A Parallel Event – NGO CSW Forum
UN Commission on the Status of Women 67th Session
Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and the United States
On March 8th, the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) joined with seven other indigenous organizations throughout the western hemisphere to cosponsor a virtual parallel event as part of the NGO-CSW Forum, during the 67th Session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women:
Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center
Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon
International Mayan League
Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains
Pouhana O Nā Wāhine
The two-hour virtual event, “Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women: Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, the United States,” featured a panel of indigenous women and experts discussing the common threads of how violations of indigenous peoples’ land rights and rights of self-government exposes their women and girls to systemic discrimination, gender-based violence, and other severe human rights violations. Additionally, speakers described further commonalities on how living in rural indigenous communities intensifies these problems.
Over 200 people registered for the event, with at least 130 participants. The Indian Law Resource Center, through its staff— Miranda Carman, Administrative and Program Assistant, Christopher Foley (Cherokee), Senior Attorney, and Jana L. Walker (Cherokee/Delaware Indian Tribe/Loyal Shawnee Descent), Senior Attorney—served as the lead organizer, prepared the written materials for the event, submitted a written statement to the Commission on the Status of Women, offered introductory and closing remarks, and provided technical support and assistance to speakers and participants for the Zoom platform including interpretation in four languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Q’eqchi’).
Judite Guajajara (Guajajara) is a Legal Advisor for the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), the largest regional indigenous organization in Brazil. COIAB mobilizes roughly 160 distinct peoples, representing 440,000 individuals – nearly 60% of the country’s indigenous population – who collectively occupy approximately 110 million hectares of land across all 9 states of the Brazilian Amazon. However, these numbers do include those indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Judite discussed how COIAB defends the rights of indigenous peoples to their land, environment, health, education, culture, and self-determination and also fights for the protection and recognition of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. She noted their work to break the silence on topics like gender and violence -- a silence that reproduces colonization. A principal cause of violence against Brazilian indigenous women is illegal mining, which is causing a humanitarian crisis in the Yanomami territory and on other indigenous lands. Judite questioned why the perpetrators of these crimes against indigenous women are not being punished. Another source of violations on the rights of indigenous women is illegal timber cutting. In closing, Judite stated that indigenous women in the Brazilian Amazon face a persistent struggle. They are fighting for their lives, their peoples, and the Amazon. These indigenous women need to be heard!
Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam) is the Executive Director of the International Mayan League, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote, preserve and transmit the culture, history, and contributions of the Maya peoples in the defense of Mother Earth, and to address the root causes contributing to discrimination, inequality, and oppression of the Maya and the destruction of these communities and their environment. Juanita spoke about how colonial processes begun some 500 years ago are still reflected in modern laws and policies that perpetuate racism, oppression, and genocide of the Maya. She described current projects led by transnational corporations and extractive industries as the 4thwave of dispossession that Mayan communities have endured and called on governments and others to respect indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and their rights to their lands, territories, and resources.
Maria Caal Pop (Maya Q'eqchi') is an Ancestral Maya Q'eqchi' leader, mother, and defender of Mother Earth who served for seven years as second vice president in the women's committee in the Chapín Abajo Community in Guatemala. Maria addressed the panel by video and through a live statement. She described recent violent attacks on her community by the military and police. These attacks were part of an effort to forcibly evict her community from their ancestral lands -- lands that today are claimed by a palm oil corporation. Maria said that the riot-control forces attacked their village in December 2022 in order to arrest the men, as well as looted local stores and houses and violated the rights of the women and children. Maria called on the international community to listen to her report and to investigate these crimes and the damage that resulted. She concluded by exhorting the audience to join her in this struggle for indigenous rights, saying “To those who are always in resistance, I ask you not to give up.”
Teresita Antazú López (Yanesha), spoke on behalf of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon (AIDESEP), the leading indigenous organization for the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon. AIDESEP aims to defend and advance indigenous peoples’ collective rights by working to call attention to their needs, promote their alternative development proposals that reflect their worldview and culture, strengthen their self-government, and reclaim the territorial integrity of indigenous lands. AIDESEP is comprised of 9 decentralized organizations in the Peruvian Amazon, representing 109 local federations with 2,439 communities where more than 650,000 indigenous men, women, and youth live. Teresita is a member of AIDESEP’s National Board of Directors and is responsible for AIDESEP's Indigenous Women Program. She spoke about the history of AIDESEP and how as an organization it seeks to preserve and advance the traditional cosmovision of the indigenous peoples it represents, while also making space for indigenous women to assume new leadership roles in their communities and within the broader indigenous rights movement.
