International Indian Treaty Council Issues Resolutions

UCTP representative Mildred Karaira Gandia meets with Maya spiritual leaders in Chimaltenago, Guatemala.

UCTP Taino News - The International Indian Treaty Council held its 34th annual conference in Chimaltenago, Guatemala from June 19 – 22, 2008. The 275 registered delegates at this conference, representing Indigenous Peoples from North, Central, South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific, adopted by consensus a series of resolutions to guide their work defending the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the local, national, and international levels.

Among those in attendance, representatives of the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP) participated in the plenary sessions and working groups as well as during spiritual ceremonies led by the local Mayan traditional spiritual authorities. Naniki Reyes Ocasio of the Caney Quinto Mundo, UCTP Liaison Mildred Karaira Gandia, and youth representative Justin Ziegelasch contributed directly to the drafting of the final conference resolutions via specific working groups. As a result of their participation the Taino People are specifically mentioned in the resolutions on “Land, Territories and Natural Resources, Treaties and the Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and the “Sacred Sites”.

The IITC reaffirmed for example the “land rights and self determination of Indigenous Peoples including the Taino, Cree, Dakota, Yaqui and Mayan peoples that are divided by colonial borders”. The IITC also calls upon the “United States Government and the Island of Boriken (Puerto Rico) to recognize the Taino People of Boriken as the original inhabitants and Indigenous Peoples with full rights as recognized by the UN Declaration, including the right to self-determination.

“This much appreciated support from our indigenous sisters and brothers is extremely important for all our Taino People” stated Mildred Karaira Gandia. “It shows that the Taino are indeed part of the larger hemispheric movement defending the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Karaira added “Making these connections today as our ancestors did long ago not only unifies us across borders but it strengthens us on a spiritual level.”

Other resolutions adopted at the conference focused on the position of the CANZUS group and the UN Indigenous Rights Declaration, Lakota and Dakota Treaties, The Right to Food Sovereignty, The Rights of Women and Children, and Economic Justice and Migration.

The final resolutions will be posted at the websites of the International Indian Treaty Council and the United Confederation of Taino People in English and Spanish.

UCTPTN 07.24.2008


Indigenous grandmas nearly kicked out of Vatican

Photo courtesy Marisol Villanueava -- Thirteen indigenous grandmothers, formally known as the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, initial greeting at the Vatican was not pleasant. The group was almost kicked out while performing a prayer and waiting to speak with Pope Benedict XVI.

by: Rob Capriccioso

ROME - They went to pray. They went to see Pope Benedict XVI on his home turf. They went to ask that he rescind historic church doctrine that played a role in the genocidal onslaught of millions of indigenous people worldwide.

For 13 indigenous grandmothers, accomplishing only one of their three goals wouldn't have been so bad - had they also not been harassed by several Vatican policemen who claimed the women were conducting ''anti-Catholic'' demonstrations.

The elders, formally known as the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, convened in the morning hours of July 9 at St. Peter's Square. After setting up an altar cloth, candles and sacred objects, including feathers and incense, they began holding a prayer and ceremony circle. Nine-year-old Davian Joell Stand-Gilpin, a direct descendant of Chief Dull Knife of the Lakota Nation, was brought along by one of the grandmothers to participate in traditional regalia.

Soon, however, four Vatican police officials asked the women to stop the prayer ceremony, claiming their prayers were in contradiction to the church's teachings - despite the two crosses on the alter cloth and some of the members being practitioners of the Catholic faith.

The officials told Carole Hart, an Emmy and Peabody award-winning producer and filmmaker traveling with the grandmas, that the group was in violation of Vatican policy. They said a permit Hart had obtained in order to document the prayer gathering was only relevant in terms of filming, but did not allow the women to pray, sing or burn incense.

The police said the actions of the grandmothers were ''idolatrous.''

Through the course of obtaining the permit, Hart had written to Vatican officials explaining that the grandmothers would be conducting a prayer ceremony at the site.

''We stuck to the fact that we were legitimately there with this permit,'' Hart said. ''The grandmas did not back down.''

Still, the police urged the grandmothers to move on; but Hart and the group appealed the decision to a higher authority. Finally, the police brought back a law official who assessed the situation. Upon seeing 13 indigenous elder women and hearing one of their songs, the official concluded there was no problem with the ceremony.

The official also ultimately invited the grandmothers to enter St. Peter's Basilica to rest and pray.

Despite their short-term success, the ultimate goal of the grandmothers - to hand-deliver a statement to Pope Benedict XVI, asking him to rescind several controversial papal bulls that played a part in the colonization of indigenous lands - was thwarted.

