Cultural Survival Q
Vol. 43, Issue 4 â€˘ December 2019 US $4.99/CAN $6.99
D ec e m b er 20 19 Vo lum e 43 , Issue 4 Board of Directors president
Duane Champagne (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) Vice President
Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i) Treasurer
Steven Heim Clerk
Nicole Friederichs Evelyn Arce Erickson (Muisca) Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawai’i) Laura Graham Ajb’ee Jiménez (Maya Mam) Lesley Kabotie (Crow) John King Stephen Marks Tui Shortland (Ma–ori) Stella Tamang (Tamang) FOUNDERS David & Pia Maybury-Lewis Cultural Survival Headquarters 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 t 617.441.5400 f 617.441.5417 www.cs.org Cultural Survival Quarterly
Copy Editor: Jenn Goodman Designer: NonprofitDesign.com Contributing Arts Editor: Phoebe Farris Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska
Diné Pride is the official LGBTQIA+ event that celebrates sexual diversity by the largest sovereign Nation in the United States, the Navajo Nation (see page 14). Photo by Pamela J. Peters, Tachiinii Photography.
F e at u r e s
D e pa r t m e n t s
14 Indigenizing Love Through Diné Pride
1 Executive Director’s Message
Josie Raphaelito Diné Pride is the official LGBTQIA+ event for the Navajo Nation, the largest sovereign Nation in the United States.
16 Representation Matters Agnes Portalewska James Makokis and Anthony Johnson became Two-Spirit role models for the world while appearing on The Amazing Race Canada.
18 Being Muxhe in Juchitán, Mexico
Elvis Guerra The Zapotec three gender world predates colonialism, and muxhes occupy an important part of society in southern Mexico.
2 In the News 4 Women the World Must Hear Galina Angarova 6 Indigenous Knowledge
Life Out of Balance
8 Climate Change We Must Save Tuvalu to Save the World
10 Indigenous Languages Copyright 2019 by Cultural Survival, Inc. Cultural Survival Quarterly (ISSN 0740-3291) is published quarterly by Cultural Survival, Inc. at PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Periodical postage paid at Boston, MA 02205 and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Cultural Survival, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Printed on recycled paper in the U.S.A. Please note that the views in this magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Cultural Survival.
View writers’ guidelines at our website (www.cs.org) or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Cultural Survival, Writer’s Guidelines, PO Box 381569, Cambridge, MA 02238. Cultural Survival recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have long been exploited by photographers and publications. This publication does not pay photographers for images and makes no money from publishing them. We also make a tremendous effort to identify every Indigenous individual in the images that appear here. From time to time, however, such identification is not possible. We apologize to the subjects of those photos and to any reader offended by the omission.
20 We are Sacred, We Are Diversity: Indigenous LGBTQIA+ Voices
• Gender Doesn’t Matter to Me Anne Olli
• Double Social Stigma and Discrimination Still Exists
Juan Antonio Correa Calfin
Indigenous Voices Absent from Official Conference on Indigenous Languages
12 Indigenous Arts:
The Journey of Self-Acceptance
• We Contribute to Diversity
28 Keepers of the Earth Fund Grant Partner Spotlight
Olowaili Green Santacruz
• Our Languages Must Survive Denver Toroxa Breda
• The Situation for Women Is More Closed Arika
• If We Do Not Speak, People Will Continue to Ignore Us
Revitalizing the Kinyindu Language
29 Bazaar Artist Celebrating Our Connection to the Land: Jannette Vanderhoop
Jose Gaspar Sánchez
• There is Limited Awareness in the Philippines
Bestang Sarah Dekdeken
26 Unpacified in the Pacific
ii • www. cs. org
Cristina Verán Poet Peter Sipeli speaks about his activism with the LGBTQIA+ community in Fiji.
Cover photo: Torbakhopper/flickr.
E xecut iv e Di rector’ S messa ge
Donors like you make our work around the world possible. Thanks so much for being part of Cultural Survival.
s Cultural Survival’s new executive director, I am very pleased to share with you in this issue of the CSQ a few of the important voices of the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ communities, which for far too long have been marginalized, silenced, and discriminated against. Indigenous Peoples are often thought of and referred to as homogeneous groups, when in reality there are many subgroups and cross-sections. Compared to the general population, Indigenous LGBTQIA+ persons disproportionately live in poverty, face physical violence and discrimination, miss more school, are at a higher risk for HIV, have limited access to justice, and suffer higher rates of suicide. In advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, we cannot work in silos; LGBTQIA+ people must be an integrative part of the movement at all levels. Gender-based violence is one of the biggest challenges facing Indigenous communities today, and LGBTQIA+ people (and all Indigenous women) are at the forefront of those affected. Josie Raphaelito (Diné) writes that the Diné College Policy Institute found that Navajo LGBTQIA+ youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide than white LGBTQIA+ youth, with over 40 percent of the transgender community facing physical violence or death. I am inspired by the courage of LGBTQIA+ activists who decide to live their truth openly facing criticisms, threats, abuse, and sometimes even death to break barriers, and encourage others to learn tolerance and self-acceptance. As Anthony Johnson (Diné) states, “It’s our hope that by being open about who we are, that every LGBTQIA+ youth will feel safe to be who they are.” Jose Gaspar Sánchez (Lenca) poignantly sums up the consequences of remaining silent: “If we do not speak, do not discuss it, people will continue to ignore us.” Often this courage comes from traditional knowledge and reconnection to precolonial Indigenous cultures where, with a few exceptions, sexual diversity was widely accepted, if not celebrated. Many Indigenous
Cultural Survival Staff Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director Yesmi Ajanel (Maya K’ich’e), Program Assistant Avexnim Cojtí (Maya K’iche’), Community Media Program Manager Jessie Cherofsky, Bazaar Program Manager Danielle DeLuca, Advocacy & Development Manager Shaldon Ferris (Khoisan), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Sofia Flynn, Accounting & Office Manager
communities have their own terms, histories, and stories of nonbinary and gender nonconforming people. However, as James Makokis (Cree) notes, “With the imposition of colonization, Christianity, residential schools . . . a lot of those teachings of gender diversity have been lost and a lot of people are searching for their identity as Two-Spirit people and the roles and responsibilities that come with that.” A return to original teachings and stories can help decolonize and Indigenize spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, in some places this knowledge has been lost. Peter Sipeli (iTaukai) writes, “English colonizers did a very thorough job of indoctrinating our people into Christianity, to the point where now Fijians see aspects of our own preEuropean contact culture as ‘demonic’ and ‘pagan.’ It’s very difficult in Fiji to even have a conversation about our Indigenous traditions of being. . . . So much of this kind of knowledge has been lost.” Much work remains to be done in the revitalization of Indigenous cultures and languages. Organizations can also make an impact by mainstreaming LGBTQIA+ rights. I hope you will join me on this journey to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of all Indigenous Peoples by investing in Cultural Survival today. In Solidarity,
Galina Angarova (Buryat) Executive Director
Nati Garcia (Maya Mam), Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Coordinator Adriana Hernández (Maya K'iche'), Executive Assistant Dev Kumar Sunuwar (Kumar/Sunuwar), Program Associate, Community Media Grants Project Danae Laura, Bazaar Program Manager Maria del Rosario “Rosy” Sul González (Kaqchikel), Indigenous Radio Program Coordinator Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez, (Mixe/Ayuuk ja’ay & Zapotec/Binnizá), Keepers of the Earth Fund Project Manager Jamie Malcolm-Brown, Communications & Information Technology Manager Teresita Orozco Mendoza, Community Media Training Coordinator Cesar Gomez Moscut (Pocomam), Community Media Program Coordinator Diana Pastor (Maya K’iche’), Central America Media Coordinator Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager Angelica Rao, Human Resources Coordinator Sócrates Vásquez García (Ayuuk), Community Media Grants Coordinator Miranda Vitello, Development Associate
INTERNS AND VOLUNTEERS Hani Abidi, Alexandra Carraher-Kang, Samantha Freedman, Camila Guillama Capella, Liliana Mamani Condori, Weiping Niu, Allen Perez
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2019 Statement of Ownership
2019 Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation: 1. Publication Title: Cultural Survival Quarterly 2. Publication Number: 0740-3291 3. Filing Date: September 19, 2019 4. Issue Frequency: Quarterly 5. Number of Issues Published Annually: Four 6. Annual Subscription Price: $45.00 7. Mailing Address of Publication: 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 8. Mailing Address of Publisher Headquarters: 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 9. Full Mailing Address and Complete Names of Publisher, Editor, and Managing Editor-Publisher: Cultural Survival, Inc. 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140, Editor/Managing Editor: Agnes Portalewska, Cultural Survival, 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 10. Owner: Cultural Survival, Inc., 2067 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02140 11. Known Bondholders, Mortgagees, and Other Securities: None 12. Tax Status: The purpose, function, and nonprofit status for federal income tax purposes has not changed during the preceding 12 months 13. Publication Title: Cultural Survival Quarterly 14. Issue Date for Circulation Data Below: December 2019-Issue 43, Volume 4 15. Extent and Nature of Circulation: a. Total Number of Copies: Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months: 2700; Actual No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date: 2400 b. Paid and/or Requested Circulation-1. Paid/Requested Outside-County Mail Subscriptions Stated on Form 3541: 1200; 1200 2. Paid In-County Subscriptions: 250; 270 3. Sales Through Dealers and Carriers, Street Vendors, Counter Sales, and Other Non-USPS Paid Distribution: 800; 600 4. Other Classes Mailed Through the USPS: 100; 120 c. Total Paid and/or Requested Circulation: 2350; 2190 d. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution 1. Free or Nominal Rate Outside-County 40; 40 2. Free or Nominal Rate In-County : 50; 50 3. Free or Nominal Rate Copies Mailed at Other Classes 70; 30 4. Free or Nominal Rate Distribution Outside the Mail 50; 60 e. Total Free or Nominal Rate Distribution: 210; 180 f. Total Distribution: 2920; 2370 g. Copies Not Distributed: 280; 30 h. Total: 2560; 2400 i. Percent Paid and/or Requested Circulation: 94; 98 16. This Statement of Ownership is printed in the December 2019 issue of this publication 17. I certify that all information furnished on this form is true and complete: Agnes Portalewska, Communications Manager, Cultural Survival, Inc.
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 1
i n t he new s U.S.: Oglala Sioux Tribe Passes Law Protecting LGBTQIA+ Citizens
U.S.: Wyandotte Nation to Receive Deed to Sacred Land
The Wyandotte Nation has received the deed to a piece of land in Ohio that is considered sacred. Wyandotte Nation Chief Billy Friend called the gift “monumental.”
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted to authorize a hate crime law that offers protection to its LGBTQIA+ citizens. They are the first Tribe to enact such a law in South Dakota.
U.S.: Klamath River Given Personhood Status September
The Yurok Tribe of California has declared rights of personhood for the Klamath River. Over the past few years, low water flows have caused high rates of disease in salmon and cancelled fishing seasons.
Finland: Truth Commission to Be Established for Sami September
The Sami have lived since early times in the northern territories of Scandinavia. They have been victims of discrimination, oppression, and assimilation attempts by the State. A truth commission is being set up to shed light on this dark past.
Canada: Tribunal Finds Canada Discriminated Against First Nations Children September
In a historic move, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the federal government to compensate First Nations children and families. This is the latest ruling in a human rights case filed by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations in 2007 alleging that Canada racially discriminates against First Nations Peoples.
Mexico: Zapatistas Announce Territory Expansion September
The Zapatistas have created seven new caracoles and four new autonomous municipalities. In doing so, they have expanded the capacity of Zapatista autonomy. 2 • www. cs. org
U.S.: Ancestral Land to be Returned to Nipmuc Tribe September
A public “Ceremony of Acknowledgement” was held to mark the return of the Nipmuc’s ancestral land. The Tribe reclaimed 2.5 acres of land in 2016, and will purchase an additional 18.5 acres within the year.
Costa Rica: Court Rules for Indigenous Peoples September
The Agrarian Court of the 2nd Judicial Circuit of San José revoked a sentence imposed by Judge Jean Carlo Céspedes Mora ordering the eviction of Indigenous people who had recovered land within Brörán Indigenous territory. Mora had ordered the eviction of the Brörán land activists from the Crun Shurin Estate, located in the Indigenous territory of Térraba.
U.S.: 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz October
The 50th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island by Native activists was commemorated with days of prayer, ceremony, and speakers. Previously a federal prison, Alcatraz was closed in 1963, leaving the island vacant. Under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, Native Americans are authorized to settle land unused by the federal government. Native activists occupied the island to assert their Indigenous self-determination from 1969–1971.
Ecuador: Indigenous Protests Force President to Repeal Austerity Measures October
After 11 days of Indigenous-led protests in Quito sparked by the elimination of
Indigenous communities in Ecuador took to the streets in October protesting austerity measures and demanding their rights. Photo courtesy of CONFENAIE.
fuel subsidies, a deal was reached to end strikes across the country. During the unrest, 10 people died, 100 were missing, and more than 1,000 were detained.
U.S.: Herring Pond Wampanoag Win Bid for Their Burial Ground October
For the first time since 1850, a piece of Native American land has been returned to the Herring Pond Wampanoag. The land was used as a sacred burial plot by the Wampanoag for generations and was part of the Tribe’s 3,000-acre ‘Great Lot.’ Its parcels were sold off and taken over hundreds of years of European occupation.
U.S.: Seattle Residents Pay Reparations to Native American Tribe October
The Duwamish, an Indigenous group of 700 people whose ancestral lands encompasses present-day Seattle, are receiving reparations through the voluntary grassroots initiative Real Rent Duwamish. The Duwamish are considered a “landless Tribe” and do not receive federal assistance.
