Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

This week, within a 24-hour span, major reports revealed that Canada’s prison system “is nothing short of a national travesty” and the prisons of England and Wales are “a national scandal”. The reports are important, well researched, and grim, but they also repeat the findings of earlier reports, with one glaring exception. The situation is worsening, in fact the negative aspects are at an all-time high. If the various national populations have time and again received reports of a terrible situation worsening and if those populations and their national governments have done nothing, have done less than and worse than nothing, it is reasonable to ask, “Who cares?”

On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Canada’s Correctional Investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, released a report on the current status of Canadian prisons: “Four years ago, my Office reported that persons of Indigenous ancestry had reached 25% of the total inmate population.  At that time, my Office indicated that efforts to curb over-representation were not working.  Today, sadly, I am reporting that the proportion of Indigenous people behind bars has now surpassed 30% … On this trajectory, the pace is now set for Indigenous people to comprise 33% of the total federal inmate population in the next three years.  Over the longer term, and for the better part of three decades now, despite findings of Royal Commissions and National Inquiries, intervention of the courts, promises and commitments of previous and current political leaders, no government of any stripe has managed to reverse the trend of Indigenous over-representation in Canadian jails and prisons. The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty.” Indigenous women are the core of this Indigenization of Canada’s prison system, accounting for 42% of women inmates. In some prairie regions, Indigenous women comprise almost 90% of the prison population. Where once there were boarding schools, now there are prisons and jails.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2020, Inquest released its report, Deaths in prison: A national scandal. At the outset, the report notes that “levels of distress are at record high levels” and that “since 2016 the number of deaths have remained at historically high levels, with little sign of significant change.” 2016 was “deadliest year on record”. In their press release, Inquest suggests that that “‘national scandal’ of deaths in prison caused by neglect and serious failures.” But what if it’s neither neglect nor failure? What if death, largely through self-harm, is the system successfully at work?

This question arises out of the cyclical redundancy of these discoveries. 2013: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports that federal and provincial prisons are booming, with Aboriginal people, especially women, “over-represented” in prisons, in maximum security and solitary confinement. 2014: Canada’s Correctional Investigator reports concern over the incarceration of Aboriginal women and the routine use of psychotropic drugs to control Aboriginal women behind bars, producing a mass population of “walking zombies”. 2016: another report, more expression of concern: Of 683 women prisoners, 248 are Aboriginal. Over 36% of women prisoners are Aboriginal. There’s more, but you get the picture.

In England and Wales, the picture is the same. Here’s 2014: “In 2014, 84 people killed themselves `in custody’ in England and Wales That’s the highest figure in seven years and an increase of 12% over the year before. The rise in suicide is surpassed by the rise in self-harm, up more than 25%. Overall, it was a banner year for the prison state, with 243 deaths in custody.” 2016, as noted, prison deaths, and particularly suicides, soared, as did self-harm: “When considering females, despite the falls seen between 2009 and 2012, rates of individuals self-harming among females remain disproportionately high in comparison to the overall rates of individuals self-harming … Females accounted for nearly a quarter of self-harm incidents in this reporting period, but only make up less than 5% of the prison population.” Again, there’s more, but the picture is already clear.

Both the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada and Inquest note the need to learn from past experiences while both express disappointment at lessons unlearned, unheeded, but what if there are no lessons to learn? What if these deaths are but a station on a global assembly line at which employees dutifully stand and wait for the next body to ignore? The prisons of Canada and of England and Wales are a tiny part of the global labor of necropower: “New and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Once again, prison is Canada’s “travesty”, England’s “scandal”. Who cares?

(Infographic Credit 1: Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada) (Infographic Credit 2: The London Economic)

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are a continued genocide

The response to the continued genocide of indigenous people – more specifically, of indigenous women – has finally come to the forefront. Last week, Donald J Trump signed an executive order creating a task force that would focus on missing and murdered indigenous women, which will develop protocols for cases and create a team to review cold cases. The task force will be overseen by Attorney General Barr and Secretary Bernhardt. It is a great start but fails to address the failures of the current and previous administrations to address murdered and missing women, a continued and ongoing genocide and a perpetuation of the violence against indigenous people by colonizers, under the protections of the United States Government. Justice will not be served if we do not emphasize Native sovereignty.

