Seeds of Truth: Indigenous women, food security and the genocide of the Americas


My name is Tyra Cox and I am of Sahtu Dene and Anishinaabe lineage within Canada (North America). As an Indigenous women, there were very specific areas of Indigenous rights that I wanted to explore on the journey with Central American and North American youth as part of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise (KBE) Youth Exchange with Guatemala. As a participant I wanted to focus on three areas of the solution that are very integral to my leadership and journey within Canadian Indigenous communities. First, I want to be a witness to Indigenous women’s experiences and leadership that has had to be rebuilt due to the colonization. Second, I want to learn as much as possible about the innovative change solutions that we as Indigenous people are building through community development and food security, because these were almost wiped out… again from colonization. Third, I want to point out, in solidarity, that the colonization of Indigenous peoples is more similar than different across the Americas. We as women, as nations, and as human beings have suffered more alike than apart, especially as Indigenous peoples. From collecting oral history and colonial history across Canada about Indigenous peoples in North America, and from reading about the history of Central America, including the books by Indigenous leaders who stood up to those who committed genocide in Guatemala and whom we will meet on this trip, I wrote: Indigenous Women, Food Security, and the Genocide of the Americas.”

I think it is so important when working with Indigenous communities, nations, and people that leadership and change makers NOT: make poverty porn, exclude women from the story and history, and leave out ties and aspects of health and wellness, whether it be spirituality, food sovereignty, or any other type of solution that usually gets “othered” in our performance measurement based society that is so focused on numbers and money. We must let peoples tell their own stories, create their own solutions, include women at the forefront and as the backbone of the change and solution, as well as bring empowerment by creating local solutions in health and wellness areas.

When I think about Indigenous histories and work with Indigenous peoples I see the trauma and the pain, but there is something so beautiful about the women and men who push through the hardships to make way for new seeds of life. In the greatest respect, they make the history that is required to be written and remembered. This is why I feel so blessed to be a part of KAIROS Blanket Exercise (KBE) Youth Exchange with Guatemala, and an affiliate to many change and social justice advocate circles in North America which are now expanding into Central America through this journey.


Full Article

I am an Indigenous woman of Anishinaabe and Sahtu Dene lineage, an Indigenous lineage that has survived the on-going genocide within Canada. Too often I have seen the voices of Indigenous women and our matriarchs erased from the history of North America, and the spaces we call education. Meanwhile the countries known as Canada, United States of America (USA), and the region of Latin America have colonized and contributed to the extermination of the original descendants, Indigenous women, men, and their children, with no repercussions. There are links between the violence experienced by Indigenous women, the food security issues that Indigenous nations face, and the history of genocide across the Americas

Jesus Tecu Osorio witnessed and documented the massacres of Rio Negro in Rabinal, Guatemala . In his book, “Memoir Of The Rio Negro Massacres”, he speaks about what Indigenous nations from Guatemala experienced through genocide and war. The massacres began with the arrival of the National Electricity Institute (INDE), a hydroelectric company that proposed in 1977-1978 the construction of a dam which further destroyed “the farming land of one hundred and fifty families living on the shores of the river submerged by the dam” (Osorio 45). This land was lush and perfect for crops and good living. In Canada, many First Nations communities suffered the same fate from hydroelectric companies. In the province of Manitoba, a company called Manitoba Hydro has caused poverty and lack of food security for Indigenous communities; to name a few First Nation communities who have suffered: Tataskweyak Cree Nation, York Factory First Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation and War Lake First Nation.

The 1900s marked a colonial century for South, Central and North America where Indigenous communities were never consulted about the mass appropriation of their territories that had sustained their health and well-being since time immemorial. Furthermore, if these communities resisted they were met with the raping of their women (culture of ambivalence towards the rape/assaults), massacres by security forces (all Indigenous peoples have marked sites of genocide across the Americas), and their food systems were destroyed with the intent of starve the people.