Advocacy Updates Canada: Tsilhqot’in Seek Visit by UNSR after Taseko Mines Pushes for Drilling on Sacred Site August
The Tsilhqot’in National Government submitted an urgent request to the UN Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, requesting that the UN visit Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) in Tsilhqot’in territory, British Columbia, over concern regarding the imminent violation of Tsilhqot’in land rights. Taseko Mines Ltd. notified the Tsilhqot’in that the company planned to begin exploratory drilling in the area, something officials of the land have repeatedly rejected on the grounds that the area is a sacred cultural site and within traditional hunting and trapping lands and the planned mine and drilling sites lie directly adjacent to titled Tsilhqot’in territory. Despite objections from both the Tsilhqot’in National Government and the federal government, the provincial government of British Columbia approved a permit for construction in 2017. Taseko Mines Ltd. has been attempting to develop their proposed gold and copper mine for more than 20 years without Tsilhqot’in consent, while the Tsilhqot’in fight back in the courts.
Mexico: UN Calls on Mexico to Protect Indigenous Journalists September
Journalists in Mexico regularly come under threat of violence with many of the cases of murders of journalists in Mexico directly related to their investigative work, including covering Indigenous rights violations. On September 19, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its Concluding Observations on Mexico’s human rights record. Cultural Survival joined a coalition of organizations in Mexico to submit a report to the Committee including a focus on violations to Indigenous Peoples’ freedom of expression. The Committee heavily condemned attacks on Indigenous journalists and Indigenous community radio stations. Indigenous people use radio to promote their way of life, languages, and traditions, and radio plays a vital role in disseminating information when territories are threatened by projects like the Sierra Negra de Puebla or San José del Progreso mines.
Cultural Survival’s advocacy program launches international campaigns in support of grassroots Indigenous movements as they put pressure on governments and corporations to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of their communities.
United States: Indigenous Groups Raise Concerns About Arctic Refuge Drilling October
In a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Cultural Survival, Land is Life, First Peoples Worldwide, and the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado raised concerns over human rights abuses against the Gwich’in Nation as a result of the Trump administration’s push to sell off the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. The report to the Universal Periodic Review reads, in part, “The government of the United States has repeatedly failed to protect the human rights of the Gwich’in by aggressively pursuing oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without first obtaining the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Gwich’in Nation.” The groups argued that drilling in the Arctic refuge would permanently destroy the main food source of the Gwich’in people, along with their culture and way of life.
Guatemala: Human Rights Advocates Rally Behind Raided Indigenous Community Radio STATION October
Several organizations in Guatemala, including Cultural Survival, have condemned the anti-democratic policies of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales after the Public Prosecutor’s office raided Radio Xyaab ’Tzuultaq’a of El Estor, Izabal in late September. The region of El Estor was under siege during the month of September. In the wake of the killings in El Estor, President Morales has claimed that Indigenous community organizations in the area are involved with the drug trade, although he has offered no evidence to support this. Guatemala’s Human Rights Commission stressed that they will start an investigation to verify whether the actions of the authorities to obtain a search warrant on Radio Xyaab ’Tzuultaq’a were legal. For the community radio movement in Guatemala, the raid is a clear violation of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. It is unacceptable for the government to take advantage of a state of siege to raid a community radio station. Congress has delayed passage of Bill 4087, which, if enacted, seeks to “democratize the radio spectrum and legalize operation of community Read more news at radio stations in www.cs.org/latest. the country.”
Cultural CulturalSurvival SurvivalQuarterly Quarterly September December 2019 • 3
women th e wo r ld m u st hear
Galina Angarova (right) with UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. Photo courtesy of Galina Angarova.
Get to know Cultural Survival’s new executive director
On October 1, Galina Angarova (Buryat) stepped into her role as Cultural Survival’s executive director. We look forward to her leadership, which will support an increasing global presence and effectiveness of Cultural Survival’s ability to reinforce Indigenous goals of self-determination and self-governance. Angarova recently sat down to talk about a range of topics, including some of her previous work as an Indigenous rights advocate and a foundation program manager, as well as her plans for Cultural Survival. Cultural Survival: How did you get into this line of work, advocating for Indigenous Peoples? Galina Angarova: I come from the Buryat Peoples, who
have lived in Siberia for millennia on both sides of Lake Baikal. I was born and raised in a community of about 400 people. My grandmother would tell me stories that encapsulated the wisdom of our ancestors and have been passed down for generations. I vividly remember a time when I was five years old, when my grandmother took me to a ceremony on a wooden horse cart miles away from our village. I still recall the fire, the chants, and the prayers of the women in my clan. I grew up with a deep sense of understanding of our lifeways and belongingness to the land, to my people, and a deep love for my culture and for Mother Earth. Growing up in Russia, it was hard to really understand my own situation and the situation of my people. It took leaving and living far away to understand the degree of both external and internalized oppression, colonization, and paralysis that my people and other Indigenous Peoples in Russia currently face. I received a full scholarship to graduate school in the United States, in New Mexico. This is where I first met Native American Tribal members. I was blown away by their rich and vibrant cultures, the people, and the food. I made friends with local people and I learned that there were more similarities than differences between my people and Native American communities. Having a Native language, our own culture, land use and management practices, belief systems, traditional ceremonies, traditional governance systems, and close relationships to Mother Earth—all these elements make Indigenous Peoples “Indigenous” and are rightfully included in the UN 4 • www. cs. org
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. My work as an advocate for Indigenous Peoples started when I joined San Francisco-based Pacific Environment in 2007. Even though the organization’s focus was on environmental issues in the Pacific Rim, we worked closely with Indigenous communities in the regions of Siberia, the Russian Far East and Arctic, and Alaska. I worked as a program associate for community-based initiatives and was promoted to the Russia program director where I started organizing global campaigns and representing issues of Russian Indigenous Peoples on the international level. In 2012, I joined the board of Indigenous Funders for Indigenous Peoples, where I served as a board member for seven years. CS: Tell us about your work with Indigenous Peoples on the ground. GA: During my years with Pacific Environment, our team
helped to build one of the most effective movements in Russia that works to protect both local people and the environment. This is what influenced my belief that local and Indigenous communities are best equipped to protect their own environment. This is why I have always prioritized local needs and building relationships. One of the most successful campaigns I led was against plans to build a gas pipeline in Altai, an Indigenous republic in Western Siberia. Together with local Indigenous partners, we worked to bring in alternative energy and created protected areas managed by Indigenous Peoples. Other successful campaigns were protesting against a toxic paper mill on Lake Baikal, an oil pipeline that was supposed to be laid in the proximity to the northern shore of the lake, and a
hydroelectric dam that threatened to flood hundreds of square kilometers of forest and a settlement of 5,000 Evenk people. CS: Please tell us about your work with the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group at the United Nations. GA: As Tebtebba’s policy and communications advisor, my
primary role was to serve as the Global Organizing Partner and Focal Point for the Indigenous Peoples Major Group at the United Nations from 2013-2016. My goal as the main negotiator for the constituency of Indigenous Peoples was to advocate the inclusion of key references to Indigenous Peoples in the outcome documents of Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, and World Conference on Financing for Development. I organized preparatory meetings in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and gathered ideas from Indigenous representatives in these regions on key topics such as climate change, poverty, health, education, traditional knowledge, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). I also led a team of Indigenous experts to provide input to ensure safeguards for Indigenous Peoples for the financial arm of the UNFCCC Green Climate Fund.
CS: Tell us about your most recent position, with the Swift Foundation. GA: I managed a portfolio of about 75 partner grantees in
Africa, South America, Canada, and the United States. During my time with the foundation, I increased the number of Indigenous-led organizations in the portfolio, strengthened connections to Indigenous communities and focused on Indigenous-led grantmaking, and advocated the shift toward more multi-year unrestricted grants. I also initiated the idea of an Institute on Philanthropy from an Indigenous perspective and rallied the Board to support it with a multi-year grant. The Institute is now thriving and is hosted under the umbrella of the International Funders of Indigenous Peoples.
CS: What are the major challenges Indigenous Peoples face today? GA: Climate change is becoming the number one risk for
Indigenous Peoples, as we are one of the most vulnerable populations and are disproportionately affected by its impacts. In the Arctic, communities are suffering from the receding ice, changing weather patterns, increased storms, and changes in species and animal behavior. In the high altitudes of the Himalayas, people depend on the seasonal flow of water from glaciers. The unprecedented rate of melting is resulting in more water in the short term, but less in the long run. Communities in Siberia and the Amazon are currently affected by the raging fires. The 2018 Global Witness report documented that it has never been a deadlier time to defend one’s community, way of life, or environment. Their latest annual data on violence against land and environmental defenders shows a rise in the number of people killed in the year 2017 to 207—the highest total ever recorded. Indigenous defenders represent roughly 25 percent of the total of those killed. With Indigenous Peoples making up just 5 percent of the world’s population, they are massively overrepresented among defenders killed. Indigenous Peoples are also facing diminishment of their
human rights and rights to their lands, territories, and resources. Most biological and cultural diversity is located on the lands of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous managed lands and territories span 24 percent of the planet’s surface and are home to 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Indigenous Peoples have known and managed this diversity for millennia, and there is a lot to be learned from Indigenous Peoples for the sake of survival of the human species. Time is running out and we need to act now. CS: What needs to be done to bring about solutions to these challenges? GA: The key elements for thriving communities are self-
determination; ownership and access to their lands, territories, and resources; traditional livelihoods; ownership of capital; opportunities to build their own capacity; Free, Prior and Informed Consent; and legislative, technical, and financial support from their State governments and philanthropic institutions. These are the cornerstone elements of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Cultural Survival is in a unique position to address these issues, having the experience and the reach. We need to support research to better understand and respond to climate impacts. We need to use traditional knowledge and Indigenous adaptation and mitigation strategies and transform them into action. We need to build capacity of Indigenous communities and support them in asserting their rights. We need to strengthen community leadership and technical know-how, and create and disseminate educational resources to advance human and Indigenous rights. We need to connect Indigenous networks and be informed about events on the ground. We need to tell stories, increase media attention, and expose government and industry abuses. The most powerful stories come from people themselves.
CS: Please share your vision and goals for Cultural Survival. GA: I would like to stress the importance of a common vision
shared by all the members of the Board and staff. I believe that every single member of the Cultural Survival team should have a voice and that the vision of the organization should be based upon consensus. One goal is building a successful program for Indigenous women and girls and addressing issues at the intersection of Indigenous women and climate change, traditional knowledge, environmental and human rights defenders, and elevating the role of Indigenous women in traditional governance systems and decision making at all levels. Among the long term goals, I want to elaborate a message and programming around Indigenous food systems and nutrition, grow the field of Indigenous-led philanthropy as well as our own funds within Cultural Survival, and build alliances with other movements and networks. Our work is not possible without the support of our friends and allies. We have launched the new Leadership Transition Fund to support Cultural Survival through this transition period, to build on our successes and guide the organization to new work to address the realities of the ever changing world, and come up with an updated strategic direction. I invite you all to support our joint efforts and donate to the Leadership Transition Fund and ensure the success and longevity of Cultural Survival. Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 5
indi geno u s k n ow le d g e
life out of balance IS IT TOO LATE?
Robby Romero with Austin Two Moons (Northern Cheyenne Spiritual Leader), from the music picture, “Is It Too Late.” Photo by Robert Holden (Choctaw and Chickasaw), former deputy director of the National Congress of American Indians.
Robby Romero “People, can you hear your momma crying; Feel the warning taste what she’s saying; ‘People the hour is near; Do you know the game you’re playing; Will this be our fate; Is It Too Late?’” — Lyrics from “Is It Too Late”
s news from the Arctic to the Amazon began to reveal latest acts of environmental genocide, I thought about how 527 years of Columbus through the era of Trump and Bolsonaro have taken their toll; how these last 5 years have become the hottest on record, with July the hottest month in global history. I thought about our people, water protectors and defenders of land and life at the forefront of a global crisis, being threatened, murdered, and incarcerated at alarming rates. It’s been 96 years since our Indigenous leaders first reached out to the League of Nations, 29 years since my first music picture, “Is It Too Late,” screened at the UN General Assembly, and 27 years since the first global conference on the environment and sustainable development. Yet, on the precipice of a new decade, forces of nature are stronger, more frequent, and catastrophic. Fires are raging across Mother Earth, oceans are dying, the Arctic is melting, sea levels are rising, communities are flooding, rivers are rerouted and dammed up, the largest mass extinction of plants, medicine flowers, and animals since the loss of the dinosaurs is well underway, world hunger is on the rise, and war is endless. Have all the hard work, goodwill, and negotiations failed? With UN member States like Brazil being complicit in setting the Amazon on fire, and President Trump’s intent on devastating the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development, this seems to be the case, despite the warnings of our people and an environmental movement hundreds of years in the making.
