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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 3, 2004 - Issue 110


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Indigenous Youths Inspired to Sovereignty

by Brenda Norrell Indian Country Today
credits: Musician Hunter Red Day, Diné/Dakota, member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, talks with another youth during the indigenous youth workshop at Tonatierra in Phoenix. (Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today)

Musician Hunter Red Day, Diné/Dakota, member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, talks with another youth during the indigenous youth workshop at Tonatierra in Phoenix. (Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today)PHOENIX - Native Youth Movement members defending sacred mountains in Vancouver joined Lakota from the Black Hills in South Dakota, Hopi and Navajo from Black Mesa, Ariz., and Chicano from the barrios of Tucson and urged one another as spiritual warriors, during Tonatierra’s workshop for indigenous youths.

"I had to come here to realize what I have inside myself," said Shirley Alvarada, indigenous youth from Peru, speaking of the united effort stemming from Tonatierra’s indigenous rights efforts in downtown Phoenix.

Tonatierra and Black Mesa Water Coalition youths worked for three months to organize the day-long workshop and concert featuring Hopi reggae artist Casper, Navajo rockers Blackfire and Chicano rock and hip-hop bands from Los Angeles.

"There is an incredible energy here," said Victor E., rapper with El Vuh hip-hop and consciousness band from Los Angeles.

"There are so many youths and they’re just taking it in. They are just happy for knowledge and life," said Victor E., adding that hip-hop is a tool to carry the message of the Xicano (Chicano) culture.

Domingo Siete sounded out Cuban and Colombian rhythms, Quetzal provided Afro-Chicano sounds and Slowrider added Chicano funk. Yaiva hip-hop from Flagstaff also performed during the evening concert on March 13.

During the morning workshop, Alex White Plume, Lakota from Pine Ridge, S.D., urged youths to raise their own food and develop wind energy as true sovereigns.

"We raise our own buffalo because we do not want to eat cow meat anymore," White Plume said, adding that his family has been raising buffalo since 1984.

White Plume praised the youths gathered as the next generation of caretakers and leaders, urging protection of the land, water, air, plants and animals. "Our environment is being so abused that when we go to ceremonies, our medicine people cry.

"We have to breathe the air, that is a sacred spirit."

Comparing Lakota spiritual teachings and Adam and Eve, White Plume said Lakota teach that woman came first, and was here on this earth, and man came from another planet. "Women are very powerful, they have pure blood."

Then, when the United States discovered oil, uranium and other minerals in the Black Hills, Lakota were offered money. "They offered us millions and millions of dollars, but we said we cannot sell the Black Hills."

White Plume said he wants to leave a better world for his grandchildren and now his family is constructing a wind generator. "Wind and buffalo, that’s two things we are coming back to. We speak our language, we do our ceremonies, we raise buffalo and we have our horses."

White Plume urged indigenous youths to grow natural seeds in gardens as an expression of sovereignty for their health, as water and food sources become more contaminated. "Our body heals, the same way our Mother Earth heals."

The indigenous youths workshop concluded a week-long series of indigenous rights events in Phoenix and Flagstaff, highlighted by Indigenous Peoples Day March 11.

Xavier Teso brought nine teenagers from Mecha, the Chicano students’ movement of Azatlan at Calli Ollin Academy in Tucson. He pointed out that Hughes Missile Systems, later taken over by Raytheon, dumped hazardous toxins into the groundwater on the south and west side of Tucson, where Chicano, Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui live. Those toxins have seeped into the groundwater and now there are cancer clusters in the neighborhoods.

"There is a high incidence of people dying from cancer," Teso said.

Hughes Missile System operated the federal weapons facility under contract with the U.S. government, south of Tucson airport and surrounded by Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui and Chicano communities. The state of Arizona identified the waste dumping and discharges as responsible for contamination of the soil and water.

Teso described dumping in communities from El Paso to Tucson. "They don’t think of us as first class citizens, they see us as squatters, freeloaders and heathens."

Calvin Long, Navajo youth with Black Mesa Water Coalition, began the workshop and urged Indian youths to make a positive change for their people. He said when Navajo and Hopi youths saw what was happening to their land, they decided to take a stand.

"We began to understand what environmental racism is." He said today they are empowering themselves and working with self-determination.

"We are protecting the identity of our people. One of our biggest fears is that the identity of our people will be lost."

Cindy Naha of Black Mesa Water Coalition described her identity as a Hopi, woman and indigenous. Encouraging other youths, she said, "We are caretakers of this land."

Lillian Hill, Hopi youth with the Black Mesa Water Coalition, said there are many Hopi and Navajo people living around the Peabody Coal mines on Black Mesa without running water and electricity, while Peabody uses the pure aquifer water to slurry coal to Nevada for electricity for the Southwest. "There are a lot of children being born with asthma and respiratory conditions. A lot of the elderly don’t even know what the coal is being used for."

Hill said two years ago the Hopi Tribe entered into an agreement with Reliant Energy to build a power plant and never informed Hopi tribal members about the pollution of the land, air and water.

"No one knew about it in our community. We really got a huge uproar from our community," Hill said.

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