Native Issues in the Halls of Government


Repression south and north

In the hinterlands of Peru, early in the morning of June 5, police attacked a highway blockade erected by members of the Awajun and Wambis tribes. Firing live rounds, from the ground and from helicopters, the Peruvian authorities killed 40 Indian protesters, according to John Gibler, a Mexico-based reporter writing for the Huffington Post (

The indigenous groups had been calling for the repeal of “a series of laws and executive orders that would allow the government to make it easy to grant indigenous lands to multinational oil, mining, and energy corporations,” according to Gibler. “A Peruvian congressional committee declared several of the laws to be unconstitutional, but President Alan Garcia and his APRA party… have repeatedly blocked congressional debate that would vote to revoke the laws.”

Although press reports cast the massacre in a way to suggest that the Indians initiated a confrontation, Gibler writes that the protesters “were unarmed or carrying traditional wooden spears. Many fled into the surrounding hillsides and became trapped. Many hid. And some fought back in self-defense.”

Going from south to north, police attacks on protesters at the recent G-20 summit conference in Pittsburgh did not involve lethal weapons. As government leaders of the world’s leading nations met Sept. 24-25, thousands of activists protested in the streets. A force of 4,000 riot police was assembled for the “National Special Security Event.” The overkill policing regime resembled what we saw a year ago during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul.

In addition to the usual tear gas grenades, pepper spray and impact round projectiles, the Pittsburgh repression featured the U.S. debut of the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), a truck-mounted sound weapon that emitted deafening high-pitched shrieks. My informants tell me that the sound cannon weren’t that effective. To see Web videos documenting the street scenes in Pittsburgh, go to:

The global economic and environmental crises are mounting, and police repression represents a short-term strategy to deal with rising tide of protest. Many of us in the Twin Cities are still dealing with the aftermath of the RNC chaos. Although charges have been dropped against most of the 818 people arrested before and during the Republican convention, the “RNC 8” defendants – who were originally charged with “conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism” – still face felony conspiracy charges, minus the “terrorism” enhancements.

As I have written previously, my son Max, 20, is one of the RNC 8 defendants. The case has dragged on for more than a year; and the RNC 8 will appear at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul – it’s free and open to the public. For information and updates, go to: We’re looking for a strong show of community support.

As was the case last year in St. Paul, the protests at the G-20 provided an opportunity for activists in varied struggles to come together and share information, and return to their communities with a new sense of solidarity. Jihan Gearon, a Dine’ (Navajo) and African American organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the Los Angeles Times that she was marching in Pittsburgh with the knowledge that the world leaders gathered might not hear her concerns over so-called clean coal.

“I think this is more about people who are already convinced there’s a problem having a chance to connect with others who share those same concerns,” Gearon told the Times. “Everything’s happening so far from there, how could anyone inside the convention center even hear?”

In an article published prior to the G-20 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Charles McCollester, a retired labor relations professor from Pittsburgh, suggested that there were many reasons to protest the G-20 gathering: “The American global agenda in the triumphant capitalist expansion that followed the disintegration of the Soviet empire proved to be disastrous for the American working class, as well as for workers and the environment around the world.

Free trade, privatization and deregulation pursued with varying degrees of ardor by both Republicans and Democrats over the past 30 years has concentrated wealth and increased the poverty of the majority of humanity by undermining local, traditional and indigenous economies – all while polluting and degrading the natural world at an extremely dangerous pace.

God knows there are reasons enough to protest.” In the months ahead, I will look at the Native protests against the extraction of oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada. This movement is set to collide with the corporate spectacle of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

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