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While western attitudes towards Indigenous Peoples, both romantic and savage, can be traced back to Columbus, Chief Seattle’s words during an era of genocide, colonization, and domination, became the spirit of the modern environmental movement. “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” In 1948, Thomas Banyacya (Kykotsmovi Hopi), instructed by Hopi spiritual leaders, traveled to The Great House of Mica, the United Nations, to carry the Hopi message of peace and deliver warnings from prophecies. He told them, “Nature, the first people, and the spirit of our ancestors, are giving great warnings. If we human beings do not wake up to the warnings, the great purification will come to destroy this world—just as previous worlds were destroyed.” Today, the modern environmental movement is global, multifaceted, and rooted in the resilience and activism of Indigenous Peoples. In the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, I travelled to Japan on a Sacred Run for Land and Life with elders and youth, including Banyacya, Dennis Banks, the founder and leader of the Sacred Run, and my daughter Dakȟóta, one-year-old at the time. We had just finished running across Turtle Island from Onondaga Nation territory in New York to the Ohlone territory in San Francisco. Every step of the way was a prayer, stopping only to deliver the warnings of our people. We visited and prayed with the Ainu, the Nipponzan-Myōhōji Buddhist Monks, and met with members of Japan’s imperial family, political leadership, and local citizens. I was asked by a young mother in Fukushima to write a song based on her letters to the Japanese government about the dangers of nuclear power and her concerns of an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and so I did. In the winter of 1990, the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders invited 20 Indigenous Peoples from the 4 corners of the world to Moscow to deliver warnings and a message of hope. Onondaga Clan Mother Audrey Shenondoah
gave a powerful keynote address, and “Is It Too Late,” prefaced by then-President Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic environmental message, was broadcast around the world from the Kremlin. That year, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and paving the way for the first international conference on the environment, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, The Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992. The week prior to this historic conference, I traveled with Dakȟóta, now four, to Kari-Oca, a village outside Rio, to participate and perform at spiritual and artistic events held during the Earth Summit. Dakȟóta sang with me and with the International Children’s Choir. Hundreds of Indigenous Peoples from around the world gathered at the Kari-Oca conference. Together, we made a declaration of our intentions for the future. The Kari-Oca Declaration is a prayer that our ancestors and future generations will help us. “We, the Indigenous Peoples, walk to the future in the footprints of our ancestors. . . . We maintain our inalienable rights to our lands and territories. . . . To all our resources—above and below— and to our waters, we assert our ongoing responsibility to pass these on to future generations.” Leading up to the Earth Summit, I worked with other Indigenous artists and leaders, including Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, and Paiakan, a celebrated Kayapo leader who brought world awareness to the Altamira Gathering in 1989 that stopped the Brazilian government from building four dams that would have flooded the Amazon. Our work at UN headquarters in New York prior to the Earth Summit led to the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the United Nations Agenda 21 document. Chapter 26 is titled, “Recognizing and Strengthening the Role of Indigenous Peoples and Their Communities.” It states, “In view of the interrelationship between the natural environment and its sustainable development and the cultural, social, economic, and physical well being of Indigenous people, national and international efforts to implement environmentally sound and sustainable development should recognize, accommodate, promote, and strengthen the role of Indigenous people and their communities.” At the Earth Summit, Indigenous voices were silenced. After much debate, one Indigenous spokesperson was permitted to address the conference. Marcos Terena of the Brazilian Inter-Tribal Committee delivered a statement on behalf of Indigenous Peoples that once again gave warnings. Just as my friend in Japan feared, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant did explode in 2011, spilling billions of becquerels of deadly radiation into the Pacific Ocean and converting her home into a toxic waste zone. As the aftermath of the disaster began to wash up on shores and beaches around the world, with the support of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Nation, Sac and Fox Nation, and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, I wrote and directed the music picture, “Who’s Gonna Save You,” which premiered on South Africa Broadcasting Corporation during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa. There have been countless reports, local and global meetings, conferences, summits, and forums on the environment and climate change. Many pledges and accords have been
made and still the world remains in peril—literally spinning out of balance. The Amazon rainforest is referred to as “the lungs of the world,” yet no real action is taken to protect the rainforest or the rights of Indigenous Peoples who care for it. Domestic and international laws are written, rewritten, amended, and disregarded to allow violent looting and polluting at the expense of future generations. This has been going on for centuries, beginning with the Doctrine of Discovery, 15th century Papal Bulls that gave Christian explorers the notion to claim our lands and resources for their Christian monarchs. Today, corporate control over UN member States has placed a chokehold on governments and instigated a war on nature. My sisters and brothers in the Amazon refer to those engaged in depleting the world’s natural resources as “termite people”—chewing up and eating everything without regard of the consequences, only to suffocate in their own waste. As the biggest land grab for natural resources in history is happening right now, greenhouse emissions are dangerously escalating. It is going to take Indigenous wisdom and traditional and modern science to change this direction. This can only happen with the united voice of the people. If those living in “first world” countries wait until the climate crisis arrives on their doorstep, it will be too late. While the 197 countries’ pledge to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius remains another broken promise, youth from around the world organized to do what governments have failed to. In September 2019, millions marched across the globe prior to what was billed as the most significant climate conference to date, the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City. While there was much talk about action, the world’s richest and biggest polluters did not make a climate pledge to be part of the solution and Indigenous voices were once again limited. If the Trail of Broken Treaties is any indication, UN member States aligned with the U.S. will never honor the many agreements they made on climate change. What we are experiencing is life out of balance. Those who understand nature and natural law, who can still feel the heartbeat of our relations and their connection to land and life, will have a better chance of surviving as Mother Earth cleanses herself of the greed, violence, and pollution that is destroying our world. Crazy Horse said, “I see a time in seven generations when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life and the whole earth will become one circle again.” Today, the seventh generation is calling for an Earth Revolution; an opportunity to create a better world, a sustainable and renewable world, a world that honors natural law and the rights of Mother Earth and all living things. The time for stereotypical beliefs about Indigenous Peoples has passed. We remain, more than 370 million. We are the Wisdom Keepers, the caretakers of Mother Earth. More than 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity lives within our territories. Help us protect these sacred places, these precious ecosystems. Help us change this path of sorrow and usher in a time of healing. For what we do now, in this moment, will be humanity’s defining legacy. — Robby Romero (Apache) is president of Native Children’s Survival and leader and frontman of Native rock band Red Thunder. www.RobbyRomero.com Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 7
cl i mat e ch a n g e We Must Save Tuvalu to Save the World
Pacific Islands Forum Focuses on Climate Justice and Human Rights Joshua Cooper
Proud to be Indigenous, Tuvalans showcase their culture through dance at the Forum.
eyond the beautiful flower wreaths of welcome, the people of Tuvalu had a unified message for their global guests, symbolized with children seated and partially submerged in a village pool art exhibit. When leaders arrived at the annual Pacific Islands Forum on August 13–16, walking past the future generation in the pool representing the Pacific, they beheld a sign: “Before us we see the devastating effects of climate change on our children; sea level rising, land erosion, cyclone damage. Threats such as these are ever present for Pacific Island nations. In your meetings this week, remember: We must act before it is too late. We must save Tuvalu to save the world.” For just over four decades, the modern nation state of Tuvalu has exercised self-determination over an archipelago of six coral atolls and three islands covering twenty-six square kilometers. Tuvalu, meaning “eight standing together,” has a population of eleven thousand.
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A human rights-based approach was shared with visiting dignitaries via proclamations, conversations, negotiations, and presentations of entire villages sharing the beauty of culture through dance. This unique aspect of culture will disappear if the climate crisis is not averted. Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga spoke about how people in the Pacific Islands will be impacted by business as usual: “Your policies about coal mining, releasing greenhouse gases regardless of how much money you give in the ‘step-up’ policy... it doesn’t mean anything. Why? Because you are helping to have serious implications on your people who are living in Tuvalu and Kiribati. Bring the real effects on people on the ground to the attention of these leaders. If they don’t accept it, I don’t think we can call them leaders. I don’t think they are serious about saving the people, their own people.” Sir Tomasi Puapua Convention Centre hosted the 18 member States of the Pacific Islands Forum (and the prior Sautalaga Dialogue) along with Forum dialogue partners, regional bodies, press, and nongovernmental organizations of Peoples’ movements in the Pacific. The momentum for the Forum took shape in May with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ multiple state visits. His visionary statements and service to the Pacific region recognized the role and contribution of Forum members, resulting in the “Blue Pacific’s Call for Urgent Global Climate Action.” This message was reinforced in the resulting document of the Sautalaga Dialogue, “Tuvalu Declaration on Climate Change for the Survival of Pacific Small Island Developing States,” which reinforced Guterres’ call for an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal fired power plants and coal mines, and calls on all nations to rapidly phase out their use of coal in the power sector. Sopoaga said, “No matter how much money you put on the table, it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing; that is,
All photos by Joshua Cooper.
cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coal mines.” Fiji shared another commitment to leading by example with regard to resource exploitation via Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who returned to Tuvalu following a long hiatus. He spoke forcefully and diplomatically to Australia while declaring a 10-year moratorium on deep sea mining, linking the common home of Moana Nui to climate policy and practices. From the Sautalaga Dialogue to the final joint communiqué and Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Action Now— Securing the Future of our Blue Pacific, the negotiations were hotter than global warming on the ground in Funafuti. All the way through, there were cultural ceremonies and exchanges illustrating the vivacity of Tuvalu people and the value of every culture, including the 12-hour marathon meeting and leaders retreat where the Pacific heads of state demanded dignity, respect, and the realization of human rights. While the island dancing went late into the night in the early part of the week, the debates among the leaders lasted even longer, later in the retreat. One tweet by Bainamarama spoke truth to power and pointed to the commitment to the people of the Pacific: “Watered-down climate language has real consequences—like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.” Fiji recently relocated some of its citizens due to climate change. The Kainaki II Declaration builds on the Boe Declaration, issued last year in Nauru, which widened traditional security concerns in the region in citing climate change as “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security, and well being of the Peoples of the Pacific.” It builds on the Nadi Bay Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis in the Pacific, issued one month prior to the Pacific Islands Forum, calling out coal’s role in the climate crisis. There was also endorsement for regional cooperation for resilience initiatives in a Pacific Resilience Facility. Tuvalu declared the 50th summit plasticfree, highlighting the damage to the marine environment of single use plastics in the Pacific and the entire planet. One significant initiative that will remain after the Pacific Islands Forum summit is Tuvalu Cultural Day, where all people ‘decarbonize’ and exercise the right to self-determination by eating only locally harvested foods received through traditional knowledge and prepared with cultural methods
to build understanding for future generations and to ensure social development rooted in ancestral wisdom. Beyond the climate crisis, another major concern is the legacy and future of nuclear weapons. There is concern about the lingering impacts of nuclear testing on people’s health, as well as contamination of crops impacting food sovereignty. Included in the Kainaki II Declaration is an agreement for “a comprehensive, independent, and objective scientific assessment of the contamination issue in the Pacific, including in the nuclear test site at Runit Island in the Marshall Islands.” The latest abolition initiative, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, should be adopted through ratification securing half of the necessary signatures as followup steps by Small Island Developing States. Marshall Islands will also champion accountability for nuclear contamination in its new role as one of the 47 members at the UN Human Rights Council in 2020, after securing a seat in the recent election and becoming the first low lying atoll to serve on the highest UN human rights body. Small Island Developing States represent a quarter of UN membership and make significant contributions to ethical issues internationally with impacts in the Pacific. Human rights, specifically the common Article 1 of the UN twin covenants (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the right to self-determination and liberation, featured in the diplomatic discussions among Pacific leaders. There were discussions on human rights violations in West Papua. The situation in Kanaky, New Caledonia regarding a likely second referendum in 2020 was also discussed, along with a referendum representing a step toward self-determination for Bougainville. The conversation on decolonization will continue next year in Vanuatu, which will host the 2020 Forum on its 40th anniversary of independence from France and the United Kingdom. Vanuatu has championed self-determination consistently in the region and stands in solidarity with its neighbors desiring to join the United Nations such as Bougainville, Kanaky, and West Papua. — Joshua Cooper is a professor at the University of Hawai’i, West O’ahu, Kapolei, director of the Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights, and CEO of The GOOD Group.
The impacts of climate change are a daily reality for the 11,000 inhabitants of Tuvalu.
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 9
i ndi geno u s la n g u a g e s
Missing in Yakutsk
Indigenous Voices Absent from Official Conference on Indigenous Languages
Rising sun caught at the Summer Solstice ceremonies in Yakutsk, Siberia, Russia.
Richard A. Grounds, Ph.D.
t was indeed the best of times, and it was the worst of times. First, the good news: the pressure under the old Soviet system against local religious practices has been relaxed and the Shamanic celebration of the summer solstice was back in vogue. I felt surprisingly at home in some ways. As a zOyaha Tribal person, we also identify as the People of the Sun. The extravagant celebration of white cranes in their dances reminded me of our own ceremonial songs that originated with the crane. It was awkward because of the massive crowds of tens of thousands of observers and the garish, carnivalesque presentation. However, it was beautiful to hear the chants of Shamanic leaders in their original language over the loudspeakers. The problem centered around the official conference on Indigenous languages celebrating the UN International Year
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of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) in Yakutsk, Siberia, Russia, which was formally a success. The meeting was held at a location that was an eight hour plane flight east of Moscow in the northernmost city in Siberia, where all of the buildings are elevated above the ground due to the permafrost conditions in the region. It is a land of Indigenous Peoples and special horses that had been adapted to survive the 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero cold in Yakutia. It is a place where we enjoyed traditional foods with soured horse milk called kumis and horse meat at every meal. We were far enough north that the night sky never fully darkened, and the sun broke the horizon before 3:00 a.m. for the new day. It was a great privilege for me to be there and participate in these proceedings. The meeting was an international gathering of linguists, anthropologists, philologists, and students of religion and of Indigenous language and culture, including students who were themselves members of Indigenous nations and participants in the academy. This important event in the IYIL was a success by every measure except one: the Indigenous voice was almost entirely absent. That is not to say that non-Indigenous voices have nothing to offer, but to make it clear that the most critical voices, the most important voices, are those of Indigenous community members, informed by their own songs, stories, dances, and prayers. What is most remarkable about this development is that when I had pushed for 16 years to help precipitate the IYIL, the whole point was to provide a focus for Indigenous languages and the Indigenous voice that needed to be heard in order to reclaim our rightful place in international fora. As the all-day meetings wore on and on, I kept waiting to hear an Indigenous voice in the room, but instead was regaled with the details of place names and the connections of philology across diverse Indigenous communities in a never ending parade of minutia. While these details seemed to represent a deep fascination for the presenters and most of the audience, they struck me as completely beside the point. The point of the IYIL was to elevate the knowledge and awareness of Indigenous languages and perspectives in preserving and keeping those languages alive and vibrant within Indigenous communities in order to ensure their songs, stories, and dances continue to be heard for future generations. Those Indigenous voices were not being heard here at this gathering. One night in the hotel, I called aside a small huddle of Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants to share my concerns about the lack of Indigenous voice. It was, by my standards, completely appalling that the Indigenous voice was absent from the room, but I was not sure that the nonIndigenous nor even the Indigenous scholars were aware of this absence. Our conversation went round and round about the issue of whether Indigenous community members even wanted to have their voice heard in Siberia, or whether it was the accepted prerogative of the academic community to speak on their behalf. Our debate was intense and yet was engaged in good faith and lasted until the midnight sun had almost set at 1:30 a.m. in this far northern latitude. The strongest pushback to my point of view came from a brilliant Russian linguist of retirement age who possessed a well-intentioned engagement with Indigenous communities and their languages. She had spent a lifetime documenting Indigenous languages, and what I had to say was clearly All photos by Richard A. Grounds.
