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Statement By
THE INDIGENOUS WOMEN'S NETWORK

News From Indian Country
© March 21, 1999

March 8, l999 (EDITED)

We the members of the Indigenous Women's Network address our comments to the world. On Feb. 25, we received word that our sister, Ingrid Washinawatok, the co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network and Lahe'ena'e Gay and Terence Freitas, two other members of a humanitarian delegation to the U'wa people of Colombia were kidnapped.

It was during the end of their visit that our sisters and brother were kidnapped by hooded men in civilian clothing from the car they were traveling in.

The three were part of a delegation that had been invited by the U'wa people to join in prayer and solidarity. The purpose of the trip was to assist the U'wa tribe in establishing a cultural education system for their children and support their continuation of their traditional way of life.

The morning of March 5, the U.S. Embassy contacted the families of Ingrid, Lahe'ena'e and Terence informing them their bodies had been found in Venezuela about 30 yards from the border of Colombia.

The Indigenous Women's Network, joining with the Menominee Nation, and other Indigenous Nations, is calling for a full prosecution of those responsible, and an investigation into the actions of the US State Department in reference to this incident. We believe that the US State Department destabilized negotiations and ultimately cost our sisters and brother their lives, in a possible attempt to gain financial support for US policies in Colombia.

We attribute this assertion to the fact that during the negotiations for the release of the three humanitarian workers, the US State Department released approximately $230 million in military support for the allegedly Anti-Drug War in Colombia. The Colombian government had just recently attacked and killed over 70 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC in an orchestrated attack.

The U'wa people live in the Arauca province in northeastern Colombia. The U.S. oil multi-national corporations, Occidental Petroleum and Shell Oil had been carrying out oil exploration in the area known as the Samore Block, the ancestral homelands of the U'wa people. It is estimated that these oilfields hold less than l.5 billion barrels of oil, equating to less than a three month supply for the US. The U'wa people had threatened to commit mass suicide if these oil companies were successful in their exploitive endeavors.

US and Colombian government officials were prompt to lay blame on the left wing guerrilla forces of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). This situation is not one that blame can be established through words of government officials without conducting an investigation. It is a much more complex crime.

The reality is that the Indigenous community and the US State Department had both been involved in negotiations for the release of these three humanitarian workers. Apesanahkwat, Chair of the Menominee Nation was active in attempting to negotiate the release of the hostages as soon as he heard of their capture.

"I sent a direct communique to the leadership of FARC two days after she was captured.... The FARC leadership had sent a response by e-mail the morning of the hostages' death," Apesanahkwat said. "They sent greetings to us as a relative Indigenous group, and said they were optimistic about seeking her release," he said.

Yet, as Apesanahkwat noted, the US government sent money for arms to the Colombian government four or five days after the kidnappings, knowing that those arms might be used against the rebels who may have held the kidnap victims, and that the kidnap victims might well be executed in retaliation. Tensions were high.

We, the Indigenous Women's Network join with the Menominee Nation in calling for a congressional committee inquiry into the State Department actions in Colombia, with regards to this incident. We also request, on behalf of our sister Ingrid, that her death not be used to forward political ends of the US State Department, but that instead, it be recognized as a crime, a continuation of the Indian wars.

It is a crime against humanity. Against the mothers whose daughter's and son's moccasins no longer walk on our Mother Earth. It is a crime against the sane, the Indigenous Peoples and all peaceful citizens of the world. This crime was committed by the insane, the greedy, the corrupt and those that will ignore the exploitive trade agreements which allow and accept these practices as business as usual, all in the name of protecting "National Interests," and subsequently the interests of multinational corporations. We believe that responsibility for these deaths rests with all of these parties.

Ingrid and her companions gave the ultimate sacrifice their lives in the struggle for the attainment of human rights for Indigenous Peoples. State Department support will increase the militarization of a country already fraught with one of the highest rates of violence in the western hemisphere, and a state continuing violence against Indigenous peoples. It is against violence, and for the life of the people and the land, that Ingrid, and the others stood. Ingrid, as well as her companions, viewed the situation of the U'wa as a part of the global struggle for Indigenous self determination as well as the preservation of the natural environment. The deaths of our three companeros must be understood as having a direct relationship to the many thousands of deaths of those who seek human justice not only in Colombia but throughout the world.

The Indigenous Women's Network and others will do our utmost to see that justice is done and that we will continue Ingrid's fight in her support of the U'wa Peoples and all those who work for social justice.

We also demand that financial support to the Colombian military be withdrawn until the true facts surrounding the deaths are revealed. As women, we are the Mothers of our Nations. We share the responsibility of being lifegivers, nurturers and sustainers of life as Mother Earth is a life giver. The Indigenous Women's Network is committed to nurturing our children and planting seeds of truth for generations to come. We do not want to repeat past mistakes. We will continue our work to eliminate the oppression of colonization, and to end the Indian wars.

The Indigenous Women's Network demand that the parties responsible for the abduction and execution of Ingrid Washinawatok, Terence Freitas, and Lahe'ena'e Gay, be brought to justice.

In the Spirit of Mother Earth, The Indigenous Women's Network

Tributes For Ingrid
 
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