Indigenous people protest in Washington, govt shutdown halts grants, benefits
AFP – Hundreds of members of indigenous communities protested in Washington on Friday, denouncing injustices they are facing and demanding that their rights be respected.
They gathered on Washington’s snowy National Mall, some wearing traditional dress, carrying signs with messages including: "Justice For Missing Murdered Indigenous Women" and "We Will Not Be Silenced."
"Currently, many indigenous people are victims of voter suppression, divided families by walls and borders, an environmental holocaust, sex and human trafficking, and police/military brutality with little or no resources and awareness of this injustice," a post on the Indigenous People’s March Facebook page said.
"I came here for the future generations of my people. I came here for environmental injustices that are happening on our reservations. Our waters are being polluted. Nothing is being done," said Malia Simon, a 20-year-old member of the Navajo tribe, which is located in four southwestern US states.
Indigenous communities have also denounced restrictions on their freedom of movement and boundaries they did not draw.
"The border was created by settlers, it’s not something that we recognize. Indigenous people migrate North to South, since we’ve been here, since the beginning of time," said Joey Morales, a member of the Pijao people of Colombia.
In the United States, Native Americans are among the poorest communities and have particularly suffered during the partial closure of the federal government, which has now stretched on for nearly a month.
Often they are torn between living on reservations — which try to preserve group culture and languages — and life in cities elsewhere.
"A lot of people aren’t getting their (US) benefits, aren’t getting their money, aren’t getting a lot of money for grants," said Cante Heart, a Winnebago tribe member.
Several tribes are also locked in a struggle with Canadian and US authorities over the route of an oil pipeline crossing their reservations. Jack Gifted by Eagles noted that the Dakota Access pipeline "has already leaked," and could do so again.
US President Donald Trump suffered a setback in December when a judge suspended construction of the giant Keystone XL pipeline to connect Canadian oilfields to Gulf of Mexico refineries.
Vanessa Pastrana, a native of Puerto Rico and the Taino people, who lived in the Caribbean before being virtually wiped out, said that there is a need to "fight back and be strong."
"These marches are good but you got to put work behind these marches," Pastrana said.