Over 1.5 million Native women have experienced violence, including sexual violence. They experience violence at twice the rate for women as a general category in the US; on some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is 10 times the national average. Of the 5,712 cases of missing Native women nationwide reported, only 116 of them were logged into the US Department of Justice’s missing persons database. 

For indigenous women experiencing sexual violence, the trend is unprecedented and does not reflect national data. 97 percent of intimate partner violence and sexual assaults were estimated to be carried out by non-Native men. For the vast majority of sexual assaults carried out in the US, the survivors are of the same race as the perpetrators. The staggering percentage highlights the limits on the jurisdiction of tribal courts, which had made some headway but not enough before the current administration opposed the measures.

Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the inclusion of an amendment gave, for the first time, recognition that tribal courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases brought against nonmembers. This shift was still severely limited, however, because it would only apply to cases of intimate partner violence and only to non-Native people who met one of three criteria: resident of Native country, employed in Native country, or current of former intimate partner of a Native person living in Native country or a tribal member. Additionally, the tribe was required to fund the indigent defense. The obscene regulations consequently resulted in only 18 of the 562 Native Tribes meeting the requirement. Although federal jurisdiction remains the default, it is overwhelmingly characterized by unresponsiveness US prosecutors declined to prosecute 46 percent of reservation cases, with assault and sexual assault cases declined more than any other category. Authorities were unwilling to help search for missing persons or even file a report.  

Even while tribal jurisdiction was so limited that it barely made a dent in the violence that indigenous women face, opposition is constantly ramping up against it. The act, which lapsed last year, was originally opposed by then Senator Jeff Sessions who objected to expanding tribal jurisdiction to non-Native people. Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa reintroduced the reauthorization measure to make it easier to challenge tribal jurisdiction, a significant rollback of the tenuous headway that tribes had been making. 

While there is headway—in tandem with Trump’s executive order, the Senate passed a funding bill with $6.5 million to tackle the epidemic (the total spending package was $332 billion)—the consequences remain. If indigenous peoples cannot seek justice in their own courts, with their own laws, against non-Natives, how can we end the continued genocide, the continued colonization of those women? Of those mothers, sisters, aunts, people? Why do we demand they follow federal law when that law has only been there to continue to decimate their land and kill their people? Why are we not acknowledging their sovereignty, if not simply because their sovereignty was there much longer than ours? How much longer can we give paltry solutions when indigenous women are tortured and killed? 

(Infogram credit: NICOA) (Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull / NPQ)

In Ecuador, Indigenous people shut down the austerity program. Women were key

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! In the future, this day should be remembered as the day in which Indigenous peoples of Ecuador stopped cold an IMF-sponsored austerity program. Today, October 14, 2019, Lenín Moreno, Ecuador’s President, and leaders of the Indigenous Peoples’ movements announced that they had reached a deal to cancel the austerity package. It took almost two weeks of protest and seven deaths, but in the end Indigenous peoples and their allies succeeded. As Rosa Matango responded to the news, “I am happy as a mother, happy for our future. We indigenous people fought and lost so many brothers, but we’ll keep going forward.” Jaime Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, added, “From our heart, we declare that we, the peoples and nations, have risen up in search of liberty. We recognise the bravery of the men and women who rose up.” Indigenous women have been key to the success of this mass mobilization against austerity and for dignity and decency.

What happened? On October 1, Moreno cut a deal, known familiarly as “el paquetazo”, with the IMF. The IMF insisted on austerity if Ecuador wanted loans and `assistance’. This package included a frontal assault on public sector workers: 20% wage cuts; decrease in vacation pay; and the `donation’ by public sector works of one day a month to the government. What the IMF calls donation, the rest of the world calls wage theft. Additionally, the package included an end to fuel subsidies, that had been in place for 40 years. Within hours, diesel fuel prices doubled, and regular fuel prices shot up 30 percent.

