By Josie Jensen and Jesús Zamora
(republished from the South Seattle Emerald)
Indigenous peoples around the world have been fighting to protect their ancestral lands, languages and cultures from being erased by colonialism for generations
In Seattle, on the unceded territory of the Duwamish, Suquamish and Tulalip people, there are countless movements for Indigenous liberation past and present. These range from the fish wars of the 1960s and 70s, to the Duwamish fight for federal recognition, movements such as Idle No More and 350 Tacoma that work to protect indigenious lands from environmental degradation, movements calling for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, organizations working to uplift Indigenous artists and preserve Indigenous culture such as the Duwamish Longhouse, Yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective and more.
Similar work is being done by Indigenous people around the world. I (Josie) got to witness these similarities in a recent trip to Ecuador where I participated in a program organized by Amigos de Las Americas centering Indigenous rights and food justice.
We traveled to the town of Suscal, in the province of Cañar, Ecuador, where we met the founders of Kinti Wasi, who work to preserve Cañari culture and language, and learned about CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador), a movement that has been fighting for decades to protect the constitutional rights of nature and Indegnious communities. I got to see many parallels in the ways governments fail to implement the rights of Indigenous people written into their constitution, similar to how the U.S. government fails to acknowledge and implement treaty rights of native peoples.
For this article I collaborated with Ecuadorian youth actor and activist Jesús Zamora to interview Indigenous activists from Ecuador, Seattle and Guåhan, to explore the similarities and differences between Indigenous resistance movements across the Americas, and learn how solidarity and transformation can be realized.
In 1990 the first major Indigenous uprising occurred in Ecuador that was led by the CONAIE. Most of the Indigenous population, who live in rural areas and work as farmworkers, were exploited and underpaid by markets and the agricultural industry. They were also discriminated against by mestizos and white people for practicing their traditions and speaking native languages such as Kichwa. Because of this, from May 28th to July 11th 1990, Indigenous people took to the streets with demands including government land grants to Indigenous nationalities, strong irrigation systems, protection of the environment and the declaration of plurinational status.
Since then, the CONAIE has been an important social movement in the country, with the most recent mobilization being in October of 2019 when they took to the streets against the Extended Fund Facility agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The agreement was promoted by the government of Lenin Moreno to cut fuel subsidies which, along with other unpopular neoliberal policies, would have made it impossible for farmers, transportation workers, students and others to afford to live. The protests lasted for 2 weeks and the government backed out of the agreement. Still, many demands of the Indigenous populations have not been met by the previous or current government under Guillermo Lasso. The Indigenious movement’s political party Pachakutik currently has political support in the Ecuadoran assembly, with 25 legislators, and CONAIE is always prepared to go to the streets and defend the rights of Indigenious populations and all Ecuadorians.
The contributions of women to this movement are often under-recognized. Jacoba Loja, co-founder of the organization Kinti Wasi (which means ‘house of the hummingbirds’ in Kichwa), reminds Indigenous women to “not forget that we are warriors and that we fight hard against governments that disrespect our cosmovision and want to exploit minerals, and will continue to defend our Mother Earth. With her we live and with her we die.”
In Seattle, the Duwamish tribe has been fighting for federal recognition and treaty rights for decades. Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribal Council, says, “When [the Duwamish tribe] signed a treaty in 1855 with the federal government, we didn't give up our sovereignty. The government did not fulfill that treaty. So we have been trying to correct that treaty with our tribe.”
Hansen goes on to describe the benefits of being federally recognized, “If you have acknowledgement from the federal government, then you have benefits like your own reservation and health support, money for education. And we don't have that.”
Despite not being federally recognized, the Duwamish tribe has been able to sustain themselves by maintaining the longhouse as a place for community and through grassroots programs like Real Rent Duwamish.
In Cañar, Ecuador, Jacoba, Veronica and Karmen Loja started the organization Kinti Wasi to preserve Cañari culture in response to the wave of emigration to the United States and Europe which began in 1999 due to the economic crash known as the “Banking Holiday” and lack of employment in the country. Jacoba Loja says the three Indigenous women want to preserve “traditional Andean costumes and gastronomy, our cosmovision, and the Kichwa language while also teaching these things to those that visit.” She continues, “We also do rituals and make offerings of gratitude to mother earth, to the moon, and the sun that give us sustenance. Because of emigration, sometimes people think our traditions should be forgotten but our objective is to continue conserving these structures and the ancestral knowledge taught to us
by our elders.”
Karmen Loja describes the effect emigration had on her community, “As a result of this, communities have been devastated with the loss of population, leaving the houses, the land, the gardens abandoned and many families disunited.”
In Seattle, Yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creative Collective is uplifting the work of Indigenous artists across the Coast Salish territories. They started in 2018 with an exhibition in the third floor gallery at Seattle’s King Street Station featuring the work of over 200 Indigenous artists.
“We quickly realized after that project, that there was a continued need for indigenous creative work,” said Asia Tail, Yəhaw̓ cofounder. Now Yəhaw̓ provides services such as consulting and graphics campaigns to members of their collective, with the core of their work being to “support and convene Indigenous artists and work with them to create the personal and professional growth they want to see in their own practice.”
Tail also described how inclusivity and solidarity between Indigenous communities is central to their collective:
“Across all our programs, we've chosen to use an inclusive definition of what Indigenous means. We don't just [work with], for instance, Indigenous peoples [in] what is now the United States. We recognize that these borders are colonial and our people didn't make them, they’re imposed on us. And so we try to incorporate everybody as we talk about Indigenous collective.”
Carlos Sangro, secretary of Zamaskijat, an organization affiliated with CONAIE, describes how social media has been used as a tool for solidarity “[Indigenous People] have been in solidarity since the beginning. These days, one way to build solidarity is to use social media as a tool to articulate problems in the urban sectors, cultural sectors, agricultural sectors, and of Indigenous people. When everyone is talking, we see that these fights are not separate and that in order to address them we must unite.”
“All oppression is connected and all liberation is connected,” stated Seattle-based Indigenous Guåhan artist and activist Dakota Camacho. That is why he believes it is everybody’s responsibility to support movements of Indigenous liberation however one can, even if one is not Indigenous. He continues, “Learn about the histories of the territories of Guåhan, Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and think about how you can help, because the schools here will fail you.”
To support Yəhaw̓, you can attend events that are open to the public and buy the work of artists in the collective.
To support Kinti Wasi, Jacoba Loja encourages people to, “come see our project, come learn about our culture and our language and value and respect it.”
“Work with your family, with your community, to recover your ways of living in balance with your ancestors. And work to end oppression in your family and community,” said Camacho. “Amplify voices of Indigenous people. Organize your people to take a step back so that Indigenous people can take a step forward. And together we all can dance.”
Josie Jensen is an artist and community organizer currently attending Rainier Beach High School in South Seattle. They like to spend their time writing musicals, asking questions, and doing mutual aid to support their community.
Jesús Zamora Loor is an Ecuadorian youth actor and activist from the province of Manabí. His passion is in fighting for the people and the planet.