Documents from the 15th century, such as the papal bulls, show the papacy played a role in the genocidal onslaught that affected millions of indigenous people on the North American continent. In 1455, for instance, Pope Nicolas authorized Portugal ''to invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans'' along the west coast of Africa, enslave them and confiscate their property - which set the tone for European interaction with the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Just a short time before the grandmothers left for their long-planned journey to Rome, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be leaving the Vatican to rest at his summer home, called Castel Gandolfo, in preparation for a trip to Australia.

The pope had originally been scheduled to be in residence July 9. Laura Jackson, the grandmothers' publicist, described the pope's decision to leave the Vatican as a ''sudden cancellation'' and noted that the grandmas held tickets to a scheduled public audience he was to have held that day.

While Castel Gandolfo is less than 20 miles away from the Vatican, the grandmothers ultimately decided not to make the journey to the pope's summer getaway despite some in their inner circle encouraging them to pay an unexpected visit.

Hart believes the grandmothers chose to focus on St. Peter's Square because it's part of the Vatican and is a strong symbol of the pope.

''As women of prayer, I think they felt that bringing their prayer there, on the very ground on which the church as an institution stands, as close as they could get to the heart of the church, would have a great effect on what will happen next,'' Hart said. Additionally, the women had no guarantee that they would even be able to enter the grounds of the pope's summer residence.

Instead, the elders left a package with one of the pope's personal guards at the Vatican. The package contained a written statement the women had sent to the Vatican in 2005 decrying the papal bulls, to which the Vatican never responded. It also contained a new 632-word statement to the pope asking him to repeal three Christian-based doctrines of ''discovery'' and ''conquest'' that set a foundation for claiming lands occupied by indigenous people around the world.

''We carry this message for Pope Benedict XVI, traveling with the spirits of our ancestors,'' the women said in their new message. ''While praying at the Vatican for peace, we are praying for all peoples. We are here at the Vatican, humbly, not as representatives of indigenous nations, but as women of prayer.''

The package was given to the pope's guard via a traditional Lakota manner, by extending it to him three times with him then accepting it on the fourth attempt. The entire process was captured on film, and is expected to be made into a documentary by Hart in the coming year.

It is unknown whether the pope has yet personally received the package, but legal scholars and Native activists in the U.S. have nonetheless been paying close attention to the grandmothers' journey.

''I think the trip is very significant,'' said Steven Newcomb, co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute and author of the book, ''Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery,'' and an Indian Country Today columnist.

''These are women who are very much grounded in their own languages and traditions. They're able to raise visibility of the issue in ways that others are perhaps less effective.''

The grandmothers from the U.S. who sit on the women's council are Margaret Behan, of the Arapaho/Cheyenne of Montana; Agnes Baker Pilgrim, of the Takelma Siletz; Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance and Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance, both Oglala Lakota of Black Hills, S.D.; Mona Polacca, Havasupai/Hopi; and Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yupik Eskimo.

All of the grandmothers are currently in private council in Assisi, Italy, and are expected to be returning home by early August.


D.C. Attorney donates American Indian book collection

Millsboro, DE (UCTP TAINO NEWS) - Attorney Antonio "Tony" Arocho, Esq., has donated his Native American book collection to the Nanticoke Indian Museum & Library of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in Delaware.

"I am very proud to have my book collection included in the Nanticoke Indian Museum and Library because it plays a very special role in preserving and promoting Native American culture and history," stated Arocho in a press release issued by the Arocho Law Office in Washington D.C.

The collection - donated in honor of his parents - is said to include materials on the Arawak, Aztec, Carib [Kalinago], Creeks, Garifuna, Inca, Pequot, Powhatan Renape, Seminole, Seneca, Taino, Yaqui, and many other tribal people.''

The Nanticoke Indian Tribe is a state recognized tribe in the state of Delaware (USA). The Nanticoke Indian Museum and Library is located on the corners of Route 24 (John J. Williams Hwy.) and Route 5 (Oak Orchard Rd.), Millsboro, Delaware. The Museum is open Friday and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., during the month of April, and Tuesday thru Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 pm May thru October.

UCTPTN 07.11.2008


Taino Artists to Appear on Local TV Show

Bronx, NY (UCTP Taino News) - Reina Sipainaru Miranda and Aguilar Marrero are two Taino artists collectively known as Taino Spirit. Their work based mainly on their indigenous Taino heritage will be featured on “Open” a local television show broadcast in the Bronx, NY. Taino Spirit will appear on the show live with host, the multi-talented Rhina Valentin on Friday ay, July 11, 2008. The show will be rebroadcast Friday at 10pm and again on Saturday 10am and 10pm. Viewers are invited to “call-in” or email to join the discussion in this weekly Bronx Net Cable Artist Spotlight on channel 67.

UCTPTN 07.10.2008


U.S. coral reefs under threat, report finds

By Michael Christie

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) - Half of U.S. coral reefs are in poor or fair condition, threatened by climate change and human activities like sports fishing, shipping and the release of untreated sewage, a U.S. government report said on Monday.