On October 2, labor unions, women’s groups, student unions, and Indigenous peoples’ groups announced their intent to protest. On October 3, the protests began, with transportation unions striking. Ecuador was shut down for two days, October 3 and 4. After talks between the government and transportation unions, the strike was called off. On October 4, Moreno declared a state of emergency. Mass protests continued and intensified. From October 3 to Saturday, October 12, protests grew and intensified. The country was at a standstill. Moreno moved his government from the capital city, Quito, to Guayaquil, on the coast.

Where are the women in all this? Everywhere and at the forefront.

From the moment the Indigenous masses began pouring into Quito, people started noticing the large presence of women and children in the protests. Indigenous women from all parts of the country made it clear that they were in for the long haul. They made this clear in words and actions. Many brought food and cooking utensils and set up kitchens to feed the ever growing populations. As Marta Chango, provincial coordinator for the political movement Pachakutic in the Tungurahua province, explained, “We are here to resist to the last moment, we are mothers, women and daughters who have come from provinces from across the country to proclaim that the State, in its abuse of power, will not succeed in murdering our people. We will not let that happen.”

They came by the tens of thousands and continued to shut down the country. When the State attempted to respond with severe repression, with bullets and tear gas, the women organized, and on Saturday, they organized a women’s march which linked State violence and repression with State austerity. Indigenous intersectionality was everywhere, as women explained their choices in clothing to why they brought children. Repeatedly the answer was the same: this is women’s resistance, this is the community’s resistance. We will not be massacred, exterminated, or erased. When Indigenous women marched, they were joined and supported by a variety of non-Indigenous women’s movements. Together, women, led and organized by Indigenous women, filled the streets of Quito, filled the sky with their chants, “No more deaths!” “Not one more bomb! Not one more rock!” On Saturday, as State and Indigenous leaders began to meet, Indigenous women turned Quito into an Indigenous women’s temporary autonomous zone, and they threatened to make it last for as long as necessary. On Sunday, the talks continued. Today, a pact was announced. 

As has happened frequently in Ecuador, the Indigenous women are united. When they say, “No!”, they mean, “NO!” The people united and demanded attention, dignity and justice. They demanded that the State belongs to the country’s residents, and not to the IMF. They demanded peace. And they won. Women were key to this victory. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2019!

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Fernando Vergara / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / Matías Zibell)

In Brazil’s burning rainforest, Indigenous women lead the battle against ecocide, genocide

The Indigenous Women’s March

It only took three weeks or so for the world to take note that Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest is on fire, a fire whose smoke turned Sao Paola’s midday to midnight, a fire that from deep space portends an immediate threat to all living beings on the planet Earth. According to those watching the Amazon, the rainforest has suffered close to 73,000 fires this year alone. In the past week, around 10,000 fires have erupted. This represents a 70% increase in fires since January 2018. This sudden peak in rainforest fires is directly attributable to the policies of the Bolsonaro government. The Amazon is on fire, the Earth is on fire. Amazonian Indigenous peoples warned us that Bolsonaro, and the system of which he is a part, would do this to the forests and to the Earth. Few listened. In this struggle, Indigenous women lead the effort to liberate the Americas and the world. From the outset, they argued the struggle for Indigenous and environmental autonomy was and is a liberation struggle. Maybe now, maybe, more of us will listen. 

On August 13, 2019, Indigenous women converged on Brasilia for the first Indigenous Women’s March. Under the banner “Territory: our body, our spirits”, thousands of Indigenous women from hundreds of different Indigenous populations gathered and filled the streets for days. Sônia Guajajara, leader of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation), APIB, explained, “We came to denounce the president’s hateful discourse, which has increased violence and destruction in our territories, which directly impacts us, women. We are counting on international solidarity to advance this movement for our future.” Her colleague, Célia Xacriabá added, ““For the first time in history, the indigenous women’s march convenes more than 100 different peoples in Brasilia with more than 2,000 women present. This is a movement that is not only symbolically important but also historically and politically significant. When they try to take away our rights, it’s not enough to only defend our territories. We also need to occupy spaces beyond our villages, such as institutional spaces and political representativity. We call on the international community to support us, to amplify our voices and our struggle against today’s legislative genocide, where our own government is authorizing the slaughter and ethnocide of indigenous peoples. This is also an opportunity to join our voices to denounce this government’s ecocide, where the killing of mother nature is our collective concern.”

