Supporters of the Nahuacalli Embassy of Indigenous Peoples gathered together in Phoenix for the Pohualtlahtoyan: Tribunal de los Pueblos on September 11 and 12. The group came together to address the violations of civil rights, human rights, indigenous rights and rights of Mother Earth in the territories referenced by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the United States and Mexico. The gathering was projected as “a regional venue for indigenous peoples to formulate a collective process to rectify the historical and present-day systemic injustices in a spirit of self-determination and with respect for the rights of Mother Earth.”
“We basically had a tribunal for indigenous people to meet and talk about what has been happening over the last several decades [and the] indigenous movements that have been happening throughout North, Central and South America,” said Shannon Rivers from Gila River Indian Community. “We talked about the rights of self-determination, the rights of culture and tradition, and the ability to share religious freedom. We brought in Vicky Flores from Durango, Mexico, who is an O’odham and who wants to have the right to travel [across the U.S.-Mexico border] to see her relatives in the north—who are us—and share those cultural exchanges.”
Rivers and Tupac Enrique Acosta from Nahuacalli saw the September event as a chance to show Flores the other O’odham communities, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and also to build a relationship between O’odham relatives north and south.
There are more than 15,000 O’odhams who live in Flores’ community of Durango, similar to the size of Gila River; it is in a remote area of Mexico up in the woods where there are pine trees. She speaks the O’odham language and learned Spanish in school, just as the O’odhams in the United States learn English in American schools. Flores never knew there were other O’odhams outside of Mexico because of the remote area she comes from.
“We know the O’odham territory expanded far to the north and far to the south, and what we’re trying to do is get young people to recognize that we didn’t come from reservations, but we were put on reservations,” said Rivers. “[Youth need to know that the O’odham] had traditional territories, and they have the recognition and the right to those territories. What I mean by that is the right to access sacred sites, self-determination on those sacred sites, recognition of religious freedom, and the right as indigenous people to determine what happens with those territories. They also have the right to cross these so-called international boarders that have divided the people.”
As the group toured the Community, they visited the senior centers in both Salt River and Lehi to visit with the elders and talk to them in the O’odham language and inform them about the movement. After meeting with the seniors, they visited the Huhugam Ki Museum and spoke with Mary Garcia, O’odham Piipaash Language Program, O’odham Language Instructor.
Both women went over the O’odham language, comparing their words for body parts, clothing and numbers.
“We found out everything is pretty much the same; [the names for] all the body parts were the same, and most of the numbers; there were a few variations in the [words for] the number five and 10,” said Flores. “This demonstrates that we are brothers and sisters, and that if there is a change it’s only because of that distance and separation.”
Garcia explained her experience as she met other O’odhams from northern Mexico, and was pleased to learn that there are more O’odhams a little more south in Mexico.
“To my O’odham brothers in Arizona, I would like them to know that it has been beautiful to me to learn that we are brothers and sisters even though you are here in Arizona and we are in Mexico,” Flores said. “Surely at one time we were together. Now we are finding ourselves again, and it’s like we are finding family; we are the same. Our language is demonstrating that, because we did not learn it from anybody; that language we have, it’s ours. Everything we are capable of saying with our language, that is our knowledge, that is what our ancestors left to us, our grandfathers and our grandmothers. Now our task is to educate the youth about our history, because this is going to make us stronger and more content being O’odham—because we are strong and we do struggle and we defend our land, culture and language.”
The Pohualtlatoyan is a regional grassroots initiative that intends to move this process forward, implementing the systemic standards established by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to bring clarity and rectification to our mutual responsibilities and shared relationships as children of the Nations and Pueblos of Mother Earth.
An essential question in the process is a clarification of the historical and legal relationship among the Nations and Pueblos of Indigenous Peoples of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo territories with each other as Indigenous Confederacies preceding European colonization, and the subsequent histories since October 12, 1492.