Reefs in the Caribbean, in particular, are under severe assault and coral in the U.S. Virgin Islands and off Puerto Rico had not recovered from 2005, when unusually warm waters that led to massive bleaching and disease killed up to 90 percent of the marine organisms on some reefs.

"The evidence is warning us that many of our coral reef ecosystems are imperiled and we as a community must act now," said Kacky Andrews, program manager of the Coral Reef Conservation program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new NOAA report on the state of coral reefs in the United States and Pacific territories, including Palau and Guam, was presented at a meeting of coral reef scientists in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It was the third such report and the second to be based on actual monitoring of reefs. The reefs were classified as excellent, good, fair or poor based on such things as water quality, fish population and the threats they faced.

The last report was issued in 2005 when warm Atlantic waters killed off large swaths of coral through bleaching, a condition that occurs when environmental stresses, like heat, break down the symbiotic relationship between coral polyps and unicellular algae that give them color.

Half the coral reefs off the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were killed that year, said Jenny Waddell, a marine biologist at NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment. On some reefs, the fatality rate reached 90 percent, she said.

A series of powerful hurricanes also devastated coral reefs off the Florida Keys in 2005.


But scientists at NOAA said coral reefs had been suffering for much longer due to a warming climate and other "stressors," many due to human activity, such as overfishing and damage caused by ship anchors.

"It is important to note that these declines did not happen overnight, they did not happen during the last three years," said Andrews.

"The degradation has happened over the past several decades and recovery may require similar time frames. Although there are a number of measures that we can implement in order to promote conservation, there are no quick fixes."

The NOAA report was based on reef monitoring in 15 areas in the Atlantic and Pacific.

It said that reefs near populated areas tended to suffer more intense threats due to coastal development and recreational activities like boating, diving and fishing, but even remote reefs were affected by climate change.

Reefs in the vast Pacific Ocean tended to be more resilient, with a greater diversity of both coral and fish, NOAA scientists said. While Pacific reefs had been able to start recovering from worldwide bleaching in 1998, Caribbean reefs had not.

Human activity had not just left Caribbean reefs battered, but also pretty tame in terms of marine life, said Alan Friedlander, a NOAA marine biologist based in Hawaii.

"When you dive in remote parts of the Pacific you really feel like an intruder, like you don't belong there and the big guys let you know. You feel way down the food chain," he said.


Indigenous People Support Green Spaces in the Bronx

Bronx, NY (UCTP Taino News) – On Saturday, June 28, 2008 members of the Cacibajagua Taino Cultural Society and the Cetilizitli Nauhcampa Mexica Dance Group took part in a cultural program celebrating “green spaces” in the Bronx. The program took place at the Kingsbridge Armory Community Garden and was organized by the Kingsbridge International Village Garden Project, a local organization. The group is working to promote the need for more “green spaces” in the Bronx as well voicing the desire for a community cultural space for local groups and youth within the Kingsbridge Amory as it is set for development. Participants were interviewed by local television and all expressed their support for community inclusion in the development plans.

Photo: Elvira and Hortencia Colorado of the Cetilizitli Nauhcampa Mexica Dance Group express their support of the Kingsbridge Community Garden Project during an interview with Bronx News 12

UCTPTN 07.08.2008


Puerto Rico archeological find mired in politics



U.S. archaeologist Nathan Mountjoy sits next to stones etched with ancient petroglyphs and graves that reveal unusual burial methods in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The archaeological find, one of the best-preserved pre-Columbian sites found in the Caribbean, form a large plaza measuring some 130 feet by 160 feet that could have been used for ball games or ceremonial rites, officials said.

SAN JUAN -- The lady carved on the ancient rock is squatting, with frog-like legs sticking out to each side. Her decapitated head is dangling to the right.

That's how she had been, perfectly preserved, for up to 800 years, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came upon her last year while building a $375 million dam to control flooding in southern Puerto Rico.

She was buried again last week with the hope that some day specialists will study her and Puerto Rican children will visit and learn about the lives of the Taino Indians who created her. But archaeologists and government officials first had to settle a raging debate about who should have control over her and other artifacts sent to Georgia for analysis.

The ancient petroglyph of the woman was found on a five-acre site in Jácana, a spot along the Portugues River in the city of Ponce, on Puerto Rico's southern coast. Among the largest and most significant ever unearthed in the Caribbean, archaeologists said, the site includes plazas used for ceremony or sport, a burial ground, residences and a midden mound -- a pile of ritual trash.

The finding sheds new light on the lifestyle and activities of a people extinct for nearly 500 years.

Experts say the site -- parts of it unearthed from six feet of soil -- had been used at least twice, the first time by pre-Taino peoples as far back as 600 AD, then again by the Tainos sometime between 1200 and 1500 AD.