upsetting to her. It was not my intention to challenge her individual career, but to call into question the overall system of intellectual colonialism that was crushing Indigenous languages across Siberia and around the world. My push to elevate Indigenous community perspectives was perceived as somehow elitist, that I was only speaking out of my own experience and not respecting the local attitude of Indigenous community members. The linguist insisted that community members wanted to share their knowledge of the language with linguists so it could be written down in books, articles, and dictionaries; only in this way would their knowledge be preserved for future generations. I replied that yes, indeed, this peculiar predicament is the case, but it only manifests because of the extreme colonial conditions that the communities have been subjected to for generations. This outcome is the direct result of the extreme suppression of Indigenous languages and cultures. This strange acquiescence to the intellectual colonial project on the part of Indigenous community members was itself an artifact of that very colonial process. My argument centered around what I have heard from our elders, that our Indigenous languages are gifts from the Creator, that they are special markers of who we are as Indigenous Peoples. The case that I was making is that our Indigenous languages are living and powerful, yet fragile. And since our languages are powerful things—according to traditional understanding—it is better that powerful things should be put away rather than become a plaything for outsiders in the practice of intellectual colonialism, where only academics will have effective access to these Indigenous language materials. In my opinion, this would be the worst possible outcome in the struggle against colonial domination. To end up becoming stuck in the colonial trap of the academy, rather than living on in our Indigenous communities, would be the most tragic colonial outcome. That is precisely the end product of the colonial project. While I respected this senior scholar’s perspective and well-intentioned attitude toward Indigenous communities, I was most disturbed by the young Indigenous scholar who was part of this intense discussion. She was a young mother who was a native speaker of her language. Yet in some misguided colonial mission, she was dedicating her academic career to producing a dictionary of her language. While producing this dictionary, she was, at the same time, failing simply to speak her mother tongue to her own children in her own home. The scandalous nature of the seemingly benign academic process could only be clarified by the presumption of academics speaking in the voice of Indigenous Peoples. This is indeed incredulous now in this year of 2019, the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages. As I write these words in the colonial language of English, we are expecting an expansion of the IYIL to become a decade of Indigenous languages. We must ensure that the leadership for the Decade of Indigenous Languages is Indigenous leadership. The bottom line of focusing on Indigenous languages is about growing new speakers of our highly endangered languages. It is not about documenting our languages as an end in itself as part of an ongoing project of intellectual colonialism that has been little changed within the discipline of linguistics for the last two centuries. This makes linguistics perhaps the most colonial academic discipline on the face
Participants in language conference attending Summer Solstice celebration (L–R) Andrey Petrov, Ph.D., organizer for North American delegation, University of Northern Iowa; Richard Grounds, Ph.D. (Yuchi/Seminole), Olga Timofeeva-Tereshkina (Dolgan); and Norma Shorty, Ph.D. (Tlingit).
of the planet, that has failed to respond to the push for Indigenous rights, Indigenous cultures, and for Indigenous languages to be respected on their own terms. My observations in the Siberian context are not given here as a unique case, for they are representative of the broader global Indigenous challenges as we work to keep alive our original languages in the context of nation states that have operated out of a colonial paradigm for centuries. As Miriam Yataco, language activist from Lima, Peru, who spoke at the recent IYIL Conference at Purdue University, has insisted, “The protection and revitalization of Indigenous languages of the world and of Indigenous Latin America has to be in the hands of Indigenous communities. States have to take steps in the immediate creation of consulting groups tied to the speakers’ communities, who will take over the future of our languages—so that the creation and interpretation of language rights policies would be assessed and recommended for implementation, especially with the voice of the traditional elders’ councils in the communities.” — Richard A. Grounds, Ph.D. (Yuchi and Seminole) is chair of the Global Indigenous Languages Caucus, has served as the expert for the North American region at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting on Indigenous Languages in 2016, and is executive director of the Yuchi House. Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 11
indi geno u s a rts
The Journey of Self-Acceptance Daniel Nizcub
I Daniel Nizcub, who identifies as a trans man, posing with book of poetry.
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was born in Mexico City but I am a Zapoteco-Mixteco son of migrants who moved there in the ’70s. At 12, I returned to my roots, to Zaachila, Oaxaca. I am now 35 years old. I am a transgender man who likes to write poetry; I am a communicologist by profession. My paternal and maternal uncles instilled in me the love for our Peoples and our customs. I want to create change through art, culture, and alternative education. I am a transexual man. I take hormones. I am heterosexual, but there are also trans men who can be gay or bisexual. Right now Zapotec is not widely spoken, but there have been efforts by the youth to rescue the Zapotec language. I myself have taken language classes, but they are not consistent due to lack of funds to organize them. I believe there are other ways to revitalize Zapotec, in our stories and our traditions. My childhood was spent in Mexico City where my parents worked in a hospital as chemists. We lived near my maternal grandmother’s house. She sold many products from Oaxaca, which is how I had contact with mezcal, for example. I had a happy childhood. When I became an adolescent, everything changed. My body changed, breasts began to grow, and a female body began to form. This was a shock. When I was a child I always imagined that the next day I would wake up as a boy. My family moved back to Oaxaca when I was 12 years old. It was a great change; everything was very different except the food—wherever the people of Oaxaca go, they take their culinary traditions with them. I saw the differences in the spaces. I needed my friends and I faced the dilemmas of my physical changes. If, at that time, I had known the term ‘trans’ or that other transexuals existed, everything would have been easier for me. I probably would have talked to my parents. But I did not know. I was attracted to girls, but I felt different and I couldn’t fit the definition of lesbian. That was another shock. My relationships with other people were ambiguous. I felt lost, misplaced. My decision to meet and accept myself as trans I owe in large part to social networks. Social networks let me know that there was a whole community out there. I found a man in the United States who described his changes on YouTube. I searched in Spanish and found a trans person in Spain. When I was 29 years old, I started looking in Mexico and Oaxaca. Trans women are more visible because of a series of social factors. When I didn’t find trans men, I started asking women sex workers about their hormonal treatments. It was through Facebook that I managed to connect with people in
All photos by Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López .
my same situation locally and in the rest of Mexico. There are 25 of us transexual males in all of Oaxaca. Social networks also motivated me to make the final decision to start my transition. I asked my sexologist why there were no other trans men, and he said that is common for men who have finished their transition to start a new life and leave. I was determined to stay in Oaxaca; I did not want to leave. I made my transition in the company of my family, my friends, and the people of the community. My entire transition was in Oaxaca. The hardest thing has been the fear of myself. I have been very fortunate and privileged because I have not experienced physical or emotional abuse and violence because of my gender situation. What has not been so easy is to talk with other trans men. I identify myself by talking with them because trans men have particular issues and difficulties, very different from those of trans women, who bear greater social burdens precisely because they are women. When I encounter sexual aggressions because of the conversion, which really happens in the city or in the villages, I think of that fear that something ugly could happen to me. No one is exempt in this country from these things. Being with my family is something that I value very much, a joy that I never lost, and was not at risk as a result of my transition. One of the sweetest moments of my life was one day when I was driving in my car, already having had two months of hormonal treatment. That day I was surprised because I heard a change in my voice. My voice sounded different . . . it seemed to flood my little car. This was very significant for me because I was involved in community radio and people knew me by my voice; I had started on the radio in 2006 and my voice was now different. I felt fear because people not only knew me for being my mother’s son, but also for my work on the radio, for my voice. I ended up writing a poem named “My Voice.”
To Her: The joys have long been in the trunk to protect other’s poison This is a path full of sins but the end will come / until then forgetfulness will reach us. How will I explain the extinction of her voice and her new silences / or that her words are now distant smiles for those who do not want to hear / how will I justify her death when she dawns naked on the bed with an imaginary phallus in her hand and bloodied chest / why I apologize for her death if I will also lose her / I also witnessed her burial / I will throw the flowers that are necessary for her to leave happily / then she will live in my memory / in the scars that will leave her passage through my body / she will appear in the mirror once in a while just to say goodbye / she will be happy to say goodbye once, twice, infinitely, I will allow her / she can leave as many times as possible and everyone will ask me to pronounce words in her name / I will not / I will cry with her / I will do my way, alone, in peace. — Daniel Nizcub
In my cultural work, I think that I have a lot of influence from my Mixteco culture where there is a lot of closeness with the land. It greatly influences the cultural and communal work that I do with my Zapotec roots in Oaxaca. What I write here is influenced by the Mixtec “there.” “There” is my grandmother who told me many traditional stories, and a cottage in the countryside that I visit with my family where I remember the places and walks with my grandmother looking for mushrooms. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins, but I don’t have local work and life in my Mixtec community. I do not think it is due to my transition. In the Zapotec community, it has not been difficult for me because my relatives are known as cultural promoters and because of my work on the radio. In the community there is recognition of my family and for my contributions. In my community the issue of sexual diversity is taken differently because there are many people who express their sexual orientation, live as a couple, as a family, and make their contribution. The “Las Güeras” troupe, for example, has been appropriated by the diversity community. It has become a party for men to play with their gender roles, many dressing as women, and there are trans people who participate. This is an example of the opening of Indigenous Peoples to diversity. As for the trans communities of our Peoples, I do not feel able to judge those who migrate. Those of us who remain have to reflect a lot about our relationships and the rest of the social fabric. I have met people from other communities who have had to leave. In my case, the community welcomed me in, and I’m still here. It is already a task for us to speak for ourselves and use all spaces like this to say “here we are.”
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 13
Through Diné Pride
The Blackout Girls from Albuquerque, NM, and Darrell House, U.S. Marine.
s a queer Diné woman, I find myself being welcomed into the inter-Tribal Two-Spirit community. Additionally, I find myself being called to action to help build understanding and inclusion in our own Indigenous communities, and to help educate and inform allies and partners about the ever growing movement that is Diné Pride. Diné Pride is a grassroots organization created by Navajo leaders who want to promote traditional teachings of values and kinship to acknowledge and build equity for our Navajo Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ relatives. For readers who are new to the word “Two-Spirit,” it refers to a gender role believed to be common among most, if not all, Indigenous communities and nations, one that had a proper and accepted place within our societies. Within a traditional setting, Two-Spirit is a Tribal nation-specific understanding of gender, not a sexual orientation. This umbrella term was established in 1990 to organize Native American LGBTQIA+ community members and directly challenge colonial kinship systems imposed on our people. What is important to note is that Two-Spirit is understood in different ways in different and diverse Tribal communities. Today, many Native LGBTQIA+ people also
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Radmilla Cody, former Miss Navajo Nation and recording artist
relate to and use the term Two-Spirit to describe their identity. Tribal nations each have their own unique and distinct terms, histories, and understandings of nonbinary and gender nonconforming people. Our Navajo people are fortunate to still have access to stories and teachings about various genders, including gender roles, rights, and responsibilities, and, if we revisit our traditional values and teachings, we are able to acknowledge and respect Nádleehi and Dilbah relatives in our families. Since time immemorial, the Navajo people have recognized more than five genders (including Nádleehi and Dilbah), and being LGBTQIA+ meant you were sacred. These are the teachings and stories that guide the mission and vision of Diné Pride, which is the largest Indigenous LGBTQIA+ celebration in the country. With a vision to protect Tribal sovereignty, the organization is changing the narrative on how we accept our LGBTQIA+ relatives. Together, we are working towards social, economic, and legal equality for all Native people across Indian Country. The mission statement of Diné Pride reads, “We will honor and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ relatives & reaffirm the sacredness of their identities. There are countless socio-economic and educational disparities that impact our community. Diné Pride will reintroduce traditional knowledge and teachings that kept our LGBTQIA+ relatives safe & revered—the way our culture recognized at one point in history.” It is this mission that I fell in love with when I first heard about the organization in 2018. I am one of the thousands of Navajo citizens living away from the Nation (I live with my Mohawk wife in Buffalo, NY, near her homelands), and I find myself constantly searching for opportunities to stay better connected to home (Ramah Navajo, New Mexico) and the larger Navajo Nation. It was a simple Facebook message on my part to Diné Pride to learn how to get involved and support their work. I was quickly invited to support the development of workshops for the 2019 Diné Pride Symposium, which took place the day before the festival. Through this process I learned about the many community outreach and engagement efforts being led by Diné Equality, which has been hosting Diné Pride since 2017. Both organizations speak about the need to build equality in the largest sovereign nation in the United States. Much of this work is rooted in addressing the discriminatory Diné Marriage Act, Tribal legislation that defines marriage as being exclusively between a woman and a man. This is a violation of our human and civil rights. What about the June 26, 2015, Supreme Court case All photos by Pamela J. Peters, Tachiinii Photography.
