the Indigenous struggles, in the north to the president of the Indigenous Parliament.
“Then it was requested to have it shown to everyone at the gathering. Representatives were there from Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. Fifteen other Indians from the north also were invited, including Mohawk Kahentinetha Horn and others hosted by the new ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
“We missed the flight to the south Bolivian province on Indigenous Day. Luckily, we were picked up by friends in the Ministry of Indigenous Health, which we met during the world social forum in Caracas in January 2006.”
In September, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, with Venezuela voting “Yes."
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