The Guatemalan genocide in the 1980s, was made possible by the Mobile Military Police (PMA), an entity officially independent of the military police but actually under direct military control and working to protect the landowning elite, who controlled the rural population, and INDE’s interests. Furthermore, the Guatemala National Army collaborated with the PMA and INDE, and began terrorizing Indigenous communities further. The army even formed Civil Defense Patrols (PACs) that consisted of Indigenous “volunteers” from local communities forced to follow orders to carry out genocide… or they were met with death (Osorio 57-70). This perpetuated a history of rape for Indigenous women; for example, a pregnant woman was beaten, raped, killed, and buried with her infant who was still alive (Osorio 75). Witnesses to the genocide saw whole communities of Indigenous women and their children murdered and buried this way. The PMA, Army, and PACs could do anything to the community, and if anyone spoke up about the illegal activities, they would be accused of being a guerilla fighter and further tortured and killed.

Those from the communities who fled to the mountains could not make fires because the smoke would reveal where they were hiding. This meant there was no way of cooking or even tilling land and creating sustenance for the community (Osorio 112). In Guatemala once you clear land it is not easy to get a good yield that reproduces. It can take up to 8-9 years. So, during the war, most Indigenous families suffered from malnutrition (Menchu and Burgos-Debray 4). When Indigenous communities spoke out to the army and said that they were hardworking community members and not guerilla fighters, a commission was sent to Rio Negro in 1983, where they carried out a massacre in a local fishing village in the reservoir. The PACs were ordered to destroy plots full of corn, beans, and pumpkin so that the people living in the mountains would be left without food (Osorio 119).

While the South and Central American genocides were occurring on one end of the Americas, another genocide was occurring to the North. In Canada, European settlers were granted free land to farm and settle if they worked a certain number of years in the army, for the North West Mounted Police, or on the rail ways. Those who opposed the occupation of land by the Canadian government were silenced and even killed.. Indigenous peoples were not allowed to have legal counsel. Lawyers who tried to fight against injustices towards Indigenous people would be disbarred, and if Indigenous people left their small reserves, which were deemed “land reserved for Indians” without permission, they could be put in jail. This limited sustenance gathering was compounded by the fact the government gave the better agriculture spots to European settlers, and their accomplices. This was prime agriculture and resource rich land. In Canada and the USA Indigenous food sources such as the buffalo were slaughtered, almost to the point of extinction by the United States army, as well as by the Canadian government and its army. The populations of buffalo across the plains in Canada were intentionally and methodically taken away by colonial forces to gain control over the territories of malnourished populations of Indigenous communities.

My mother talks about the genocide of Indigenous women from all nations across Canada and the USA. She talks about Indigenous women’s scalped vaginas being sold as mounted trophies and displayed in Europeans homes for show and perhaps conversations over tea. This was the time in Indigenous genocide where scalps were being taken from Indigenous people for money and in order to gain further control over the lands that Indigenous nations occupied.

While colonial forces in the USA and Canada brought the buffalo to the brink of extinction, in Central America colonial forces destroyed fields and healthy food/plants such as the Amaranth that sustained the life of Indigenous peoples. In the 1900s the colonizers poisoned lakes and waterways with hydroelectric dams and aqueducts, and forced Indigenous children into residential schools that led to malnourishment and in some cases death. Now, in the 2000s, the mining, resource, gas and energy industries have taken away the food security of Indigenous communities across Canada, USA, and Latin America. Resource extraction companies many of them Canadian are contributing to genocide against the Mayan Nations in Guatemala by using corrupt government officials and police systems for profit.

In Williams Lake, British Colombia, the Secwepemc and Nuxalk Nations no longer have salmon because the “safe” tailings pond at Mount Polley managed by Imperial Metals spilled into Quesnel Lake in 2014 and caused an enormous and unprecedented environmental disaster. The Nation no longer has food security or sovereignty over its homelands, and the salmon have not come back. The site is open for mining again in 2017, and the provincial government is not pressing charges.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ( Declaration) is an international human rights instrument that protects Indigenous communities by outlining the minimum human rights that are required. Article 22 (2) ensures that “states shall take measures, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, to ensure that Indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.” In article 20 (1) it states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their…[security] in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development”, and in article 20 (2) that “Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.”

Today these genocides are still a reality in the Americas, and the past injustices of genocide remain in impunity for Indigenous nations of women, men, and children who live in what is now known to us as Canada, USA, and Latin America.


References

Menchu, Rigoberta and Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. I…Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. London: Verso Editions and NLB, 1984. Book.

Osorio, Jesus Tecu. Memoir Of The Rio Negro Massacres: May my parent’s tragic story live on in the memories of my children. Iximulew: Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network (BTS, 2012. Book.


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