Following this true introduction to everything Diné Pride, I was reenergized and wanted to become more involved. After follow up conversations with Diné Pride’s co-founder and new executive director, Mattee Jim, Alray Nelson, I was invited to join their Diné Pride board to support program development champion and and youth engagement efforts. Diné transgender Diné leader Pride is excited to focus their 2020 efforts on youth engagement because our Navajo youth are the leaders of today. According to the 2010 Census, Navajo youth under the age of 18 account for 33 percent of our Navajo population. A 2016 survey conducted by the Diné College Policy Institute found that our Navajo LGBTQIA+ youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide than white LGBTQIA+ youth, with over 40 percent of our transgender community facing physical violence or death. Clearly, we need to create space for our young people to join important conversations—our decisions today will impact their generation, as well as generations to come. As a board, we genuinely value the voice of young leaders who are asking for more resources and support when learning about inclusion, our traditional values, and how those fundamental teachings can be incorporated into community development and engagement. When it comes to inclusion efforts and teachings about various gender identities and community roles, it is time to engage our youth and learn together. Diné Pride will put these words into action in 2020. We will be collaborating with youth leaders to plan and implement the first ever Diné LGBTQIA+ Youth Summit, where we will spend a full day learning about the history and ongoing relevance of diverse genders and gender roles through the context of Navajo teachings and storytelling. The summit will include Diné speakers, storytellers, discussions, and other interactive activities, all co-facilitated by Diné youth. The newly released resource, Indigenizing Love: A Toolkit for Native Youth to Build Inclusion, will be a critical guide for developing this summit. This guide from the Western States Center out of Portland, Oregon was created in partnership with three Native queer and Two-Spirit youth, and I had the honor of serving as the lead author. Our vision was to create a resource that Native youth could pick up and read, and use as a guide to organize and facilitate group discussions to better understand our Two-Spirit and Native LGBTQIA+ relatives through an Indigenous lens. We’re basically challenging readers to revisit their traditional values and teachings to understand love and inclusion in their communities, and to acknowledge that homophobia and transphobia is a result of colonization. Although this summit will only be one day, it is our hope that initiating youth-led discussions, with support from, and partnership with, adults, will be a jumpstart to creating action plans that support systemic and sustainable change for future Diné generations. —Josie Raphaelito MPH (Diné) is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and the Diné Pride Program Director.
of Obergefell v. Hodges that ruled the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples? This is where Tribal sovereignty comes into play, meaning Tribal nations have the inherent authority to govern, police, and create laws for their own citizens. Furthermore, Tribal nations can make their own decisions on legalizing same-sex marriage for their citizens. I saw the organization in action when I traveled to the Navajo Nation capital (Window Rock, Arizona) in June to attend the third annual Diné Pride celebration. This year, the theme, “Sacredness Before Stonewall,” was a political statement recognizing the existence of our LGBTQIA+ communities long before the modern gay rights movement. With our creation stories, our Navajo people revered our LGBTQIA+ family members and bestowed upon them sacred roles that included being caretakers, medicine healers, matchmakers, clan leaders, and warriors. Before colonization and church missionaries, Indigenous nations honored the Two-Spirit individual and recognized unions between members of the same sex. Although there are meetings, educational booths, fundraising events, and speakers showcased throughout the year, Diné Pride has become the annual epicenter of community engagement. The festival featured guest speakers, artists, drag queen performers, and declarations of support from elected Tribal officials, community leaders, and family members. Everything was funded locally with no corporate sponsors and completely “Indigenized,” so thousands of Navajo youth who participated understood the importance of reclaiming identities, building community, and taking over political spaces. For the first time in history, the Navajo Nation and Pride flags few together while a drag show and rainbow lighting of the Tribal council chambers kicked off the weekend’s festivities. Diné Pride included a day-long symposium full of workshops, panel discussions, and storytelling that honored the work of our transgender and lesbian community. During one of the planning calls for this event, I echoed another board member’s comment about the need to raise more visibility of our queer Diné women. The board charged me with coordinating a Diné Queer Women Panel Discussion to highlight different perspectives about lived experiences regarding identity and inclusion. This conversation featured diverse perspectives from Diné women who identify as queer, gay, lesbian, or who are still figuring it out, including women who are also veterans, advocates, public health professionals, artists, and college students. This was such a rich discussion, and there is a clear need for these types of conversations, including youth focused efforts, to continue.
To learn more about Diné Pride, visit www.navajonationpride.com
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 15
Representation Matters James Makokis and Anthony Johnson Become Two-Spirit Role Models for the World Agnes Portalewska (CS STAFF)
Celebrity Two-Spirit couple, Anthony Johnson and James Makokis. Photo by CTV/ Todd Fraser.
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fter travelling more than 20,000 kilometers across 6 provinces, 1 territory, and 14 cities, James Makokis (Cree) and Anthony Johnson (Navajo/Diné) are the first Indigenous, TwoSpirit couple to win The Amazing Race Canada. Their appearance on the reality television competition series that features teams in a grueling race across Canada and the world served as an opportunity to confront stereotypes, homophobia, ignorance, and racism, and raise awareness of issues faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the United States. Makokis and Johnson Indigenized the race starting from their team name, Team Ahkameyimok (in Cree: “Don’t give up, keep going, use whatever you have to get something done.”) Their team motto was also Ahkameyimok! “This is a phrase our elders use to encourage us to do our best and keep going no matter how difficult a situation may be. It’s also fun to say,” they explain. Makokis’ and Johnson’s clothing called attention to specific issues; handmade red ribbon skirts and bandanas for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and “Water Is Life” blue shirts to draw attention to the cultural and ceremonial importance of water. Their participation was unapologetically Indigenous and they both serve as strong role models for Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ youth, as can be seen from photos that went viral on social media of young children dressing like them for Halloween. In a CBC interview, they posited, “If there’s two guys wearing a dress, they want to express their identity differently than the norm, then why does that matter? How is it hurting somebody else?” At the final Pit Stop of the season, the duo spoke from their hearts: “We’re sharing this stage with all of those people who helped us along the way—our communities, our elders, our family members—and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.” Makokis is a Two-Spirit doctor from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation near Edmonton, Canada, where he runs his practice specializing in transgender health. “Two-Spirit is a contemporary English term to reflect gender diversity that Indigenous nations have always had. As Indigenous people, we’ve always had gender diversity and sexual diversity in our Nations before colonization existed on Turtle Island (North America). With the imposition of colonization, Christianity, residential schools and ‘the Sixties Scoop,’ a lot of those teachings of gender diversity have been lost and a lot of people are searching for their identity as Two-Spirit people and the roles and responsibilities that come with that,” he says. From the age of four, Makokis knew he wanted to be a doctor. Since then, he has continually faced adversities
in the medical system related to being Indigenous. As an adult, he endeavors to break through the racism that Indigenous medical professionals face every day and gain respect for Indigenous practices. “Being from a marginalized community, being a Two-Spirit person, being an Indigenous person, I know how scary it can be to access care from the healthcare field,” he says. “It’s important to understand in the health field and health professions—whether that’s medicine, nursing, pharmacy—that there was an Indigenous health system here prior to contact. When we talk about Indigenous medicine and Indigenous ceremonies, those form the foundation of our health system. The original medicines on this continent, on Turtle Island, are Indigenous medicines. They’re not ‘alternative’ medicines. When we frame things from that perspective, Western medicine is actually ‘alternative’ medicine. For the health system and health practitioners to know that is im- portant.” Makokis trained at the University of Ottawa and received additional certification from the Aboriginal Family Medicine Training Program at the University of British Columbia. He also served as the national spokesperson for the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s “Lead Your Way” National Aboriginal Role Model Program, and as the chair of the Indigenous Wisdom Council of Alberta Health Services. He currently serves on the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute of Indigenous Health board at the University of Toronto. Johnson is a project consultant at Kehewin Health Services and an artist from the Navajo Nation, but now lives with Makokis in amiskwaciy-wâskahikan (Edmonton, Canada), Treaty Number Six Territory. Johnson attended Harvard University and has a degree in economics. He is working to revitalize traditional Cree/Nehiyaw birthing practices, medicines, and ceremonies in a contemporary midwifery environment. “Part documentarian, community organizer, searching mystic, and product development, my role is to build a system which enables Kehewin Cree Nation to rebuild their community and culture, one family at a time,” he explains. Before moving to Canada, Johnson worked as a consultant, contractor, and representative in Navajo Nation. He describes the challenges in finding work on the reservation: “I took time to reconnect with my Navajo heritage. Ideally I would have found work on the reservation, but because the unemployment rate is around 48.5 percent, it was next to impossible. Thus, I earned money by providing whatever services I could to whoever they would help. Though this initially started as a means to an end, it turned into a meaningful life experience that has taught me the power of connecting with others. A highlight included tutoring a high school senior for 12 weeks and seeing her SAT score increase by 300 points,” he says. The couple met after Johnson spotted Makokis as the centerfold in OUT Magazine about the Montana Two-Spirit Society on Facebook. The two met in person and the rest was history. Having grown up in similar communities, the commonalities in their lives brought them together. “We both want to show Indigenous youth that they can be successful, while also staying committed to their cultural and spiritual ways,” they say. They both enjoy marathons and triathlons and were married while running the 2017 BMO Harris Vancouver Marathon. They were the first couple in history
to do so, and then completed the race as a married couple. Winning first place in The Amazing Race Canada, Makokis and Johnson received two brand new cars, a once in a lifetime trip for two around the world, a $250,000 cash prize, and the coveted title of The Amazing Race Canada Champions. But the real prize is the exposure and awareness they have raised through their participation. The couple are now focused on building a cultural healing center for the Kehewin Cree Nation. “Building a cultural healing space is a huge step towards righting the wrongs of the past in this country. It’s a huge step towards rebuilding the Cree medical system, which was oppressed and decimated over hundreds of years,” Makokis says, adding, “As Kehewin works towards rebuilding that within their own nation and community, they’re going to see huge results of having healthier and happier children, healthier and happier families, and a healthier and happier nation, which is going to improve and maintain their sovereignty.” Reflecting on the meaningfulness of their experience on the show, Johnson says, “It’s a bit surreal to be considered LGBTQIA+ role models because we are really just being how we are in everyday life, however crazy that may be. It’s our hope that by being open about who we are, that every LGBTQIA+ youth will feel safe to be who they are. We have heard over and over from families who were able to have conversations with their kids about Two-Spirit, Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQIA+ Peoples, and MMIW [Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women] after seeing us on the show.” Makokis echoes Johnson’s comments: “A lot of my transgender patients have repeatedly shared similar sentiments, ‘Because you and Anthony were on the television and played how you played and were who you are, my parents and family look at me differently now and are accepting of who I am.’ This is one of the greatest accomplishments we could have achieved with our time on the show, and it speaks to the importance of having diversity in all aspects of the media, including fun reality television programs. It actually can be lifesaving.”
Taking part in a cooking challenge on The Amazing Race Canada. Photo courtesy of CTV.
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 17
Being Muxhe in Juchitán, Mexico Elvis Guerra (Binizá/Zapotec) is 25 years old and lives in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico. Cultural Survival’s Bia’ni Madsa’ Juárez López recently spoke with Guerra. Guerra is a fellow of the National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA) and a recipient of the CaSa prize for literary creation in the Zapotec language promoted by the painter Francisco Toledo, the Center for the Arts of San Agustín Etla, the National Council for Culture and Arts, the government of Oaxaca, and Editorial Calamus. Cultural Survival: Tell us about you and your Peoples. Elvis Guerra: I am a lawyer. I am also a poet, a translator,
and I work in textiles. I have a team of women who work with me producing traditional clothing of Juchitán, which is a Binizá (Zapotec) town that is located in southern Mexico with just over 100,000 inhabitants. Most of us speak Diidxazá (Zapotec) and are practically bilingual. Our people are characterized by our social struggles and the defense of our rights. During the 1866 French invasion, and in 1974, when the movement of the COCEI (Workers, Peasant, Student, Isthmus Coalition) arose to end the monopoly of the former Institutional Revolutionary Party, it was women who spoke out and took up arms to defend the people. There is no doubt a fundamental role of women in our culture. CS: Please comment on what it is to be muxhe, and how you participate in the community life. EG: I try to capture the worldview and idiosyncrasies of my
people through poetry. Many of my texts speak of characters from the community, especially the muxhes. Muxhe is a gender identity that has to do with men who are biologically born male and that over time adopt another gender different from their birth. Muxhes adopt exclusive roles of women; they are people who have sexual affinity with the same sex. Unlike gays, the muxhe community have very particular characteristics that have a lot to do with their sexuality in the way they exercise it. They may or may not be dressed as women. There is a historical rule that muxhes should be passive in a sexual relationship. There is no sexual or affective relationship between two muxhes. For the Zapotecs there are four genders: woman, man, lesbian, and muxhe. There are no bisexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals, or asexuals; rather, everything else is defined from the muxhes. There are the muxhenguiu: muxhes that are men who do not dress as women, who sometimes decide to even marry a woman and have children, but perform socially feminine functions and that society identifies as a muxhe nguiu (man’s) body. There are muxhes gunaas, which are those that are assumed as women, who believe that their body should be that of a woman, who live and adopt the dress of a Juchiteca woman; the closest thing would be the trans. There are also the lesbian muxhes who break the aforementioned rules 18 • www. cs. org
Diana Pastor Posing with Dark Skin (Guidiladi Yaase’), a book of erotic tales written by Astor Ledezma from Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, which Guerra translated into Zapoteco.
because they can relate to another muxhe, and have a love, dating, and sexual life. It is also called lesbian because it is the concept of two women together. Then comes a subcategory that has to do with women dressed as women who are active in a sexual relationship and are known as ramoneras. Ramoneras take the roles of men in bed. The name has a poetic origin; as it was a closed practice, muxhes could not be active, and they were the ones that broke the rule. The first man who turned was called Ramón. But since this cannot be named, the word Ramón was used as a form of euphemism, to say “there goes another one that turns around.” These are the peculiarities that have to do with the Zapotec culture and that make it different from Western culture. CS: Following the idea of the Western classifications of pronouns, how do you prefer to be called? EG: There are no genders in the Diidxazá (Zapotec) language.
