Bolivia: Sovereignty and the Rights of Mother Earth
By Brenda Norrell
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia -- After being stranded in Peru all night at the airport, Timbisha Shoshone Chairman Joe Kennedy and Western Shoshone elder and freedom fighter Carrie Dann arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Chairman Kennedy is traveling on his sovereign Western Shoshone passport.
The Shoshones are among a grassroots group of Native Americans from North America participating in the conference. Elouise Brown, director of the Dooda (NO) Desert Rock, fighting a third power plant on the Navajo Nation, is also here. Brown joins Indigenous Peoples from throughout the Americas exposing the uranium mining, coal fired power plants and oil and gas drilling that have left a trail of death and disease in the homelands of Native Peoples.
Jose Matus, director of the Indigenous Alliance without Borders and Yaqui ceremonial leader, came in support of the Rights of Mother Earth, Indigenous rights of mobility and to assist with translations. The Alliance, based in Tucson, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, is a voice for Indian people in their home territories who are abused by the US Border Patrol and US immigration officials.
Native grassroots youths bringing powerful voices include Michelle Cook, Navajo activist and scholar now in Maori territory in New Zealand, who arrived after an overnight in Chile. Mohawk youth Chibon Everstz arrived from Canada after many flights delays on the same flight with the Shoshones.
Native American delegations from North America at the gathering include delegations of First Nations from Canada and Native Americans from the United States. Milo Yellowhair, Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and Faith Gemmill, Gwich'in from Alaska, are both here to resist the destruction of colonialism and the corporate destruction of Mother Earth.
Gemmill is here to oppose new oil drilling in the Arctic and the destruction leading to the climate change that is destroying the way of life of the people in the north. Gemmill is director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) and spoke on stage during the assembly when Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the conference.
"We are here from the far north to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the South. We have a choice as human kind -- a path of life, or a path of destruction. The people who can change the world are here."
Bolivian President Evo Morales invited Indigenous Peoples from the Americas to join him to open the conference with ceremonies.
Native Americans attending said they were struck by Morales' examples of consumerism, pointing to the use of disposable dinner plates and the use of plastics rather than woven garments for rainwear.
Morales said during the opening session, "The main cause of the destruction of the planet Earth is capitalism and in the towns where we have lived, where we respected this Mother Earth, we all have the ethics and the moral right to say here that the central enemy of Mother Earth is capitalism."
Morales, who called for the conference after the failed Copenhagen climate summit, said capitalism is the cause of imbalance in the world.
The Indigenous Environmental Network delegation here includes director Tom Goldtooth and IEN board member Manny Pino. Pino, Acoma Pueblo, exposes the Cold War uranium mining that brought death and disease to the Acoma and Laguna Pueblos in New Mexico. The Cold War uranium mining also left a trail of death on the nearby Navajo Nation, where about 1,000 unreclaimed radioactive tailings remain.
Jihan Gearon, Navajo and native energy organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said, "We have traveled to Bolivia because President Morales has committed to bring our voices to the global stage at the next round of talks in Cancun."
"Indigenous rights and knowledge are crucial to addressing climate change, but the United States and Canada have not signed on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and are pushing corporate climate policy agendas that threaten our homelands and livelihoods," Gearon told the Environmental News Service.