This talk was given by Mahtowin Munro at the 49th Annual National Day of Mourning on Nov. 22 in Plymouth, Mass.
Good afternoon and greetings to all who came here in good spirit from the Four Directions. We stand here in the cold and remember all of our elders who passed into the spirit world this year. We remember our siblings, including brave water protectors who are in prison and cannot be here with us today.
Greetings to those of you who are Nipmuc, from the Mashpee and Aquinnah and other bands of the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Massachusett, Pequot and the other nations from the immediate region — whether or not they are federally recognized — who had their land stolen for the first time in the 1600s and are facing the possibility of having it re-stolen now.
Welcome to all the Indigenous people who are from other nations throughout the Americas, and any Indigenous people from Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the Earth who may be here today.
We welcome representatives of our many non-Native allies, including those representing struggles such as the Movement for Black Lives, Gaza, Haiti, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Thank you for being here with us. Many communities are mourning tragedies at this time.
Thank you to those who have traveled long distances to be here, and who came on buses from the International Action Center in New York and Jamaica Plain, and from Eritye Papa Dessalin in Brooklyn. We thank the supporters and organizers of those buses, including Dahoud Andre, Espe Martell and the late Marie Runyon, who recently passed, at age 103.
I recently read about a poll showing that two-thirds of non-Natives in this country did not personally know an Indigenous person, and 40 percent thought we were extinct. That kinda made me feel like a unicorn. But we are still here. Aren’t we? No matter how much they try to erase us.
As we come together in November of 2018, we as Indigenous people face widespread attacks on our bodies, our families, our lands and our sovereignty. We each have our individual body, our family body and our tribal nation body. We cannot separate any of those from the land, water and plant and animal life all around us that are also part of our bodies. We are completely interconnected.
Stop the theft of Indigenous children!
Some of us who are here today come from families where we were taken away — to be put into Indian residential schools, or in foster care, or adopted. We understand every day the pain and lifelong ruptures caused by being stolen from our families, and often abused as a result. Even if we did not go through this ourselves, we may have family members who were stolen from their communities. Some of us had this happen in our families for multiple generations. We continue to experience intergenerational trauma within our families and tribal communities because of what happened.
I raise this because in October, the Indian Child Welfare Act was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in Texas. The ICWA was passed in 1978 to put a halt to Indigenous kids in the U.S. growing up in non-Native families without their culture and tribal connections. Before that law was passed, about a third of Indigenous children were being removed from their families and adopted into white families.
But now there are many forces, ranging from for-profit adoption placement agencies to religious fundamentalists to right-wing think tanks, such as the Goldwater Institute, that want to return us to those destructive times. Indigenous people and others who work with our children and families are scrambling to deal with this legal blow against all of our nations.
In addition, thousands of our children are being taken from their homes and placed in foster care, sometimes referred to as the “new residential schools,” because so many children are being unnecessarily separated from their families. In the U.S. and Canada, Indigenous children have disproportionately high rates of placement in foster care. Whole industries have grown up around adoption and foster care services. Money is being made from our children’s wrecked lives.
When the media say that the separation of families by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is a new phenomenon, we are clear that this is not something that just started with Trump or Obama. It has been happening for centuries to Black and Indigenous families. Hasn’t it?
There are 573 federally recognized tribal nations in the U.S., with many more tribes that are state-recognized. I say nations because we are members of distinct nations, many of which have a nation-to-nation treaty status with the U.S. or Canada.
There are also millions of Indigenous people here from Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and many other countries. The borders between all these countries are not our borders! Many of the refugees whose children are being stolen by ICE now are Maya families. By and large, Indigenous people here are horrified at the sight of stolen children in cages and being carted off to detention centers, because we deeply feel the pain and the fear of having our children stolen from us.
When many of us look at those stolen refugee children and their families who are fleeing their countries destroyed by U.S. policies, we grieve for their suffering, too, as they try to survive and keep their families together. I stand here today to demand that these refugees be given asylum by these settlers who sit in the U.S. government. We must demand an end to the theft of all our children!
The attacks are not just on our children. Indigenous women have been under attack since 1492. That has never ended. In modern times, it is estimated that from 1960 through the 1980s, as many as 25 percent to 60 percent of Native American women in the U.S. were sterilized without informed consent. This happened in Canada, Peru and other countries, too.