But when I speak in Spanish, for muxhes dressed as women, I use ‘la’ muxhe, and for those who dress as men, ‘el’ muxhe. I don’t care how they label me. I’m interested in having my rights respected. CS: Juchitán is spoken of as the muxhe paradise. What’s your opinion? EG: I’m still waiting for that paradise. It is a dangerous con-
struction that muxhes have been part of. If it were a paradise All photos courtesy of Elvis Guerra.
they would not have killed Oscar Cazorla, Victor Corona, Adriana, and Lisa. This makes the other muxhes invisible; other names, other faces who are beaten, who suffer homophobia. We have a culture of more than 40 years defending the muxhes and they still kill us, beat us, stab us, spit on us, and yell at us. CS: In a context where sexual diversity and human rights are discussed, where do muxhes enter this discussion? EG: When I think of the LGBTQIA+ movement, I would like
to add muxhes’ ‘M’ to the acronym, because it is very specific to our community and culture. We support the other expressions of sexual diversity because we are also a minority, because we are defending our right to life, and our right to love each other no matter whom. We are empathetic, but I think the LGTBQIA+ fight does not include us at all. Juchitán is a society where the roles are very marked. For example, during a party, women sit on one side, men on the other. If you go to the market, you realize that mostly women handle it. There are spaces where women can be, where they participate. Who can sit with them? The muxhes. Who can engage in commerce? The muxhes, because it is mainly a women’s space. As muxhes are denied the right to school and other job aspirations, they do other activities such as handling decorations for traditional parties or cooking. Muxhes are mainly supported by women. Many women send their children, their husband, nephew, or uncle to buy from the muxhes, so this daily treatment makes the other normalize the muxhe. All of that helps make muxhes a little more visible. In Juchitán there is still the tequio, the mutual help. When someone dies, everyone cooperates, even if they have been fighting. Women go and cook and play their social role in a group.
CS: In other Indigenous cultures in the world, there seems to be no parallel with the acronym LGBTQIA+ (or muxhes). Why do you think that is?
EG: Many cultures still repress what they don’t think is on the level. I know people from other Indigenous cultures and ask them if there are homoerotic practices, and they answer, ‘Yes, but nobody names them;’ ‘Yes, but they are done in secret.’ I think that the Zapotec culture should serve as an example for others to free themselves. [At one time] the muxhes knew the right to go out without being violated, without being prey, for the simple fact of being muxhes. Right now the violence is unstoppable, but 20, 30, 40 years ago, the muxhes could not go out to meet other muxhes or dress as women because they would be taken away. Juchitán should be a reference point for other cultures to confront this system created from machismo, created from the binary, and thus defend what we are and what belongs to us. CS: What obstacles have you faced in your community being muxhe? EG: The first factor is access to education. When we reach
primary school, we want to be women, put on women’s clothes, and the education system tells us, ‘No. Here are your shirts, pants, and shoes.’ Then many muxhes are forced to defect. I faced that challenge. Deciding between being a muxhe or a professional forced me to choose to be a professional. Now I do fully live my sexuality, but at the age of 8 or 9, while my mother, my grandmother, my grandmother, my brothers, my family allowed it, the educational system said no. I have learned that I cannot fight with the whole world, because what they say about me does not matter to me. CS: What are your personal and collective goals? EG: To grow as a merchant, to grow in textiles. My book
is about to be released, it is called Ramoneras. I have three dreams in life, but I will reveal one. Before reaching my 30s, I dream of creating a home for muxhes—a house that serves as a school of arts and crafts for the muxhes that are excluded from state schools, so that they can learn a trade, and a house for old muxhes, a place where they receive food, a roof, love, a hug, from other muxhes so they do not feel alone.
Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 19
we are sacred
we are diversity
Gender Doesn’t Matter to Me Anne Olli (Sámi from Finland)
really wanted to come to the United Nations Permanent Forum to meet other Indigenous Peoples, especially those who are queer, as I am. When thinking about the Sámi community, we are often very silent about queer issues and it is often forgotten that we exist. We are still a bit of a taboo in our community, but the situation is getting better. There have been five Sápmi Pride events for us queer Sámi people, and it’s something we really need to keep going strong because it’s really empowering for us. People easily assume that we are heterosexual or cisgendered. For me personally, I’m pansexual, so gender doesn’t matter to me. I have dated men before. Maybe that’s one reason why people have taken me as a straight person. When I started organizing Sápmi Pride in 2017, that was the moment when I really came out of the closet, even though I wasn’t really hiding it before. People just assumed that I was straight because I was dating men. My family is good and I have a lot of friends surround-
Double Social Stigma and Discrimination Still Exists Juan Antonio Correa Calfin (Mapuche from Chile)
atin America is taking to the streets to claim their collective rights, tired of years of discrimination and inequality— and Chile is no exception. It is a country where Indigenous Peoples are not recognized in their constitution and whose institutional practice has always been accompanied by State violence and the failure to follow international standards of human rights. This is the time when the world of philanthropy and Indigenous organizations can talk about LGBTQIA+ issues after years of invisibility and denial. It is no longer sustainable, like the global climate, to continue with these bad practices. In Chile, the issue is not addressed except as a “wink” in the prevention of HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although there is a large amount of sexual diversity in both urban and rural communities, few dare to lead a nonheteronormative life openly due to the double social stigma
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ing me. I know that it has been a lot harder for many of my friends. This silence is the hardest thing for many of us. It can be even worse than receiving verbal discrimination. Among some of my friends and in my own experiences, I am usually not asked how my partner is doing, but I know that straight people get asked that often. It is this silence that we need to break. We need to be more open. I know that there are a lot of people who are not homophobic or transphobic, but they are not showing their support either. Maybe that’s something everyone could do—be an open supporter. When it comes to Finland, we need a new trans law because in Finland trans people still need to get sterilized [before they can legally change their gender]. I was really inspired by the previous organizers of Sápmi Pride, the ones who started it. I have been proud to continue their work. I’m really inspired whenever someone raises Indigenous queer issues. It hasn’t been just me here at the Permanent Forum. I have heard some statements about Two-Spirit people and LGBTQIA+ people and I’m really happy that I’m not the only one here that raises them. We are still here, and together we are strong.
and discrimination that still exists. In traditional families and Mapuche culture, there is a sexual diversity intimately related to spirituality and sexuality, and important roles around traditional medicine. The same is true throughout America, where scholars have catalogued sexual diversity and its relationship with Indigenous religiosity as sacred links. In this type of study, the privacy of the subjects is respected and no further development is given to the recognition of sexual practices. Throughout the Americas, sexual diversity among Indigenous Peoples is one of the most difficult issues to address. In my work in the world of philanthropy, traveling through different territories, I try to address this topic discreetly as I seek the reality of sexual diversity in local contexts. In Mexico and Guna Yala, for example, there is greater acceptance of diversity as evidenced by the figure of the Muxhe of Oaxaca and that of the Wigunduguid of the Guna people. Yet, while their roles and participation in social life are well defined, discrimination is also part of their lives. In the Andean world, specifically Peru and Bolivia, there is more prejudice towards the LGBTQIA+ population, with young people having to migrate to cities, even living in the streets, and frequently taking to prostitution as the only way to escape from this discrimination.
The world of drugs, violence, and death are very present in the life of the brothers and sisters of sexual diversity in the city, and the highest rates of murder and suicide are closely related to this segment of the population. We have pressed to incorporate the rights of the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ population in the demands of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, and highlighted the introduction of sexually transmitted diseases unknown some years ago in the Indigenous territories and which our traditional medicine cannot control. Only last year, with the help of International Funders for Indigenous Peoples and the world of philanthropy, were we able to address this issue at an event parallel to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Further discrimination happens as representatives do not know the diverse social reality in their communities and others who follow Western religious customs, which is a byproduct of modern colonialism and affects the development of policies for the Indigenous LGBTQIA+ population. We continue to confront this challenge by supporting local communities. The participation of sexually diverse populations is a required component for obtaining grant funding, as is women’s participation. Other philanthropic institutions have been implementing this standard, which fills us with hope. There is a cultural revival around sexual diversity and rights, but there is still a long way to go for Indigenous societies, organizations, and leaders. It is a necessary recognition for
We Contribute to Diversity Olowaili “Madre de las estrellas” Green Santacruz (Guna from Colombia)
e, Guna, are binational Peoples with one community in Panama and two in Colombia, one in the countryside and the city. I live in the Guna Abya Yala region. I have lived in Medellín since I was 7 years old and I am now 26. I’m finishing my last semester studying audiovisual communication, and I am an audiovisual producer and cultural manager. My company, sentARTE, works to promote ethnic and gender diversity. I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala and there the LGBTQIA+ community calls itself queer, but in Colombia, queer is not used. Gay and lesbian is used here. There is a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination in Colombia. Gaytradi is used for gay; macheri is used for a lesbian. We do not have a specific word to address a transgender person. In our Guna spiritual tradition the gods sent a man and a woman, but then they sent a third person, who is a being without gender. From the age of 12, I knew that my sexual preference was directed
Juan Antonio Correa Calfin with UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
our time, the yearning for justice and recognition to all who have fought for years for respect for diversity and collective rights in all their magnitude. We will continue to favor the processes so that Indigenous LGBTQIA+ communities can claim their collective rights and eradicate violence and discrimination. The demand for justice in capitals of the world must be accompanied by a recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, their cultural, social, and gender diversity, and respect for their traditional lifeways, lands, and resources. — Juan Antonio Correa Calfin (Mapuche) is director of Social Indígena, a nongovernmental organization.
towards women. It was very difficult for me because in many Indigenous communities a lot of machismo is seen and women have to fulfill a specific role. It was hard at first because my preferences were not accepted. I had a partner when I turned 15 who helped me a lot, and that was when I decided to tell my parents about her. It was a very liberating day, but it was hard. My parents accepted me but it was also difficult for them. After discussing the matter with my family, I no longer cared what people thought. However, I am in the process of accepting myself discreetly to support my family. Defining myself is a political act, and with it comes the desire to become an activist. This is not easy for a woman because cultural identity texts are imposed on us that contain so many gender oppressions. It will be a very long struggle, but I feel I have a mission to help other women, especially Indigenous women, whose roles are doubly oppressive. I have no problems identifying with the term LGBTQIA+. Above all things, I am a human being wanting to love another human being. I have faced several obstacles. The first is belonging to an Indigenous culture where women occupy a specific place. Secondly, [I live in a] society that is closed to the idea of diversity. Colombia is a very closed country for these issues. We cannot yet adopt children.Transgender people are very visible and Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 21
we are sacred
we are diversity
discriminated against in our villages. Many times they banish them, they throw them out of the villages. I know of positive experiences in Panama of trans being beloved and respected women in their towns. Here in Colombia I don’t know of these cases. We need to educate society to be informed, because we are not “weird” people. We are equal. Myths that we are carriers of AIDS must be banished. Such education should start in school, with children. You have to instill this education to raise awareness in society. Gay men in Colombia are badly portrayed; less so the lesbian who has a false aura of being bisexual, typical of sexist fantasies. All this is very complicated in the street where we become more invisible. There
are a couple of female artists, like Tatto, who, with their art, address these stereotypes. My profession fits perfectly with the struggles of Indigenous Peoples. The fact that I live in the city, separated from the community, is looked down on, but I still go to community meetings led by caciques (chiefs). As an urban Indigenous person, I have encountered ignorance about Indigenous Peoples. My audiovisual company was created to safeguard and make Indigeous Peoples visible. I made a documentary for television that will be released in January, which talks about the feminine power in the community. My work contributes to the construction of a more equitable society. We contribute to the visibility of our Indigenous cultures and diversity in general.
Our Languages Must Survive
Doing this work as an openly gay man, I have at times been met with homophobic prejudice and outright hostility. To my shock, considering that we come from a community of Khoekhoe, or people who respected humanity, the individual, and diversity, and in a space where I thought I would find acceptance, I have met some ignorant minds. Acknowledging that 366 years of colonization and Christian missionaries have disrupted and destroyed the fabric of our existence and who we are today is but a product of this. I have heard of gay men, Khoe and settlers, who were drowned during colonial times at the Cape. This is something that still needs research, exploring, and acknowledgement. I hear that certain groups have chosen to not support my work. But this work matters to me and I will continue to push open these doors. South Africa has one of the best constitutions in the world, and yet LGBTQIA+ people are still raped, murdered, and subject to violence in poor and working class communities. If you have money, you stand a better chance of your constitutional rights being protected. I would like to believe that I am taken seriously, however, I believe that my sexuality has impacted how valid my work is and the amount of support I get. In our communities, Christianity still plays a huge role in how LGBTQIA+ are viewed. Being working class and poor, I am taken even less seriously in addition to my sexuality. It is important that the language of my forefathers be spoken, especially in a country with 11 official languages, none of them being the language of the Indigenous people of southern Africa. We recently piloted a project at Hillwood Primary School where I facilitate Khoekhoegowab courses right here in Cape Town for primary school kids. My short term goal as a language activist is to raise money to enable my work to have more impact. I do this work with very little support from our own, though I acknowledge the few who provide some financial support for this work. It will probably take two generations for people to see the importance of this work. We can only hope that our languages will survive two generations.
