The fall temperatures were mild but the rhetoric was heated as some of the 1,000-strong Occupy Denver participants heard Glenn Morris, a leader of the American Indian Movement – Colorado (AIM), condemn centuries of occupation.
“‘Occupied’ doesn’t always have a good connotation for us,” he said to loud applause. “We’ve been ‘occupied’ for 519 years.”
He spoke in the amphitheater of Denver’s City Center Park on October 22, with the state capitol at one end of the park and the city-county building at the other. The annual Zombie Crawl, attended by an estimated 3,000 people was nearby and street marches by that group and Occupy Denver intersected at several points, with some zombie-clad youths holding up signs calling for change and assertions that “Corporations Are Not People.”
The concept of corporate person-hood is not new to Indian people, because “corporations were people before we were” in federal law, Morris said in his speech to Occupy Denver.
The audience reacted enthusiastically to Morris’ statements of mutual solidarity and support for rallies against the positions of President Barack Obama—termed “not our president”—particularly on the $13 billion Keystone XL Pipeline, which intersects a number of tribal lands from its origin in Alberta southward to the U.S. Gulf coast, in what he termed “the largest industrial project on earth.”
“We’ve got something to say about this,” he said. “The pipeline crosses the Ogallala Aquifer that provides your water. We want that pipeline stopped.”
Letters of eminent domain—which would take farmers’ and ranchers’ land in a sometimes-forced sale—have already been sent by XL Keystone officials to farmers in Nebraska, he said, urging listeners to “tell Barack Obama (in his visit to Denver October 24-25) that we are standing against the pipeline.”
Earlier, Morris noted that the Denver area was once the homeland of the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute peoples, and said that Occupy Denver was the first city to adopt an AIM indigenous platform, with Phoenix, Oakland, Seattle and other cities adopting the proposal in principle.
“In the U.S., indigenous nations were the first targets of corporate/government oppression,” the platform states, and incorporation of the Doctrine of Discovery into law justified the theft of 2 billion acres of indigenous territory and established a framework of “corrupt political/legal/corporate collusion that continues throughout indigenous America to the present.”
Among other things, the platform Morris cited called upon Occupy Denver to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, repeal the Columbus Day holiday, endorse indigenous self-determination, enforce all treaties, recognize the right to repatriation of human remains and funeral objects, stand in solidarity with the Cree nations in opposing tar sands development, and immediately release from federal prison Leonard Peltier, a Native activist charged with murder in the aftermath of Indian/FBI conflicts in the 1970s in South Dakota.
“We’ve been waiting 519 years for this moment—a moment that says we want a new America” characterized by mutual respect, sustainability, and other qualities, he said. “We had that homeland, and we want it back.”
Although the audience was predominantly non-Native, a number of Indian youth and some adults were present. Calvin Standing Bear, Oglala/Sicangu Lakota, a prominent flutist and singer, held a sign reading “We R the World.”
The daytime event was peaceful, despite a significant police and state patrol presence.