Tribal leaders meet with Bolivian President


Richard Moore

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North American tribal leaders meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales

© Indian Country Today September 19, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Posted: September 19, 2006
by: Rick Kearns / Indian Country Today

Meeting is the first of many

NEW YORK - Tribal leaders and the Aymaran president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, 
held a historic meeting September 18 before Morales' speech at the United 
Nations, where they discussed the dangers facing the natural world as well as 
human rights issues for Native peoples.

Morales, along with his country's foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, Aymara, 
are in New York City for the opening of this year's General Assembly at the 
United Nations. Morales addressed the General Assembly Sept. 19.

He met with leaders from the Haudenosaunee, Lakota and Cree nations, along with 
urban Natives from New York City. The opening ceremony was performed by Sid 
Hill, Tadodaho of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations, Iroquois Confederacy) from 
Onondaga in upstate New York. Oren Lyons, also from Onondaga; Alex White Plume, 
tribal chairman and a traditional leader of the Oglala Lakota Nation at Pine 
Ridge; Willie Littlechild and Rick Lightning, both Ermineskin Cree Nation; John 
Bull, Louis Bull Cree Nation; and Raymond Cutknife, Samson Cree Nation, also 
participated in the exchange. Local leadership included Tonya Gonnella Frichner,
a citizen of the Onondaga Nation. The meeting's moderators included Roberto 
Borrero, Taino; Esmeralda Brown, a longtime U.N. advocate for indigenous rights;
and Kent Lebsock, executive director of the American Indian Law Alliance.

Prior to the afternoon meeting, Hill and White Plume listed some of the issues 
they would discuss as well as their approach to the gathering.

''We will talk about environmental issues around the country and the world, but 
also our battles with the courts,'' Hill explained. ''We are, of course, looking
forward to meeting him but also to see if he can help our cause as Native 
peoples on our lands. Going through the U.S. courts is not getting us any kind 
of justice.''

White Plume echoed those concerns and noted additional details.

''Bolivia is a poor country, and I come from the poorest county in the U.S.; and
we don't want to stay poor,'' White Plume asserted. ''We're going to ask him to 
ask why the U.S. doesn't honor the treaty rights of the Lakota; why every treaty
was violated within three years ... and when we try to get a bill through 
Congress, they say we have no jurisdiction.

''We're going through the international arena to get support,'' he added.

The meeting was hosted by the secretariat of the U.N. Permanent Forum on 
Indigenous Issues and the AILA, an indigenous peoples' nongovernmental 
organization with offices in New York City. Alex Contreras, Morales' press 
secretary, stated that ''the meeting was set up at the request of President 
Morales, who seeks to initiate a substantive exchange between indigenous leaders
from the North and the South to discuss the issues shared by Native peoples of 
the Western Hemisphere.'' Lebsock added, ''The election of President Morales is 
an historic event for all Indian peoples. For him to honor us by meeting with 
our traditional Native American leaders is another step in the undeniable 
presence of indigenous peoples in international advocacy, especially human 

Morales' office had specifically requested a small meeting in order to ensure 
that substantive, frank discussions could occur.

Participants hoped that this would be the first of more meetings designed to 
improve the dialogue between the Bolivian government and American Indian nations
and First Nations of Canada. Their positive hopes were justified.

''I was really satisfied,'' White Plume noted. ''And he [Morales] was very 
impressed.'' The Lakota leader recounted how Morales had thought that ''American
Indians were imperialists like the rest of the country, but we cleared that 

''It was interesting that the way he grew up was similar to how it was for us in
the beginning of our colonization, but he kept to the old ways,'' White Plume 
continued. ''And we agreed that all indigenous people need to bring back some of
our old ways.''

That many North American clans were intact and that the old languages were being
preserved were among the things that impressed Morales, he stated.

''But we also discussed how the earth, the air and the water have been ruined in
the last 500 years, in both our countries,'' he stated. ''We also want to work 
on getting the Vatican to rescind the Papal Bull of 1493 which declared us 
heathen and savages ... we unanimously agreed to work on that together.''

The North American leaders were asked to help Morales draft a few comments about
the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which were to be included 
in his speech to the United Nations.

''It has been a rewarding day,'' Lebsock said. ''We asked him to urge the 
General Assembly to pass the Declaration unamended, as-is, and to remind them 
that this is a new beginning for the human rights of indigenous peoples.''

He noted that certain articles of the declaration dealt with many of the issues 
discussed at the meeting; Article 3 on self-determination, Article 36 on 
treaties, and Articles 21 - 28 dealing with access to and control of natural 
resources. (More info on the declaration can be found at the AILA Web site,

The meeting occurred at the beginning of the General Assembly session. It is 
expected that the United Nations will take up the issue of the Declaration on 
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

For more than 20 years, indigenous peoples from around the world have worked 
with human rights experts to develop this international human rights instrument.
Finally, having made its way to the General Assembly, the declaration is being 
supported by many U.N. member states and indigenous nations, organizations and 
communities around the world. However, it is also facing strong opposition from 
the United States, Canada and Australia.

The meeting between Morales and North American Indian leaders also focus on 
ensuring the passage of the declaration.

''And he invited all of us to visit him in Bolivia,'' White Plume added. ''He 
opened the door to establish more formal relations. It was a very positive 

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