Denver Toroxa Breda (Khoe from South Africa)
’m a Khoe language and cultural activist based in ‘||Hui !Gais’, which is the original name of Cape Town, South Africa. Language is critical to how a community sees themselves and the world they inhabit. Their understanding of the world is formed by the thousands of words and what remains when those words are taken. This is the case with our Khoe people in South Africa, a people robbed of our Khoe languages with no restorative attempts made post-1994 to acknowledge our violent language loss. As Khoe people, we cannot be passive about this evil of being ignored. From December 1–8, 2018, we held the first ever Khoi languages week. The purpose of the week was to create awareness about Khoe languages, which, in 2019, are still not recognized as official languages. Despite 25 years into democracy in South Africa, we are still a people without a recognized language, culture, or identity. Our children are still not able to be taught our Khoe languages. This is really sad in a country that speaks to having the most liberal constitutions and that is regarded as one that many countries model themselves on, yet our Khoe people are still invisible. We are not seen in public discourse, we are not spoken about; they pretend that we do not exist. Part of finding ourselves and our heritage is to reclaim the languages spoken here.
22 • www. cs. org
The Situation for Women is More Closed
Photo courtesy of OCHA Colombia/ Linda Mendoza Ramírez.
Arika* (Embera Chambi from Colombia)
identify as bisexual. In our Embera language there is no translation for bisexual, transgender, or intersex people; only male or female. In the Embera nation, trans females have recently become more visible. In our language, WERA PA (false woman) denotes the complexity of the matter. I have conversed with elders and learned there have always been lesbian women, gay men, and trans, but it has been a taboo topic and they were expelled from the community or forced to marry under the heterosexual norms to maintain inheritances or familial last names. When I was 20 in Cartagena, I met a woman who was about 36 years old. I will never forget how she approached me. We were in a forum on Indigenous Peoples and she said, “Your name is a flower as beautiful as you.” At the end of the event we went to dance and ended up being intimate. I had never been with a woman, and it was a very strong encounter with myself. Later I was very attracted to my best friend. Nothing happened for a long time, but my attraction to her was alive. I recognized that I was not in love with my boyfriend at the time. I ended up telling my best friend about my feelings and was surprised that she also liked me. We have been together for three years now and I have recognized myself as bisexual. With my family the subject is complex. My maternal Embera Chamí family does know, they are a little more open. They wanted to break many social norms within the family; three of the six women did not marry or have children. They didn’t have many lovers either. I think they accept me. My father’s family are mestizos and very Catholic and rejected the issue totally. They don’t know about me and I don’t know how to tell them. I have a cousin who is gay and decided to flee to Argentina with his partner. Within the community and as an organization leader, I have a leadership role that makes my representation complex. I discovered that some leaders are homosexuals and keep it private for the same reason, because many people in the community would not support them in leadership settings just
If We Do Not Speak, People Will Continue to Ignore Us Jose Gaspar Sánchez (Lenca from Honduras)
s an Indigenous gay man, it has not been easy. I have had to face the rejection of family and community, and I made the decision to flee the environment of violence and discrimination that exists in Honduras. I have always said that we Indigenous gays face double or triple discrimination—
because they are gay, bisexual, or trans. It is very very complicated. The obstacles at the public level are many. The situation for women is much more closed. There are men who date their boyfriends and they even have a wide circle of friends, but for women it is much more closed. There are women who have been raped for the simple fact of having a wife or a girlfriend. I fear for my safety, for the safety of my partner. I like to deal with the community, with our people, on the issues of communication, community radio, and human rights. I prefer to have my life in private for security reasons. It is tolerated to be diverse if yours is not made public, but it is not accepted if you go outside with signs of physical affection. Trans women have become more visible; gays and lesbians, not so much. I want to address the issue of homosexuality and bisexuality in Indigenous communities. I want to share my sexuality and my stories. I have done so with lesbian Indigenous women, daughters of leaders and daughters of authorities, also with very humble countryside women who are discriminated against and who end up fleeing their communities or have been abused. It is a more complex situation for women because in Embera communities there is much machismo. It is a very patriarchal society. Women face a lot of pressure within the traditional structure, but they are also discriminated against for being Indigenous, for being poor, for not speaking Spanish well, because of the way they dress—not only because of their sexuality. With my partner we continue to build on what love gives us. With my family, I have a lot of responsibilities to support them. I sometimes think of making risky and daring decisions, such as leaving. I want to change to other things. Then I calmly tell myself that I need to organize priorities and responsibilities. I am very happy with my life. * pseudonym
first for being Indigenous, then for being gay, and finally for being of limited economic resources. With money, everyone respects you. A lot of gays are chased from their homes and their families based on principles under the guise of morality or religious issues; these are factors that promote hatred and racism. Our job at the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) is to report violations of human rights. My role was always in community radio. I accompanied communities when they had to file complaints, and organized workshops and talks about ILO Convention 169 because of concessions granted by the State of Honduras to private companies. Internally there has always been a Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 23
we are sacred
we are diversity
struggle about raising awareness at the level of the community and organizations which we are a part of. One of the important achievements that I can recognize about this work is that there have been advances within COPINH, that the space of sexual diversity was achieved. When we were in a general assembly choosing our coordinating team, to create an open space for sexual diversity, it was exciting to see women and men raising their hands in favor and without anyone opposing. Yet when we arrived in the communities, talking about the subject was strange. People began to feel uncomfortable, to criticize the space and the whole thing. I decided to come out in 2013. The first person I talked to about this was Berta Cáceres. I started talking about it and I explained what I felt. The answer I received from her was supportive. She told me that I didn’t have to feel shame, I didn’t have to feel sorry for being who I am; rather, that I should be proud. Later, it was the same with my family, with my mother more than anything. I was rejected by my brother at first. At COPINH, I came out publicly in an assembly that was held in May 2014. That was where we took the opportunity to open the space of sexual diversity within the organization. I began to notice how some people no longer wanted to shake my hand. They greeted me differently. But as we began giving workshops and talking about the issue through community radio, the environment has improved. I believe that there is an understanding on the part of the partners. It is not that Indigenous Peoples are ignorant about these issues that have always existed; they have just never had a space to talk about it. We are in a fight. We are partly invisible for fear of saying who we are, for fear of being attacked, for fear of being thrown out. If we do not speak, do not discuss it, people will continue to ignore us. Within the workshops on any subject, we always take advantage of the forum to raise awareness. It happens that the agendas are full of political and economic issues. Our organization attends lots of cases and almost never is there room to speak. I remember having been in national spaces such as the Platform of Social and Popular Movements of Honduras, a space that brings together 36 organizations in the country. With all the issues that were to be discussed, we were always trying to put the LGBTQIA+ community on the agenda. I think that despite the difficulties, we have progressed little by little. The coup d’état of 2009 made all the organizations and a large part of the Honduran people go out into the streets to demonstrate to demand that constitutional order be restored. That’s where the flags began to come out. I remember once in one of those demonstrations that people were surprised when they saw a rainbow flag. They kept asking about which party it belonged to. That is where we began to explain that this flag represents sexual diversity, and we educated the country that way. The Free Party that was formed after the coup opened a secretariat of sexual diversity within the party and was a great achievement for the LGBTQIA+ community of Honduras. Before the coup, LGBTQIA+ organizations did not participate in politics; we were more isolated, the leaders of these organi24 • www. cs. org
Jose Gaspar Sánchez
zations have been killed. That’s where it started, talking about empowerment as LGBTQIA+ people and getting into politics to discuss or debate our issues. The current fight in Honduras is not about seeking the right to marry. The first thing we are asking for from the State is security because there are hate crimes. We ask for our rights to be guaranteed, that we not be discriminated against for going to the hospital or a school (we have had cases of trans people have been taken out of class). The church attacks us like conservative parties. They will always oppose us, creating obstacles so that we do not advance. There are evangelical pastors who have used the national media to campaign against the struggle of LGBTQIA+ organizations. It will always be difficult to talk about these issues, but if we don’t put them on the table, nobody wants to discuss them. This is also part of recognizing our roots. In Indigenous communities in the north and the south, we were not previously frowned upon for being diverse, but rather we were people of respect; they called us people with double spirits. In the wake of colonization, negative concepts were created regarding our identity or our bodies. The claims we are making break that silence and also break the concept of seeing ourselves as rare people, as if we were coming from another planet. Religions have promoted patriarchy. The Lenca people, where I come from, are historically macho, very patriarchal, but from the work of women’s organizations we are dismantling these concepts. With COPINH we have made women free to own the land, which was not possible before. I would like a society where children can express themselves freely as they grow up and do not have to hide. We live hidden by fear, by rejection. The education system needs to educate people on these issues. The current one is not designed to teach, but simply to train workers for the maquiladora industries. Changing this model is one of the demands we make to the State of Honduras, because it is a system rooted in homophobia and racism. — Jose Gaspar Sánchez now lives in the United States and was the sexual diversity coordinator for COPINH.
There is Limited Awareness in the Philippines Bestang Sarah Dekdeken (Kankanaey Igorot from the Philippines)
s in many countries in Asia, the LGBTQIA+ community in the Philippines continues to experience rampant discrimination, most of which goes unreported. LGBTQIA+ in the Philippines are generally deprived of their political, economic, cultural, and human rights, such as denial of access to public service, refusal of admission to or expulsion from educational institutions and jobs, unequal treatment in workplaces, harassment, and violence. The denial of basic rights to employment, housing, education, and health are driving the community deeper into poverty. To date, no law has yet been passed to provide for the full protection of LGBTQIA+ rights in the country. In Cordillera Indigenous communities there remains a low level of acceptance of LGBTQIA+. In effect, many LGBTQIA+ still prefer not to reveal their gender identity. These are mainly those who come from communities where Indigenous cultural practices and sociopolitical systems persist and the culture of machismo is relatively strong. On the other hand, in communities where Indigenous sociopolitical systems have started to disintegrate, more LGBTQIA+ are becoming visible and publicly acknowledged. Most of these have acknowledged themselves as either gays or lesbians. Examples of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ in Indigenous communities in the region include bullying, harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and threats of non-inheritance of privately acquired properties of the family. This discrimination is tracked in the history of our culture as Indigenous Peoples, where, unlike many other Indigenous cultures, men are dominant in traditional decision-making processes, rituals, and other community affairs, and in our Indigenous sociopolitical institutions and systems. A recent study jointly conducted by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and Innabuyog on the history and current situation of LGBTQIA+ in the Cordillera found that at the core of the discrimination against LGBTQIA+ is their inability to pro-create and their non-conformity with traditional practices where individual roles are divided between males and females. Especially in the older days of warrior societies, procreation was seen as essential in the continuity and strengthening of a Tribe. LGBTQIA+ are also discriminated against due to their non-conformity with the requisites of traditional leadership, where one has to be married with a person from the opposite sex, produce children, and have physical and mental strength. In this context, being an LGBTQIA+ is taboo, and until this day remains a sensitive issue. Apart from violations of basic human rights, discrimination has also created vulnerability to trauma and other mental health problems, as well as anti-social activities. Some LGBTQIA+ have, at some point in their lives, come to believe that they are indeed mentally ill since they were told that their “abnormality,” or non-conformity to heterosexuality,
LGBTQIA+ people and advocates join the 12th Baguio Pride Parade in November 2018. Photo courtesy of Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
is a mental illness, while others have resorted to addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. As a coping mechanism, many LGBTQIA+ tend to stay together, hide their gender identity, and migrate to urban centers where they can more freely express themselves. Under the dominance of male chauvinism, lesbians historically have experienced less discrimination compared to gay men since they have traditionally been seen as physically stronger than heterosexual women and were thereby useful in agricultural activities and other manual labor. In general, gay men who remain in their communities can only get work in beauty parlors, restaurants, or small stores. It is true that the LGBTQIA+ who contribute to the financial needs of their families experience less discrimination; this degree of acceptance translates to less verbal and physical abuse, but not necessarily inclusion in community leadership or participation in customary activities. A positive experience of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance is that LGBTQIA+ who actively take part in Indigenous Peoples’ struggles for human rights and against destructive “development” projects have gained the respect of Indigenous communities, including traditional leaders and elders. At present, many Indigenous communities in the Philippines have a limited awareness and understanding of the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identities. Very few in these communities have joined LGBTQIA+ organizations, since these are concentrated in the cities. Furthermore, LGBTQIA+ in Indigenous communities are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination: discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity, for belonging to the oppressed and neglected Indigenous Peoples, and for belonging to the poor segment of Philippine society. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance and Innabuyog continue to study the situation and issues of LGBTQIA+ in Cordillera Indigenous communities, and assist in organizing LGBTQIA+ to take part in the overall struggle of Indigenous Peoples for human rights, right to ancestral lands and resources, and right to self-determination. —Bestang Sarah Dekdeken (Kankanaey Igorot) is from the Cordillera region in northern Philippines and is the current secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 25
Unpacified in the Pacific An Interview with Fijian Poet-Activist
he island nation of Fiji has long been a crossroads in the South Pacific, where ancient canoe-voyaging neighbors, shipwrecked European explorers, and modern multinational corporations have impacted its shores. Under British colonization, iTaukai (Indigenous Fijians) experienced the repression of many traditional beliefs and practices, including the marginalization of their own language, while forced to make room for the Empire’s importation of indentured laborers from India. Though it gained independence in 1970, the country’s political stability has been rocked by four coups d’état since then, sparking the rise of an active civil society sector speaking truth to power—which, in Fiji, lies not only in the hands of elected officials, but its Great Council of Chiefs and the Church. Women’s rights groups have long led the charge for social change, and the LGBTQIA+ community is increasingly asserting itself as well, finding the literary and arts scenes to be safe spaces for dialogue and collaboration as well as for beauty. Poet and activist Peter Sipeli has become a leading figure in these interconnected realms while contributing much to the further development of Fiji’s creative sector by curating spaces and literary events. He performs regularly and, beyond his own numerous works in print, is publishing a forthcoming anthology featuring the country’s emerging poets. He cites storytelling as a key tool for community engagement in his advocacy work, which he shared in a TEDx Suva talk. Cristina Verán recently spoke with Sipeli.