''It was thrilling, a once-in-a-lifetime thing,'' said David McCullough, an Army Corps archaeologist. ``Just amazing.''

But like all things on this politically charged island, the discovery got caught up in a sovereignty debate: If an archaeological site rich in historic and cultural value is discovered in a federal construction site in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, who should be in charge of it?

After months of finger-pointing and accusations of officially sanctioned plundering, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers poured $2 million into preserving the site. Plans to put a rock dump over it were changed, and the unearthed discovery was reburied with the aspiration that archaeologists will eventually return to dedicate the 10 or 20 years needed to thoroughly study the finding.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers promises the collection sent to Georgia will be returned to Puerto Rico. Some 75 boxes of skeletons, ceramics, small petroglyphs and rocks were sent via Federal Express in two double-boxed shipments for analysis.

''The site is a significant contribution to our understanding of what Indians were doing,'' McCullough said. ``The thing that makes it unique is that the petroglyphs are so finely done. We originally were supposed to be there six weeks. It wound up taking four months.''

McCullough said the corps had an inkling that the site was there since the mid 1980s but had never done much testing. They started digging in earnest last year while building a dam and lake to protect the region from floods, and realized the site had significant value.

The corps found a ball court with four walls lined by tall stones, where they believe the Tainos either danced or played games. Three were covered in petroglyphs, among the best experts had ever seen. Some of the figures were carved upside down, which none of the archaeologists had ever seen before. Discoveries included a jade-colored amulet and the remains of a guinea pig, likely the feast of a tribal chief.

''The size of the ball court is bigger than just about anything else in the Caribbean,'' McCullough said.

Archaeologists believe as many as 400 people are buried there.

But in its quest to build the dam and use the location as a dumping ground for rocks, critics say the corps quickly hired a private archaeological firm to mitigate -- a hurried process of saving what can be conserved so a project can go forward. The company sent 125 cubic feet of artifacts in two shipments to its facility in Georgia for analysis, a move allegedly made without consulting Puerto Rican authorities, which locals felt violated the law.

But the question became: Whose law applied? U.S. law says such artifacts found by the corps must be warehoused in a federally approved curating facility. No such place exists in Puerto Rico. And Puerto Rican law says historical artifacts belong to the people of Puerto Rico.

''In Puerto Rico, everything that has to do with our past is sentimental, and Puerto Ricans take it to heart,'' said Marisol Rodríguez, an archaeologist at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. ``There's a feeling that you're taking something that's mine. It's about our national identity, regardless of the island's political status.''

Rodríguez is pleased that the site has been preserved but acknowledges she was furious at how it was originally excavated with heavy machinery.

''I was so angry. I was indignant,'' she said. ``I could not believe that a place of such importance was being treated with such disrespect.''

New South Associates, the firm hired to do the digging, says it excavated about 5 percent of the site for study.

''It was in the newspaper that we raped and pillaged the site, because it all got caught up in local politics,'' said archaeologist Chris Espenshade, New South's lead investigator on the project. ``We are required to take the artifacts to a federally approved curating facility. That played into the idea that we were stealing Puerto Rican cultural patrimony away and never bringing it back. There's no question these things should be available for Puerto Rican scholars without them having to travel to go see it.

``It's a bad situation.''

What's left of the site will remain beside a five-year dam construction project, which will continue as planned. It may be vulnerable to floods, archaeologists acknowledged, but they note that it lasted that way underground for hundreds of years.

''It's not the best way to preserve it, but it's better than the alternative: to destroy it,'' Espenshade said. ``The Corps could have destroyed it, but they took the highly unusual step to preserve it.''

Puerto Rican authorities say they are committed to opening a facility needed to properly store and exhibit the artifacts.

The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture is scouting locations and trying to secure the approximately $570,000 a year needed to operate such a warehouse. Officials hope it will open as early as mid-2009, but some experts still worry.

''Nobody could believe that in the 21st century, a federal agency would hire a private agency to dig up a site and take things,'' said Miguel Rodríguez, an archaeologist who sat on Puerto Rico's government archaeological council for a total of eight years.

He quit in January following a heart attack, which he blamed on stress over the Jácana site.

''Those are the things that happened in the 18th and 19th century, not now,'' Rodríguez said. ``Nobody dares go to Mexico, do an excavation and just take the stuff. That's officially sanctioned looting.''

While officials debate where they will find the funds for a museum, storage facility and lab, the Department of Natural Resources has hired 24-hour security to watch over the archaeological site, just to be sure no artifacts wind up for sale on the Internet.

''With the artifacts in Georgia,'' Department of Natural Resources Secretary Javier Vélez said, ``at least they are not on eBay.''

Source: Miami Herald