At one level, as in the past, the real tragedy in Brazil is that there is no tragedy. There is only redundancy, murmurs of complicity, and, then, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the inconceivable: “It was inconceivable that they would suddenly abandon their pastoral spirit to avenge a death for which we all could have been to blame.” However, today, as in the past, Indigenous women are organizing, refusing to accept that script that renders them abject and renders the world as empty and farcical. They are demanding that we, all of us, recognize we have the possibility of liberation. As Tamikua Faustino explained, “Deforestation is a killer. If we don’t stick together, in the near future we’ll be eliminated.” It’s time to reject those who would impose a death sentence on all living beings, to refuse the vampire thirst for the blood of all living creatures. It’s time to see the sun at midday, the moon at midnight. Eight years ago, in a different environment crisis in Brazil, Indigenous woman organizer Juma Xipaia declared, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” Another world is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

(Photo Credit: CIMI / Tiago Miotto)

Yukon First Nation women water protectors organize to save the Peel Watershed, the planet … and our soul

Protect the Peel

Today, March 22, World Water Day, Canada’s Supreme Court heard a case concerning the fate of the Peel River Watershed and of the three Yukon First Nations who live with the river. This case has gone through the courts for three years, but it has gone through the land for centuries. First Nation women water protectors decided enough was way too much, and they’ve organized, for the water, for their nations and communities, for the planet, and for our soul.

For Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the struggle engages betrayal and redemption: “Six rivers flow from the Yukon’s northern mountains down through boreal forest, tundra and wetlands to the Peel River, which runs north to the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, these rivers drain 68,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Nova Scotia. The Peel Watershed is intimately known by three Yukon First Nations—the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation—and the Tetlit Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories, who have hunted, harvested, and lived on the land and the rivers for millennia. The parties ended up in court due to the Yukon government’s betrayal of its agreements with the three First Nations. In 1973, Yukon Chiefs presented Canada with the historic document Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow, convincing the federal government to begin negotiating a modern-day treaty with Yukon First Nations.

“Today, most Yukon First Nations have reached agreements with the Yukon and Canadian governments. The First Nations whose traditional territory includes parts of the Peel River watershed signed their Final Agreements in the 1990s. In these agreements, First Nations yielded control of much of their traditional territory in exchange for a meaningful role in land-use planning for these settlement lands and guaranteed surface and subsurface rights to smaller fractions of their traditional territory.”

In 2004, the Yukon government established a land use commission to consider the disposition of the Peel Watershed. In 2011, the commission issued its final report. According to Roberta Joseph, “The ‘Final Recommended Land Use Plan’ called for 80 per cent protection of the watershed (55 per cent permanent protection, 25 per cent interim protection), with 20 per cent open to roads and industrial development. First Nations have always called for 100 per cent protection of the watershed, but accepted this compromise. Then, the betrayal occurred.”

In July 2014, the Yukon government released its own report, without consultation with First Nations, and it called for 29 per cent protection, and leaving the remaining 71 per cent open to “development”. There are currently nearly 8000 mining claims waiting for the floodgates to open. In 2014, the Yukon First Nations joined with conservationist groups CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society and sued the government.

As Roberta Joseph explains, “We do not want the government to carve up the Peel Watershed with roads and industry. We do not want the government to be rewarded for betrayal with a second chance to overturn the collaborative, democratic land-use planning process. The Final Agreements are supposed to be a meaningful partnership, and the Yukon government did not honour the spirit of these agreements. That is why we appealed to the highest court in the land.”