Cristina Verán: How do you identify, in terms of where you come from and the spaces you inhabit in Fiji? Peter Sipeli: Traditionally, when introducing a person here,
you state their place of origin, family name, and name. I’m from Lau [the island], Vanuabalavu [the district], Sawana [the village], Sipeli-Rakai [family name], the son of Tawelu, and lastly, my name is Peter. That maps me in a Fijian context. On my father’s side, I also have lineage from Tonga, as well as some from Samoa, the Solomon Islands, and Scotland via my 26 • www. cs. org
mother. I was raised and reside currently in Suva. I also identify as a gay man. CV: What does Suva represent in terms of regional context and as an urban island space? PS: Suva is kind of the epicenter, being a port of entry. It’s
also a base for all those large, ghastly international donors [EU, AusAID, USAID] and fancy UN agencies—complete with cargoes of white international experts that shape development here. As home to the University of the South Pacific, this city also hosts the largest Pacific Island student population in the region. And it’s been central in regard to the circulation of poetry and literature, not only in Fiji, but across the region. CV: Please tell us a bit about your own experience there, especially with regard to the LGBTQIA+ community. PS: I was among the first cadre of gay people that stood up—
and by this, I mean being “out” and visible—when we began the first real gay lobbying group here to openly advocate for our equal rights. Before 1999–2000, there were really no politically active organizations. Socially though, there was the Miss Gay pageant, and nightclubs here would often host elaborate gay-themed nights and drag shows. Gay and trans people are more accepted for making money as performers, rather then being actually allowed their own safe public spaces. That scene has alas been more about gay men and trans women, not celebrating lesbian cis women.
CV: Indigenous cultures around the Pacific have historically embraced the kind of identities that the West would ascribe to the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, for example, mahu in Hawai’i, fa’afafine in Samoa, and so on. What about in Fiji? PS: English colonizers did a very thorough job of indoctri-
nating our people into Christianity, to the point where now Fijians see aspects of our own pre-European contact culture as ‘demonic’ and ‘pagan.’ It’s very difficult in Fiji to even have a conversation about our Indigenous traditions of being, for
example, vaka sa lewalewa (in the spirit of a woman); what Native Americans might call Two-Spirit. So much of this kind of knowledge has been lost. CV: In terms of the law, what challenges do you face and how have you and others sought to overcome them? PS: In the late 1990s, we activists built a close relationship
with the Fiji Human Rights Commission to advocate for our protection, safety, and equal access. The issue of love is really important, too. Where are people like me able to go to find love? In 2000, a bill was put before the then-newly elected Labour government of Mahendra Chaudhary to amend the Fiji Constitution and bill of rights regarding sexual orientation and the right to marry. That government was toppled by a civilian coup that held Fiji’s Parliament hostage, after which the military came into power to run the country (the leader of which, Josaia Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama, remains Fiji’s Prime Minister). The new regime proposed an amendment to disallow marriage for non-heterosexual people, so we took to the streets. CV: Your creative voice emerged from your activism. How did that journey begin? PS: I have always been an ally to women’s activism, even
before I could fully comprehend my presence in those spaces, as a volunteer with the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and for a community theater group called Women’s Action for Change. They wholeheartedly supported our [LGBTQIA+ focused] work and offered us our own space. It was at the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre that I started to use storytelling in my work, a way of talking about lived experience to create a deeper understanding of the need for equal rights from a more ‘human’ perspective. CV: Tell us about the poetry scene in Suva, its history and social and political contexts, and also your beginnings within it. PS: In the late ’60s/ early ’70s, the first wave of contemporary
Pacific writers—people like Albert Wendt, Konai Helu Thaman, and Epeli Hau’ofa (founder of USP’s Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture)—were writing against the colony. As our countries were gaining independence, they responded to a global call to write in our words, with our own worldview, remembering our knowledge. The second wave looked at issues impacting the region, a nuclear-free and independent Pacific, rethinking Pacific education, the role of women in society, the impact of development, etc. And now in this third wave, we’re looking inside, at ourselves; a more insular kind of writing. Poetry was something I’d initially done on the sly, just for me. But I became good mates with and inspired by people like [poet and scholar] Teresia Teaiwa, for example. Gary Apted, a friend to many in the scene, had opened the doors of his nightclub, Traps, to host the first public poetry readings in Fiji. It was there that I got to hear Hau’ofa read his poems and see Luisa Tora’s early performance pieces—especially one about “building a closet.” They were the masters; part of what would become the Niu Waves collective, which included other important voices like Cresantia Koya [a.k.a. OneAngry Native], Susie Sela, etc. I knew I wanted to share my work
with that kind of crowd. When our slam poetry scene developed soon after, I was reborn. CV: In this International Decade of Indigenous Languages, how present is Fijian in today’s poetry? PS: The scene here happens mostly in English, although
Apolonia Raitamata, a Fijian academic, does read exclusively in Fijian. It’s an issue of fluency, really. Fijian is a very complex language. I think poets also use English because they feel able to write more openly and easily about certain issues. Though I never write fully in the language, I do use Fijian terms and phrases in my poetry. There’s a piece I perform—“Maps to the Ancestors”—accompanied by an audiovisual recording of a vucu (a male chant, in Fijian) written specifically for the piece, played in intervals between each poetic verse.
CV: You’ve contributed significantly to the development of spaces, events, and publications to support the movement. Please share a few highlights. PS: I founded and published ARTtalk Fiji magazine and
founded Poetry Shop Fiji, and also a new poetry network that manages slams, readings, and monthly circles for poets and writers to find not only a sense of community but also a sense of safety to share work that may speak to their sense of isolation and ostracization. At the moment there aren’t any queer women’s voices in the scene, or rather, if there are, they’re not “out,” not even to me. I’m publishing a forthcoming Poetry Shop Fiji anthology featuring emerging writers called #DontStepOnTheMat. In a Pacific cultural setting, you try your best when you walk into a space to not step on the good parts of [traditional, hand-woven] floor mats, thus being respectful of others and the elders. In this case, it means to be careful and respect this space. CV: What is next for you? PS: I’m finishing the final book in a three-part series. First
was Maps of the Ancestors, then came Sleeping Ancestors, and next will be The Ascendant, in which I’m talking to a “future me.” In 2020, I’ll spend at least eight months away at international residencies, including Parasite Gallery in Hong Kong, Vunilagi Vou Gallery (run by Emma Tavola, who is also Fijian) and Te Papa Museum in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the Festival of Pacific Arts in Hawai’i, and finally to Geneva for the Foundation Jan Mikalski residency for writers. — Cristina Verán is an international Indigenous Peoples issues specialist, consultant, researcher, strategist, curator, educator, and media maker. She is a longtime United Nations correspondent and was a founding member of the UN Indigenous Media Network. Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 27
KO E F G ra n t Part n er S potlig h t
Revitalizing the Kinyindu Language Association for the Survival of the Cultural Heritage of the Nyindu Indigenous Peoples (ASPHAN), Democratic Republic of Congo
Head of Kilimbwe village, Kabumbanyungu, reading the newly printed Kinyindu calendar. Photo by ASPHAN.
he Batwa Nyindu of the Mwenga territory in South Kivu fear that dominant languages are steadily phasing out the Kinyindu language, and with it the Nyindu identity. Kinyindu is an endangered language of the Batwa Nyindu Peoples living in the Lwindi rural district in the Mwenga territory in South Kivu, an eastern Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Association for the Survival of the Cultural Heritage of the Nyindu Indigenous Peoples (ASHPAN) obtained a Keepers of the Earth Fund grant to create a pioneer dictionary in Kinyindu, as well as a calendar to demonstrate the Kinyindu system of time. The use of the dictionary sparked interest in Nyindu culture and has been promoting cultural revitalization and inclusion. More than 4,000 words and comprising idioms are provided with exemplary phrases in the dictionary. “This constitutes a historic achievement in our Banyindu Peoples’ cultural history. As a result, the outcome contributes significantly to excluding the possibility that our Kinyindu language will vanish, as many neighboring non-Indigenous community members were predicting, and some wishing. We are so proud of this achievement. The project has mostly served as a powerful catalyst for community efforts to document and promote our Kinyindu language,” ASHPAN said in a statement. The objective of the project was to promote Nyindu ancestral wisdom contained in traditional proverbs. Musombwa Igunzi Michel, ASHPAN coordinator, described the project in detail in a report to Cultural Survival: “Thanks to the grant received 28 • www. cs. org
from KOEF, our team has worked on promoting our traditional knowledge by translating these proverbs first into Kiswahili and then into French. In order to do so, we gathered with literate Nyindu and Kinyindu speakers to discuss the procedures to be followed in working on the translations. Given that some of these remnant Nyindu speakers do not speak or understand French, we worked first on the Kiswahili translation. We then worked on the French translation from both the solely Kinyindu version of the proverbs which had been produced before the current project started, and by referring to the bilingual Kinyindu-Kiswahili version. We made electronic versions available, and after some revision and editing, the printed versions of the bilingual Banyindu Proverbs Book in Kinyindu and Kiswahili, and the bilingual Banyindu Indigenous Proverbs Book in Kinyindu and French were published. Finally, the books were introduced to our community members and copies were also distributed to eight schools operating in our Lwindi territory.” Another achievement, thanks to this project, was collecting and gathering informational data from Banyindu community members in the Lwindi community and documenting it for future use. Thousands of words and phrases, including idioms, were collected. “At the community level, we enjoy seeing that the phrases were provided in real Banyindu life environment,” said Namashewa Kabamba Samson, a member of the ASHPAN board of directors. He continued, “The collected phrases conveyed sayings relaying our daily Banyindu life. The phrasal dictionary is like our community’s oral history, which is not only enjoyable but also a cultural historical conservation tool for us. This activity brought forth agreement on meanings of words and expressions. This has opened room to learn from one another and also to enrich our knowledge of the meaning of idioms and words. Every family in our Tribe is used to certain expressions, so sharing other words and expressions proved to be enriching. Thanks to the Kinyindu Pioneer Phrasal Dictionary Project, we feel more energized in revitalizing our language. We firmly hope that the impact of the issued documents will be long lasting and will impact this generation.” ASHPAN will also partner with local radio to promote the organization’s mission and Nyindu culture and Kinyindu language throughout the region.
In 2019, the Keepers of the Earth Fund awarded 20 grants in 10 countries totaling $79,864 to support Indigenous Peoples’ community advocacy and development projects. Learn more at www.cs.org/koef.
B azaa r a rt ist:
Celebrating Our Connection to the Land
annette Vanderhoop, founder and owner of Island Naturals, is a talented jewelry maker and designer. She hails from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard (Noepe) in Massachusetts, where for at least 25,000 years the ancestors of Wampanoag people have lived, pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing, horticulture, and wild harvest. Her modus operandi is to educate people to respect nature and Native Peoples through art. “My work is a form of environmental expression. By utilizing parts of the natural world, including found and reconstituted materials, there is no lack of inspiration or originality,” she says. Made by hand one at a time, each jewelry piece is unique and cannot be duplicated. Using locally sourced wampum shells from the rugged coastline of Martha’s Vineyard, Vanderhoop’s colorful jewelry is appreciated for both its eccentricity and simplicity. She also makes Native–themed crafts from natural found and reconstituted materials. “I mean to inspire both the wearer and the viewer and connect them to the essence of the sea,” she says. Vanderhoop’s work is recognizable and sought after by collectors. She has sold over 200 of her signature, one of a kind wampum necklaces to visitors and collectors from all over the world. “My desire is to fight stereotypes as they relate to Native people, Native American jewelry, and Indigenous fashion specifically. My work is decidedly contemporary.” Europeans reached Noepe 400 years ago, and increasingly English settlements on the island impacted the Indigenous oceangoing communities through land theft, religious persecution, violence, debt servitude, and disease. In the past century, more Native land has been stolen as Tribal members have faced economic pressure to sell their land and leave the island altogether. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe finally received federal recognition in 1987, however, the Tribe continues the fight to protect their rights as a sovereign Nation. “I started my jewelry business, Island Naturals, in 2006. I sell my work at the Martha’s Vineyard
Artisans Festival in the summers. I am honored as the first and only Aquinnah Wampanoag member to be included in this juried show. I have mastered concepts of color, design and shape and have created a signature for my work over the course of 12 years,” Vanderhoop says. A woman of many talents, Vanderhoop owns and operates three businesses. “I am an artist, a yoga instructor, and a master gardener. I was the first of my family to ever go to college as a Gates Millennium Scholar through American Indian Graduate Center. I hold a bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College in Environmental Studies and Art.” Vanderhoop is also a published author and illustrator and educator of Wampanoag history, culture, and arts. She says, “I have dedicated my life to revitalizing my heritage. I have run children’s programs for my Tribe and got our museum, the Aquinnah Cultural Center, up and going. I also currently teach yoga to my Tribal people under a diabetes prevention program. I visit schools and museums as a presenter and work with children and adults of all ages teaching nature-based themes. My passion is creating and teaching arts that specifically connect people to land and place. Through my work, I hope to put the Aquinnah Wampanoag people on the map as significant contributors to contemporary Indigenous arts.” In 2019, the Cultural Survival Bazaars hosted over 65 artists and vendors, representing over 4,500 Indigenous artists from over 30 countries, and generated over $493,358 for Indigenous artists and communities. Check out our upcoming Bazaar dates and locations at bazaar.cs.org.
All photos by Janette Vanderhoop. Cultural Survival Quarterly December 2019 • 29
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