As president of the Fund of the Four Directions (FFD), I deeply grieve the loss of Ingrid Washinawatok – director, colleague and beloved friend. Ingrid worked with us for seven years – bringing her exuberance and generosity of heart – her considerable skills in the field of human rights and women's issues; and her passionate desire for peace and justice. Ingrid led the work of the Fund, as she did her life, guided by three fundamental questions: Are we being respectful? Is this work being done in a good way? How will this work effect those around me and how will it effect the next seven generations? She was known and greatly loved by all she worked with. She saw and responded to each person’s humanity. She respected all life.
The work of the Fund has gone on for over 30 years. Its mission has always been to assist those peoples whose human rights were endangered, to take action on their own behalf, and to assist those who work to protect the earth. Over the last three years, our program has sharpened and focused to support those same goals and principles by supporting and encouraging Indigenous communities as they struggle to survive in their home territories with their languages and ways of life.
Her trip to Colombia, accompanied by Lahee'nae' Gay and Terrence Freitas, was an extension and expression of the work we do at the Fund, and of her own life's work. Lahe'ena'e Gay was the co-founder and director of Pacific Cultural Conservancy International (PCCI), established to preserve and support the cultural and biological diversity of the human family. Lahe used her extraordinary energy, intelligence, courage and compassion in service of this work. Terrance co-founded the U'wa Defense Project to support the U'wa in reclaiming their full traditional territory, to assist them in their right to control development, and to assist them in protecting their culture without fear of violence or repression. His deep understanding and respect for the U'wa people and his unswerving and courageous support took him there for over two years.
The U'wa stand strong in protecting their ancestral lands, but their cultural and territorial integrity is greatly threatened. The youth of their community are losing their ability and desire to maintain their traditional language and culture. The U'wa elders see this as one of the greatest threats to their people. Both women journeyed to Columbia at the invitation of the U'wa people to explore how to establish an educational system for their children that would support the continuation of their traditional way of life.
The events that took place after their kidnapping and subsequent execution are extremely complex and incompletely understood. Neither the Fund nor I are in a position to comment on them – we have our personal opinions but in this context, we are here to represent the importance of their life's work and to support Ingrid’s family at this difficult time. We do, however, support and encourage the families and friends in their efforts to seek the truth and to obtain justice.
Ingrid Washinawatok was doing the work of the Fund while traveling on her own life's path. In doing so she, Lahe and Terrence gave the ultimate sacrifice – their own lives. The most appropriate way for us to honor Ingrid, Lahe and Terrence is to continue our work, and we stand here today to reaffirm our commitment to do so.