Elaine Alexie, a Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation member, adds, “What’s most precious to us is the water. If anything should happen to that water, it will directly affect us … I spent half my childhood in the Peel. I see it as a place that I have a connection to as a Tetlit Gwich’in woman. Once a year I go up the Peel, because it’s such a part of who we are.”

Roberta Joseph agrees, “The Peel Watershed is a place where the rivers run clear, the herds of caribou are healthy, and grizzlies have the room to roam. Please visit www.protectpeel.ca to learn more about this irreplaceable landscape and how you can help support the campaign to protect it.”

Roberta Joseph

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Tyler Kuhn) (Photo Credit 2: CBC News / Cheryl Kawaja)

In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women lead the fight to protect the waters

From Canada to the United States to Panama, and beyond, indigenous women are leading major campaigns to protect the purity and health of the rivers. In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women have been organizing for over a decade to shut down the Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Dam. Women like Clementina Pérez, Weni Bagama, and Silvia Carrera have led the charge not only to stop the dam and to insist on real and proper negotiations before changing the entire regional ecosystem but to think and act deeply and respectfully about development models based on mutuality, respect and sustainability.

Panama has five comarcas indígenas, or Indigenous administrative zones. Of the five, three are substantial and large enough to be fairly autonomous, on the order of a province or state. Of the three autonomous comarcas indígenas, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé is the largest. After decades of Indigenous organizing and mobilizing, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé was established in 1997. From its inception, the comarca Ngöbe-Buglé ran up against the national government’s model for national economic expansion, which relied heavily on mining and, more recently, big dams. The Barro Blanco dam project, begun in 2006, would seriously affect the Tabasará River, a mainstay of Ngäbe-Buglé economic and social life: “The Ngäbe’s way of life is threatened by the ongoing construction of the Barro Blanco dam. This dam would displace the Ngäbe by threatening to flood several homes, schools, and farms. The free-flowing Tabasará with its abundant fish and crustaceans would be converted into a pool of standing water, breeding bacteria, mosquitos and, ultimately, disease.”

Ngäbe and Buglé women decided that they had had enough. Life for women on the comarca has been hard. Rudimentary health care is barely accessible. The national government builds the odd clinic, but doesn’t staff it or provide materials. There are no ambulances, and besides the roads are perilous. For women, this has a particular impact: “Pregnant women had to walk as many as five hours to give birth and often ended up having to stop to have the baby before arriving to a health center or midwife’s house.” The women also know that poor roads means children can’t get to school, and so they are condemned to poverty. Meanwhile, the few good roads that do exist in the comarca serve the mines and the hydroelectric dams. It’s a familiar situation for Indigenous peoples around the world.

The Ngäbe and Buglé women saw the Barro Blanco dam is the signature of their marginalized, diminished and disrespected personhood, citizenship and humanity. And so they organized. They established a protest camp on the bank of the river and got to work. For twenty years, they watched as the national government voted in law after law that allowed for, and encouraged, direct foreign investment into Indigenous lands. During the same period, Indigenous peoples’ leadership was increasingly feminized, and in 2012, Silvia Carrera, a prominent anti-mining activist, became the first woman elected chief of the Ngöbe-Buglé.

For the past two decades, Ngäbe-Buglé women activists have been systematically assaulted. They have been imprisoned, beaten, raped and killed, and throughout they have continued to lead the movement for dignity and autonomy. They have watched entire villages swept away by the waters, and refused to accept that fate. They have faced down dogs and riot squads. Today, they are still on the move. They have stopped construction of the Barro Blanco Dam, temporarily, but they know that the violence will continue until violation of their land as part of national and regional development is finally rejected.

Silvia Carrera explained, “Look how they treat us. What do we have to defend ourselves? We don’t have anything; we have only words. We are defenseless. We don’t have weapons. We were attacked and it wasn’t just by land but by air too. Everything they do to us, to our land, to our companions who will not come back to life, hurts us. … The government says Good, Panama is growing its economy. Yet the economy is for a few bellaco [macho men]. But progress should be for the majority and for this we will go into the street, and from frontier to frontier, to protest … We are not violent. We just want to reclaim our rights and justice. Above all, we want to live in peace and tranquility.”

