A resolution was passed at the April Tribal Council meeting expressing the Cherokee Nation’s support for indigenous languages usage at the US-Mexico border. I was very proud to be the original sponsor of that resolution and to be joined by all sixteen of my colleagues on the council in passing it unanimously. This update describes the situation at the border that necessitates this resolution.
Interested? Read on…
This update can also be viewed/heard at https://youtu.be/bnHaPd_mSlE
Last fall at the annual meeting of the Desert Cherokees, our At Large satellite community in Tucson, I was approached by a Cherokee Nation citizen who I met in a Cherokee Nation History Course I taught there many years ago. From the beginning, I think we recognized that we had some shared interests around activism and understanding the alliances for tribes in the United States within an international context, as similar struggles exist for indigenous peoples around the world.
My friend heads up a consulting firm that works on the border issues of indigenous peoples from the south. Currently, he is engaged in indigenous language efforts at the border. At the meeting last fall, he spoke with both the Chief and me about events that are happening at the border right now resulting from the greatly increased levels of detention of migrants, especially those coming from Central America. He asked for our help in engaging the Cherokee Nation in efforts to secure better language translation, especially around their medical needs, for those who have been detained.
WHO IS COMING TO THE BORDER?
We’ve all seen and heard about the increased number of migrants who are being held in detention and of the families that have been separated at the US-Mexico border in recent years. I want to be clear that this update is not about the policy. You may or may not agree with the policy of detaining migrants and separating families. But the reality we can agree on is that it is the current policy, it is happening.
When we hear about it in the media, we are told that these migrants are coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, in particular. However, those national identity labels are masking a very important fact about many of the migrants from these nations, as well as others from southern Mexico and South America: they are indigenous peoples. They are “Indians” as we would state it in the US. They are often coming from areas of those countries in which the proportion of people who are indigenous is very high, often the majority. And they have suffered very extreme violence for decades. These countries are all in the top ten for having the highest murder rates of any in the world: El Salvador is number one, Honduras is number three, and Guatemala is number nine.
Indigenous villages in these countries were battered for years by the civil wars that went on in these countries in the mid- and late-20th century, which led to earlier waves of indigenous immigrants to the US. More recently, drug cartels and gangs (many of whose members have actually been deported/exported to those countries from cities and prisons in the US where those gangs actually developed) have launched new campaigns of terror and violence upon indigenous villages within these countries. In the past 50 years, there have been very few periods of peace for the indigenous peoples of Central America. Many left years ago and presently reside legally in the US having received asylum, while many others are still trying to get out of a situation in which their lives are threatened on a daily basis.
Many of the people detained at the border are the Indian peoples of Mesoamerica. If our similar artistic and cultural styles are any indication, they are people whose ancestors most likely interacted greatly with our own - with all of the peoples of the southeastern United States. And similar to our own ancestors in an earlier time, they are people who are running from the warfare, terror, and violence that is being inflicted upon them by militias and vigilantes. They are losing their homelands, their families and communities, their knowledges.
As Cherokees, this sounds all too familiar to us.