I am mentioning this today because it is still happening in Canada. Indigenous women there are being coerced into being sterilized in Saskatchewan and other provinces. Stories are coming out about Indigenous mothers being pressured while they are in labor to have their tubes tied — or not being allowed to see their newborn babies until they agree to be sterilized. A huge swath of future generations of our people has never been born as a result of anti-Indigenous public policies.
‘No more stolen sisters!’
We asked people to wear something red today to say, “No more stolen sisters!” to honor the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2S).
One of the many reasons that Indigenous nations all over are fighting against pipelines, fracking and mining is that man camps are set up for the workers. The men have huge sums of money and lots of drugs, such as meth and heroin, to entice Indigenous women, who often end up being addicted and trafficked. Some of these sisters disappear; some are killed.
Man camps are one of the many factors that leads to MMIWG2S, which is thought of as a Canadian issue, but is a big problem in the U.S., Mexico and other countries, too. This happens in cities, too, not just in rural areas.
Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women in the U.S. In Canada, several thousand Indigenous women are considered to be missing or murdered. In cities like Winnipeg, Manitoba, Indigenous youth — many of them in foster care — women, and two spirits people disappear all the time. In border towns with Mexico, women disappear all the time.
One of the problems in talking about MMIWG2S is that Indigenous women are often uncounted, so the numbers that we have are very incomplete. Recently, through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 murdered or missing urban Indigenous women from 71 U.S. cities from which they had requested data.
But that’s a substantial undercount. Some cities, such as Santa Fe, N.M., do not even identify Indigenous people separately in their statistics, even though there is a large Indigenous population in that area. In multiple cities and states, authorities do not try to keep track of Indigenous people and what happens to us. We do not appear in many types of government statistics, whether here in Massachusetts or nationally. This undercounting is part of our erasure.
Indigenous families who report that their relatives have disappeared are often met by reluctance by authorities to investigate or file reports. Families are told things like, “Ah, she’ll turn up. She is probably just off getting drunk somewhere.”
Most of the men who assault and murder Indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada are white men. They are often not prosecuted even when they are apprehended. Or they are acquitted by all-white juries or given a slap on the wrist.
Additionally, Indigenous people continue to experience disproportionately high rates of police violence and imprisonment. Unhoused Indigenous people are attacked and killed for fun in places like Albuquerque, N.M.
The devaluation of the lives and bodies of Indigenous people, and the violence against Indigenous women, in particular, are deeply intertwined with the contempt that settlers and their systems have for the land. They do not respect our sovereignty as Indigenous nations, and they do not respect the sovereignty of our bodies.
Indigenous people fight to defend their lands
Indigenous people are always on the front line of defending the environment because state and federal governments issue permits and give carte blanche to corporations that want to engage in destructive, extractive actions on or near our lands. All over the Americas, pipelines, fracking and mining are being pushed through on Indigenous lands without our consent.
From Chile to Nova Scotia and Labrador to British Columbia, Indigenous water protectors and land protectors are trying to stop these projects. A lot of you here know about the struggles at Standing Rock to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. But there have been more frontline fights, largely led by Indigenous people, against the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Kinder Morgan in British Columbia, the TMT Telescope in Hawaii and more. The resistance has continued in efforts to stop the development of sacred areas, such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah and the sacred Apache Oak Flat area in Arizona.
We are honored to have a speaker who has traveled here today all the way from Labrador in Canada, where the Inuit have been trying to stop the Muskrat Falls megadam project. In the Yucatan area of Mexico, Maya people are protesting the Maya Train project to which they have not given consent.
One way to stop these projects has been to go after the banks and investors that are funding the corporations behind these destructive projects. A movement has grown to get cities, universities and pension funds to divest from destructive companies, such as Energy Transfer Partners.
People talk about climate change but often feel powerless in the face of government inaction and denial. Being with each other at events like the National Day of Mourning is a dress rehearsal for saving the Earth. The Earth will not be saved with all these schemes we hear about, such as carbon credits and putting a shield over the Earth to block the sun. Real change is going to come when non-Native people listen to Indigenous voices.
Today, we assert our right to care for one another and decolonize our minds, our histories, our languages and our systems. We assert our right to defend our lives and our families — and those of our relatives who have been crossed by the border. We must defend the right to our lands from Mashpee to Mapuche territory in Chile.