And the people respond, “No to the miners! No to the hydroelectric!” From North Dakota to the northwest of Panama, women water protectors are saying YES to the dignity of earth, of their people, of all people, of justice, peace and tranquility.

 

(Photo Credit: Telesur / ESCRIBANA / CONAMUIP)

Judy Da Silva: “The bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up”


Judy Da Silva is the environmental health coordinator for the Grassy Narrows First Nation, also known as the Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg, in northern Ontario. Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, a mother, grandmother, and activist. Her story is the story of contemporary Grassy Narrows, a tale of industrial violence followed by State brutality with a stream throughout of community activism, organizing and hope.

In 1962, the year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, Reed Paper, in Dryden, Ontario, began dumping untreated mercury waste into the Wabigoon River. By 1970, the mill had dumped more than 9,000 kilograms, or close to 10 tons (US), of untreated mercury into the waters. Just downstream lay Grassy Narrows, an Ojibwa community that had been on the Wabigoon and English Rivers for centuries. For centuries, they had relied on fishing as a food source and a cultural and economic base. For centuries, the people of Grassy Narrows had prospered. Then the mercury came, the fish turned to poison, and the mercury levels of the Grassy Narrows First Nation population hit astronomical heights. Members of the community recognized early on that they were suffering new and catastrophic symptoms.

Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, and so she was born in that fateful year, 1962. In an interview this week, Judy Da Silva noted: “I have mercury poisoning. It affects me physically. I’m like the age of the mercury poisoning. I was in my mother’s womb when the poison was being poured into the river … It’s like a slow degenerative form of dying … My mom is still alive and she says they roamed the land freely. They fished, they hunted, they lived off the land. They hardly went to the store. They were very independent economically and socially. Now, it’s like our hands have been severed.”

Since the 1970s, a team of Japanese scientists has been studying and documenting the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. Others have as well. The contamination is considered “a prominent example” by scholars, activists, and just plain folk. And since the 1970s, the Canadian government and the provincial government of Ontario have done absolutely nothing to clean up the river. This week a new report said that the river can be and should be cleaned up. Ontario has a new regime, which seems to be more committed to the rights of indigenous populations, and to the need to address the centuries long violence committed against indigenous people. Will the new provincial government clean up the river?

Thursday, over a thousand people, led by Grassy Narrows teenagers, marched through Toronto, demanding justice. Judy Da Silva was among them, having returned from Geneva where she made a case before the United Nations, arguing Canada had violated the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s right to access to clean water. Back in Toronto, Da Silva is of two minds. On one hand, “We are not valuable enough to be considered. We, as Indigenous people, are expendable. And that’s why the poison is allowed to be still in the river. Money is more important than us.” On the other hand, “I always gotta be hopeful. I can’t be a victim. I gotta be a powerful person.”

In the end, “the bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up.” Judy Da Silva joined the women, elders, teenagers, and everyone in the Grassy Narrows First Nation to say: “No more fancy words, no more studies”. They say NO to the murderous racist devaluation of their lives. They say the time is NOW.

(Photo Credit: Legal Defense Fund for Judy Da Silva)

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, Teresa González Cornelio demand justice!

Jacinta Francisco Marcial

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio are Otomí-speaking ñhäñhú women street vendors who have struggled for the past decade to force the Mexican government to do more than `stop oppressing’ indigenous women. Asserting their dignity as indigenous women, they have demanded justice. This week they may have moved a step closer to that goal.

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to decades in prison for a crime that never occurred. On March 26, 2006, members of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) of the federal Attorney General’s Office showed up at the town plaza of Santiago Mexquititlán in the state of Querétaro. Never identifying themselves as police, they began to shake down the local street vendors, the vast majority of whom were ñhäñhú women. The women massed around the agents and demanded they stop their extortion. The agents’ superiors arrived and offered to pay for damages, and that should have been that.

