'We exist. We resist. We rise.' Indigenous speakers share values
"We exist. We resist. We rise," said a message carried by several among the 400 in the Jan. 18 Indigenous People's March in Spokane as they walked from The Gathering Place by City Hall to the bridge beside the fountain in Riverfront Park.
Excerpts of comments by several of the speakers are included here.
David Brown Eagle, an enrolled citizen of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, said it's easy to wait for someone else to act, but "we need to be willing to act. For us to make change, we need to be there as individuals and collectively. We need to care about the whole planet," he said, wondering what the world will be like for his two great grandsons and telling them to prepare for their future.
David also shared an insight from his grandmother. He said he used to hate whites, blacks, Mexicans, halfbloods, fullbloods. "I hated everyone and everything because I hated myself for doing what my parents and grandparents taught me not to do," he said. "If you want to hate me, I understand hate, but today I can I love you."
His grandmother told him, "There is no hell, but if there is, you're living it. What you do creates stories and stories can elevate us to heaven. If there is heaven, it's here. If you want to walk in hell, hate. If you love and forgive, your life is heaven."
James Pakootas of the Colville Confederated Tribes said he had been overcoming influences of having a father in prison, abuse and being separated from his heritage until his mother married a man who helped him connect to "who I am," by teaching him his traditions. "I have been empowered by finding my language, ways and culture," he said.
"We here today are proof that 500 years of genocide and assimilation have not worked, I have survived traumas and my people have survived traumas," said James, who began learning his language in the last two years. "Now I can say in my own language that I come from strong people, seven generations back and seven generations back before that."
Now two years in recovery, he works at the Healing Lodge in Spokane with youth who have lost their ways. James is a motivational speaker. For information on his work, visit www.jamespakootas.com.
Angeline Tomeo Sam was humbled by the number of people in the march.
"We still are. We are here. We are not going anywhere. We have been here. We are staying here," said Angeline.
Angeline, who works for the Bail Project, marched for people locked up in jails away from their families and communities before their trials even though they are innocent. That's more likely for native people, she said, because their bail is many times higher than bail for whites.
She is grateful for those whose minds are changing.
"We are the change," she said. "I am grateful for my indigenous ways, morals and ideals."
Shelly Boyd of the Snaycktx Arrow Lakes Band of Indians living at Inchelium on the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation, called forward women wearing ribbon skirts to stand with her to remember missing and murdered indigenous women.
"The Arrow Lakes Snaycktx Nation is still here," she said. "It's a miracle."
She challenged consumerism, quoting writer Winona LaDuke, who said, "We are 'drinking the koolaid' as consumer people," observing that if all the world consumed like the U.S. it would take six planets to support everyone.
"We need to remember that the world is greater than us," said Shelly. "We are from strong people over seven generations. Stand up. Speak truth. Protect the land."
Iaitia Farrell, a Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said, "We are fighting genocide, assimilation and pipelines crossing our lands. We are confronting the violence of the oppressor. We are standing together in solidarity for upcoming generations, fighting contamination of water by fracked oil. Water is life.
"Women, youth and water need protection," she said.
Iaitia calls for solidarity in advocating that governments abide by treaties, not open public lands for oil, build innovative green technology and fight for a better future with clean water.
Tara Dowd, who recently moved from Spokane to Seattle to work with the Potlatch Fund, said that "as we have learned to survive in a colonized world, I am thankful for allies."
She also urged native people to be counted in the 2020 census, in order to be seen, "so we are not an invisible race, but are seen as being alive and here to stay," she said.
"No one in the world can empower us. We are powerful people who have experienced atrocious crimes, and we are here. We are beautiful people. We celebrate our elders and those who have fought for our land," Tara said.
Drea Rose, a member of the Spokane Tribe, said: "We are the answer to our ancestors' prayers. I made a shift as I became an adult and have taken my place to live and teach the way of my ancestors."
A year ago, she started the Music, Arts and Creativity Movement, to spread awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women. They met recently with City Council to propose a resolution.
"We painted our hands red and put our handprints on the sidewalks over the cracks to represent blood of missing and murdered women who are falling through the cracks," she said.
"We have now changed the resolution to be for all missing and murdered indigenous people," she said.
Deb Abrahamson of the Spokane Tribe said, "I stand before you with fourth stage sarcoma cancer as a result of the uranium mined on our reservation.
"I'm not the only one. Many indigenous people around the world are being killed off by ecocide, because corporations have taken resources from our land and left toxins," she said. "So we eat, breathe and are surrounded by the toxins.
"Sisters and brothers around the world have parallel genocidal experiences because of what governments are doing," Debbie said. "The second day in office, Trump approved the Keystone Pipeline. We can't keep letting such things happen.
"We are one people. We need to fight, unify and be in solidarity with white allies to keep ourselves and our children sustainable, so we move forward as our ancestors intended. I love the land, water and people. They are the future for all humankind. We need to raise our voices."
John Sirois of the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT), a member of the Okanagan and Wenatchi on the Colville Confederated Reservation, promotes salmon passage.
Motioning to the Spokane River he said that "80-pound Chinook used to come here. The people relied on eating salmon. Tribes are working together around salmon, water and land.
"We seek traditional foods for our bodies. Salmon will help the economy and bring jobs and health for all people," he said. "Treaties and agreements guaranteed our food sources. We need to support them. 'Salmon people' give up their lives for us, so when we gather to share food, we express our gratitude, care and love," John said.
Every time he talks with federal agencies in charge of operating the dams who say it's too hard or complex to restore salmon runs.
"Tribes together are planning how to get the salmon back and improve water quality. We need to write our representatives to uphold the rights of native people," John said.
Donell Barlow, who is a certified health coach, said it's important "to protect our health and not rely on the corrupt government or corporations for food."
She said that "food is medicine and preventative health care. We need to eat food as medicine, grow community gardens and reuse food waste, rather than eating food shipped thousands of miles.
"What is our relationship with food? Will our choices build our bodies? Do we support corporations that poison our bodies?" Donell asked. "We will thrive if we go back to the old food ways based on the knowledge of our ancestors."
Ingrid Sub Cuc expressed pride in being part of the resistance of indigenous people, no matter where they are. She spoke of the "ever-growing indigenous diaspora" and called for resilience of indigenous people everywhere as they are displaced from their lands and made to cross man-made borders to survive. "I march for the strength, resilience and unconditional love of indigenous women and for our Madre Tierra!" she said.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2019