American Indians north and south: A web for discourse

The covenant that has been growing between American Indian peoples and
their organizations, north and south, has a great and historic role to play
as the political conditions between the United States and Latin America

The resilience of American Indian peoples in the Western Hemisphere is
remarkable, and the very existence of tribal nations that converse with
each other signals a distinct point of reference. Friendships and
partnerships among indigenous peoples have grown fundamentally on cultural
grounds. Indigenous discourse around the concept of land-based kinship
nations is distinct.

The Indian discussion that focuses the relationship of human beings with
the natural world is genuinely unique. The common problems of disregard,
racism and colonialist oppression are as true as the shared aspirations to
political freedoms and economic improvements in community life. Which is to
say: The shared discussion among American Indians — hemispherically —
contains a large commitment to universal human values.

Actively for more than 30 years, North American, Central American,
Caribbean and South American Indian peoples have met on a wide range of
issues and events. Lasting friendships and alliances toward development and
human rights projects mushroomed during the last three decades as a third
generation of Native grass-roots community representatives and professional
counterparts coordinated international campaigns. The more than 1,000
distinct kinship nations of indigenous peoples throughout the Western
Hemisphere have all in one way or another reached out to their
counterparts; and many organic partnerships, based on a range of mutual
recognitions, have emerged.

Recently made obvious with the election of Aymara Indian Evo Morales as
Bolivia’s new president, a democratically inspired, grass-roots indigenous
movement has come to vigorous maturity in the past decade in Latin America.
Among the Andean countries, Peru and Ecuador have substantial Indian
populations which continue to organize and engage the civic lives of their
countries. Indigenous movements have made ground in Chile and northward in
Venezuela, Central America and Mexico. These are nothing less than
democratic peoples’ movements, and the United States is best advised to
understand and accommodate their aspirations.

Unfortunately for U.S. policy-makers, many of these resurgent movements
have run head-on into many of the market-driven policies dictated by the
United States after the fall of the Soviet Union. Mired in misery under the
strict measures that affect poor working people throughout the region, they
are willingly enlisted in the current of Latin American countries, openly
propelled by Venezuela, which is intent on challenging U.S. and even Arab
energy cartels for the resources of the southern American hemisphere.

In “South American Pipeline Wars: Chavez Bloc Races with Oil Cartel to Grid
the Continent” (“Native Americas: Hemispheric Journal of Indigenous
Issues,” Fall/Winter 2001;, journalist Bill
Weinberg noted the U.S. oppositional group consolidating in South America,
led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and coalescing Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina,
Uruguay and now Chile. A battle is brewing over the hemisphere’s resources,
with this Latin American bloc of countries challenging the extractive
concept of resource development conducted by transnational corporations.
The southern countries are proposing curtailing sales to the United States
and encouraging the use of the natural resources of their countries to
inject new economic life into their own poverty-stricken, long-ravaged

Wrote Weinberg: “The corporate projects invariably link oilfields in the
continental interior the Amazon and Orinoco basins with the Pacific and
Caribbean coasts for export to the United States … [However] … the main
pillar of the Chavez plan does not link the Amazon to the sea but crosses
the Amazon to link the South American nations to one another.”

Chavez, who Sen. John McCain calls “a crazy man,” proposes “PetroAmerica, a
regional joint venture of state-sector oil companies.” Chavez may be crazy
to challenge the United States, but he is not stupid — and he is immensely
dedicated to his cause. His proposals are not only integrating Latin
America and the Caribbean; his stated principles invoke themes of
self-sufficiency and the reinvestment of “profits into development and
social programs.” Calling on the sacred unfinished mission of Simon
Bolivar, Chavez’s movement is becoming very popular across the region.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentine President
Nestor Kirchner have signed on to Chavez’s proposal for a $20 billion,
6,214-mile, gas pipeline running the length of the continent. This proposed
“spinal chord” of South America would “start at Venezuela’s Caribbean coast
and run through Brazil before reaching Argentina, dissecting the Amazon

Cuba, pariah to the United States but formally accepted in the rest of the
Americas, including Canada, figures in. Cuban President Fidel Castro is a
confidante of several heads of state, particularly Chavez and Morales, and
he has partnered his country’s large supply of doctors in a popular
initiative to perform eyesight recovery surgery for poor people in Latin
America. Venezuela, using its oil wealth, enlists thousands of
Cuban-trained doctors in this major initiative to provide direct health
services as well as training for tens of thousands of poor Latin Americans
in a dozen countries. A concentration on the “poorest of the poor”
indigenous population is widely noted. Only in the United States does this
unique health movement go unreported.

Chavez’s energetic and hugely publicized initiatives have largely caught
U.S. policy-makers and media, and thus the American public, ill-informed.
By and large, American pundits have ignored the stunning sense of betrayal
American fiscal policies generate in the Latin American masses.

The challenging rhetoric of the new Latin American leadership signals a
likely loss of resources. The global linkage for Chavez’s PetroAmerica
initiative does not lead to the United States. First, it seeks to integrate
Latin America; but internationally, it intends big sales to China. This
triggers anger and warnings from the U.S. Department of Defense, but
policy-makers are at a loss how to curtail the new linkages of countries in
a multi-lateral world.

Enter tribal relations.

Emergent and overlapping in this growing rupture between the United States
and the major Latin American political current are the indigenous networks,
as first Venezuela and then Bolivia turn to support Indian cultural rights
and inspire political activity in deeper and more widespread ways than ever
before. Relations among Indian peoples in the Americas may prove a way to
continue to talk, negotiate, carry on trade and commerce, and generally
support peace over war as the way to stabilize relations between nations of
the world. Nowhere is this more possible than in the Americas.

Just recently, delegations of North American Indians attended the Morales
inauguration; and they have been represented at events in Venezuela, Chile
and elsewhere, recently and in past years, as the Latin American political
shift has taken place. Long-standing friendships are established as Native
people speak with each other across many boundaries. This has excellent
bridge-building potential — the kind of direction that can perhaps keep
America from yet one more war.

Here is an interesting sign. Not long ago, the U.S. State Department
sponsored a tour of North American Indian communities and organizations by
Bolivian Indian congressmen from Evo Morales’ political party, Movement
Toward Socialism. The delegation went wherever they wanted, attending
seminars in Washington, D.C., and holding meetings with Indian leaders,
including one Haudenosaunee nation. The easy rapport was noticeable as,
once again, Native people from vastly different situations and backgrounds
found common ground in a shared sense of history and culture.
Significantly, discussions energized around potential trade and commerce

American leaders need to focus on the reality that a good percentage of
their prescription for the rest of the world has not been people-friendly.
Raw corporate power, rewarded by tradition-busting privatization, is too
often very negative for poor people. It has become the representation of
the United States and it has its share of raw ugliness.

The world outside the United States is very tribal and tradition-bound; and
the rampant, ethnic-cleansing manifest destiny that created the power of
America is not reproducible by starting a war, despite the wishful thinking
of utopian policy-makers.

Perhaps more than most in North America, American Indians appreciate an
approach that knows how to speak to the traditions of land-based and
clan-based tribal cultures. This is particularly true of the Americas,
where a more positive dialogue emanating from the North is still possible.
Adaptation and survival was the Indian approach. It is a distinct
positioning, within the United States and hemispherically, to seek a great
peace predicated on fair and resolute dialogue on the peace and happiness
of the peoples and mother earth unto the seventh generation.


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American Indians north and south: A web for discourse