Four months later, Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested and charged with having kidnapped six agents. The evidence was allegedly a newspaper photograph that showed the three women somewhere in the vicinity of the crowd of indigenous women. The trial dragged on for two years. Not a single federal agent ever showed up or gave testimony, and yet all three women were sentenced to 21 years in prison. That’s justice in Querétaro for the crime of being a working poor, indigenous woman.

At the time of her imprisonment, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was 43 years old. She was married and the mother of six children. She sold juices and ice cream in the town square. Jacinta Francisco Marcial was guilty of the crime of survival with a modicum of dignity.

When she was sent to jail, the Centro Prodh took up her case. Soon after, Amnesty began investigating and campaigning as well. In September 2009, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was released from prison. The Attorney General’s Office had dropped the charges, but never declared her innocent. In April 2010, Alberta Alcántara Juan and Teresa González Cornelio were also released. At the time of their release Alberta Alcántara Juan was 31, and Teresa González Cornelio 25 years old. Teresa González Cornelio gave birth to a baby girl while in prison.

The three women had been released, but Jacinta Francisco Marcial had not been exonerated, and so she sued the State for damages and demanded an apology. In May 2014, in a groundbreaking case, Jacinta Francisco Marcial won, the first time a Mexican citizen sued the State for wrongful incarceration and was awarded reparations and a public apology.

The State refused to pay up or apologize. This week, the earlier judgment was confirmed, and there’s no chance for the State to appeal the decision. The State must compensate and formally apologize, and it must do so by September 2016.

Mexico currently holds over 9000 indigenous people in its prisons. The prisons are hellholes generally, and for indigenous people, even more so. There are little to no language services either in the courts or in the prisons, and so many indigenous people are left to fend for themselves, which is to say disappear. As Jacinta Francisco Marcial has explained on more than one occasion, she didn’t know what kidnapping was when she was charged with that crime.

According to the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights, the conditions of women’s prisons are deplorable. Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto offers threats, humiliation, discrimination; toxic maintenance conditions; unregulated and irregular application of solitary confinement; overcrowding; and more. According to the Commission, Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto is not one of the worst women’s prisons in Mexico, not by a long shot.

The State tried to crush Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, because it considered three working poor indigenous women as so much dust. From the streets to the courts to the prisons to the highest offices in the land, State agents thought they could abuse such women with impunity. But when they struck Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, they hit and dislodged a boulder that will continue to roll and pound until the State of impunity is crushed. There are many Jacintas in Mexico and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: Centro Prodh) (Video Credit: Amnesty / YouTube)

After COP 21, the murders that hide behind international treaties

The Women's Global Call for Climate Justice

At COP 21, Grace Balawag, member of the IIPFCC (the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change) told us her concerns as the language of the treaty being negotiated started to exclude indigenous people. She talked about indigenous right to land, about indigenous peoples’ knowledge and expertise and how, instead of being respected, they were excluded from negotiations while the world’s largest corporations were ubiquitous throughout those discussions.

Three months after the agreement, women and men environmental activists from indigenous communities are still being murdered by hit men working for vested interests often supported by governments, as was recently the case in Honduras and South Africa. Countries like Honduras with its violent repressive regime are just proxies for the violent global market.

As Billy Kyte from Global Witness said, “Indigenous people are being killed in alarming numbers simply for defending rights to their land.” Land means subsistence for indigenous people certainly, but also for the human population as a whole. However, land means carbon exchange market for vested interests. For instance, the REDD program (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is actually a carbon market mechanism that treats the business-made environmental deficiencies as more business and speculative opportunities. Indigenous people see carbon exchange value programs like REDD made by and for unscrupulous corporations as a land grabbing mechanism, a new form of colonialism, “Yesterday’s genocide was done with guns and blankets with small pox. Now they are using carbon trading and REDD.” All this entails murders, and fabricates aggressive justifications for “potentially genocidal policies.” Shouldn’t we all see that?

It is women who have suffered and are still suffering the most under this oppressive system. And so it is indigenous women who show the way toward real solidarity for transformative actions for “Climate justice and women’s rights.”

