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Webmaster's Blog - Native American Resources

A place to put resources of a more ephemeral nature, such as events, recommended new websites, new books, etc.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bolivians Vote on a New Constitution

MOROCOLLO, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivian Indians on Sunday threw their support behind a new constitution aimed at increasing their strength while allowing leftist President Evo Morales a shot at staying in power through 2014.

Voters were expected to easily approve the measure in a country whose Indian majority has been long oppressed.

But opposition from Bolivia's white and mestizo populations and disputes over the document's wording foreshadowed yet more political turmoil in a divided nation where tensions over race and class have recently turned deadly.

Bolivia's first Indian president, Morales says the charter will ''decolonize'' South America's poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under centuries of oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest.

The proposed document, for example, would create a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia's smaller indigenous groups and eliminates any mention of The Roman Catholic Church, instead recognizing and honoring the Pachamama, an Andean earth deity.

''Here, we're all voting yes,'' said Pascual Choque, 64, an Aymara Indian who left home on foot before dawn to vote in the tiny town of Morocollo, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

''There's not a single 'no' here. No mestizos, no white faces -- all 'yes,''' he said, drawing a chuckle from fellow Aymaras lined up in a schoolyard to cast their ballots.

Opposition forces worry the president's proposal ignores the country's growing urban population, which mixes both Indian blood and tradition with a new Western identity.

''The constitution's idea is to make the indigenous no longer invisible,'' said Bolivian historian Fernando Cajias, himself a mestizo. ''But it creates a whole new invisible world'' of mixed-heritage Bolivians.

The proposed charter calls for a general election in December in which Morales could run for a second, consecutive five-year term. The current constitution permits two terms, but not consecutive.

One of the key features of the proposed constitution is a provision granting autonomy for 36 indigenous ''nations'' and several opposition-controlled eastern states. But both are given a vaguely defined ''equal rank'' that fails to resolve their rival claims over Bolivia's fertile eastern lowlands and open land that sits atop Bolivia's natural gas reserves. The development of those reserves drives much of the country's economy.

With an eye to redistributing territory in the region, the constitution also would limit future land holdings to either 12,000 or 24,000 acres (5,000 or 10,000 hectares), depending which voters choose. Current landholders are exempt from the cap -- a nod to the east's powerful cattle and soy industries, which fiercely oppose the proposal.

Morales, an Aymara Indian, has married his mission to improve life for Bolivia's indigenous with what ally and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls ''21st century socialism.''

Elected in 2005 on a promise to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas industry, Morales has increased the state's presence throughout the economy and expanded benefits for the poor.

Morales also booted Bolivia's U.S. ambassador and several federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents after claiming they had conspired against his government last year. The U.S. government has denied the allegations.

Morales' reforms remain widely popular, winning him 67 percent support in an August recall election. But his biggest project nearly failed in 2006, when an assembly convened to rewrite the constitution broke apart along largely racial lines.

The constitutional dispute has erupted in violence on several occasions: Three college students were killed in anti-government riots in 2007, and 13 mostly indigenous Morales supporters were killed in a remote jungle clash in September when rioters seized government buildings to prevent a draft constitution from going to a vote.

In an October deal, Congress approved holding the referendum only after Morales agreed to seek one more term instead of two.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Return of the Natives - Timothy Egan Blog

January 14, 2009, 10:00 PM
Return of the Natives
SALT RIVER INDIAN RESERVATION, Ariz. — Nearly 50 years ago, a Pima native took a Greyhound bus from this sun-roasted redoubt of Indian land to the winter chill of Washington, D.C.,to witness the first day of a young American president.

“When he came home, my father was so excited because John Kennedy stood up for him when he walked by him in the parade,” said Diane Enos. “The president stood up for an Indian! He couldn’t stop talking about that.”

Next week, Diane Enos will make the same trip, along with hundreds of other American Indians who hope that Barack Obama’s inauguration will bring the wind of possiblity to Indian Country.

In less than a week’s time, the Great White Father will be black. Amidst the euphoria and stirring of fresh ideas, there remains some suspicion.

“He’s still a politician and I’m still an Indian,” said Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning writer, a Spokane and Coeur d’Alene native.

“They all look like treaty-makers to me,” said Alexie, paraphrasing the native musician, John Trudell. “I guess that’s the puzzling and I suppose lovely thing about Indians’ love of Obama. Many have suspended their natural suspicion of politicians for him.”

So often, they are invisible, these first Americans, or frozen in iconic images of the past. We see them in Curtis prints and Remington poses, or hear something attributed to them in New Age spiritual circles. Cool, Indians.

And then a new casino opens off the interstate or a pottery exhibit is unveiled, and we realize: ah yes, they’re with us still.

With Obama’s rise, Indians have allowed themselves to dream — some, even to fall in love. He was adopted into an Indian family in Montana last May, given the name “Barack Black Eagle” by the Crow Nation.

When asked about immigration concerns in New Mexico, Obama pointed to a handful of elderly natives in the front row of a high school gym.

“He said, ‘The only real native people in this country are sitting right in front of me,’ ” recalled Joe Garcia, who is president of the National Congress of American Indians. “You should have heard the applause.”

The epic struggle for natives has been to avoid getting washed away by the flood of dominant culture, where Indians make up less than 2 percent of more than 300 million Americans.

That, and the physical toll that losing this big land has taken on them. Indians die younger than most other Americans, suffer from higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, debilitating dietary problems.

The Pimas, who hold to this 52,000-acre homeland amidst the predatory sprawl of 4.2 million people here in the Phoenix metro area, have one of the world’s highest rates of type 2 diabetes — a consequence of the rough adjustment from their world to one handed down by Europeans.

Presidents come and go. They promise to uphold treaty rights and appoint somebody to oversee Indian affairs who understands that history did not end when Custer fell to his hubris. It’s ho-hum, usually, with a mournful shrug on the reservations.

But on the most recent Election Day, on the Navajo Rez, which spills into three states and is the size of West Virginia, high school kids held up Obama signs at intersections in the town of Window Rock, and cheered themselves hoarse as returns came in.

“I feel very elated,” said Joe Shirley, Jr., president of the Navajo Nation. “All of Navajo Country came out strong for Obama.”

Shirley says nearly half of Navajo families heat their homes with wood they cut themselves, drink water hauled into their homes in barrels and light their rooms with kerosene lamps.

Talk about stimulus: a billion dollars, one-seven-hundredth of what taxpayers are giving the financial institutions that caused the Crash of 2008, could bring much of Navajo land into the modern age, Shirley said.

But beyond the desire for urgent, fundamental infrastructure help, Indians look to Obama as a powerful narrative. People who were subjugated, with near-genocidal brutality, feel a kinship with people who were first brought here in chains, even though Obama is an immigrant’s son.

“There’s a bond there,” said Shirley. “Birds of a feather flock together. We try to teach that there are no impossibilities to Navajo people. His election speaks to the young especially.”

Cynicism is the poison of so many young people. In Indian Country, where despair is often woven into the landscape, it takes hold even earlier.

So when Diane Enos, who is president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, arrives in the festive capital next week she will have a teenage tribal leader with her.

“Obama’s life has been a journey to find identity,” she said. “That’s the Indian stuggle. And it starts with children.”

On Inauguration Day, the capital will host the likes of Ludacris and Chaka Khan, corporate titans and political giants, and balls too numerous to count.

Among the sea of Americans ushering in the president will be a small contingent of people who have clung to this continent longer than any other. And for once — if only for a January moment — they will feel like they belong.