Why has this market mechanism superseded legally binding resolutions? For the first time, the Paris Accord recognized the climate catastrophic disruption, but by not expressing strong support for indigenous rights, the signers have been complacent with those powers that order the murder of people who fight against the causes of this environmental and human disaster. Therefore, it has failed to propose meaningful solutions.

Grace Balawag reminds us how difficult it is to negotiate under this corporatization and financialization of “nature” and the importance of collaboration.

(Photo Credit: Brigitte Marti) (Interview filmed by Joachim Cairaschi, conducted by Brigitte Marti)

End State terrorism: Free Nestora Salgado now!

 


Women are organizing a revolution in the highlands of Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico. They are mobilizing and militating in self-defense. They are organizing to protect and extend women’s rights and power at home, in the streets, in the State. They are saying, “¡Ya basta!” Enough is way too much. They are calling women from across Mexico to join with them. These are the rank and file and the comandantes of the Community Police Forces. Nestora Salgado is one of the many women in this growing revolution.

At the age of 20, Nestora Salgado left her home town of Olinalá, Guerrero, and moved to the United States. She left for a better life for herself and her three daughters, and she left to escape a physically abusive husband. Ending up in Renton, Washington, Salgado worked as a domestic worker, at first; sent her daughters to school; divorced her husband; obtained U.S. citizenship; remarried.

At a certain point, Salgado started returning, twice a year, to Olinalá. Initially, she returned to maintain family ties, and to bring material goods to the family, and then to the community. In Olinalá, Nestora Salgado witnessed the ravages of the so-called War on Drugs, which had translated much of the narco-violence to the countryside. She saw the government collude with drug cartels. She saw her community crushed by a political economy of violence, consisting of murder, rape, kidnappings, and wall-to-wall terror and intimidation. She saw violence intensifying, poverty deepening and expanding, and a pervasive sense of abandonment.

Nestora Salgado declared, “¡Ya basta!” She joined a local indigenous community police force. While many in the international press refer to such forces as “vigilante”, in fact their existence is codified in the Mexican Constitution and Guerrero legislation. Initially, Salgado’s security force received major funding from the State of Guerrero. Salgado was elected regional comandante.

Within the first ten months of her tenure, the community police broke the hold of the ruling local gang. Homicide, and most crimes of violence, dropped drastically. Kidnapping practically vanished. And women joined the struggle and moved up through the ranks. Women changed both the war zone of the everyday and the social relations of their own communities.

Then Salgado began investigating and arresting local officials, for their criminal involvement with the cartels. Suddenly, Nestora Salgado went from hero to `terrorist.’ On August 21, 2013, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping. She was carted off to the federal maximum-security prison in Tepic, Nayarit, hundreds of miles away. Despite having been acquitted of those charges, she has been held in Tepic, often in solitary, for almost two years. She has had no trial. She has been denied access to medical treatment.

On May 5, Salgado began a hunger strike. After much dithering and handwringing, and no acknowledgment of the previous two years’ ordeal, the National Commission on Human Rights weighed in, and the so-called Human Rights division of the Ministry of the Interior announced, yesterday, that Salgado would be moved out of Tepic and to a prison closer to her lawyers, family, and comrades.

Nestora Salgado is one of many. Every day, Olinalá and the mass grave of Ayotzinapa grow closer. The number of political prisoners rises as violence against journalists intensifies.

As the violence intensifies, so do the demands for freedom and justice. Nestora Salgado has put it succinctly, “They will not break me and I will not ask forgiveness of anyone.” Indigenous women are organizing and militating. #NestoraLibre appears everywhere. Freedom for Nestora Salgado! Freedom and justice for all indigenous women!

I’m not afraid of the hired guns or of organized crime. I’m afraid of the State, for the State will disappear me. It’s the State that attacks us.” Nestora Salgado understands that when “organized crime” attacks Olinalá, it’s the State attacking. And when the State attacks … it’s time to fight back. The women of Olinalá demand freedom for Nestora Salgado and for all who stand with her: Release from prison, freedom from State terror and violence … now!

 

(Photo Credit: La Jornada / Sanjuana Martinez)