Paula Julian (Filipina) serves as Senior Policy Specialist with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to ensure the safety of Native women by protecting and preserving the inherent sovereign authority of American Indian and Alaska Native nations to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. NIWRC is a national resource center for Indian Nations, Native Hawaiians, and Native organizations, providing technical assistance, training, policy development, materials, resource information and the development of Native strategies and responses to end the violence against Native women. Paula noted the disproportionately high rates of violence facing Native women due to the taking and exploitation of Native homelands and resources by non-Indigenous governments, sectors, industries, and peoples. Furthermore, the violence and human rights violations are inextricably linked to the failure of the United States to meet its legal and moral obligations. She also described a six-point action plan adopted by NIWRC, Indian Law Resource Center and other Native partners to help address the missing and murdered Native women crisis and centering solutions on the leadership and cultures of Native women and their nations. A National Week of Action on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women will also take place May 1-5, 2023.
Tamra (Tami) Truett Jerue is an enrolled citizen of the Anvik Tribe and currently resides in Fairbanks, having just moved there from Anvik, Alaska, a small Athabascan community on the Yukon River. She is the mother to four children and the grandmother of five grandchildren. She is the Executive Director of the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center (AKNWRC). The AKNWRC is a tribal nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against women with Alaska’s 229 tribes and allied organizations. Tami discussed how the enormous rural spaces of Alaska combined with the state and federal governments’ systematic underinvestment in justice services leave Alaska Native women largely unprotected. She echoed what Judite and Juanita had said in their presentations about Brazil and Guatemala, noting that in Alaska too, much of the violence against Alaska Native women is rooted in resource extraction and land theft. Tami called on the federal government to meet its obligations under federal and international law to provide resources to tribal governments so that indigenous peoples can govern themselves.
Sadie Young Bird (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation) sits on the Board for the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, Reclaiming Our Sacredness (NWSGP), a coalition of domestic violence and/or sexual assault programs committed to the reclamation of the sacred status of Native women. NWSGP’s service area includes tribes in southern Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Sadie is also the Executive Director of the MHA Nation Tribal Victim Service Program, which provides services for victims of crime associated with domestic violence, sexual violence, child sexual violence, elder abuse, human trafficking, and missing and murdered victims. She described the realities of rural Native women including the long distances that must be traveled in order for victims to access sexual assault exams and medical care, as well as how jurisdictional questions arising from the status of the land where a crime is committed and whether the perpetrator and/or victim are Native or non-Native impedes justice for survivors. Sadie also discussed the terrible impacts of the oil boom on Native reservations, which is driving major increases in trafficking and sex crimes with disproportionate effects on Native women.
Dr. Dayna Schultz, Psy. D., LSW, CSAC (Kanaka ʻŌiwi), Executive Director and Dolly M.I. Tatofi, MSW, LCSW (Kanaka ʻŌiwi), Board Member (VP) spoke for the Pouhana O Nā Wāhine (“Pillars of Women,” PONW). PONW seeks to reduce disparities faced by Native Hawaiians. These disparities date back to the days of contact with foreigners resulting in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch to present day violence and injustice. Its vision is to restore the balance of mind, body, and spirit, bringing Native Hawaiian people to the state of well-being and to preserve and promote Native Hawaiian culture to help families and communities heal from domestic and sexual violence and colonization. PONW’s mission is to advocate for Native Hawaiian families who face challenges related to domestic and gender-based violence by exercising the inherent sovereign rights of the Indigenous people of Hawaii to care for and protect Native Hawaiians. In their presentation, Dayna and Dolly spoke about the lingering impact of colonization in Hawaii, including the ongoing trauma arising out of the loss of their traditional monarchy and the forced assimilation that followed. Tracing the history of gender-based violence in Hawaii from that moment of political violence, they spoke of the need to reclaim and reestablish traditional familial relationships and to rebuild Hawaiian language and naming practices as steps to restore the cultural protections that were taken away by displacement and colonialism.
Christopher T. Foley (Cherokee), from the Indian Law Resource Center closed the event by emphasizing some of the common themes that the presenters had spoken about, in particular how work to secure Indigenous land rights and rights of self-government is essential to efforts to end violence against Indigenous women. He also presented the two recommendations to the UN Commission on the Status of Women that were approved by the co-sponsoring organizations:
We urge the Commission on the Status of Women to continue and deepen its engagement with indigenous women and their rights including, at its earliest opportunity, by designating Implementing Indigenous Women’s Individual and Collective Rights to Lives Free of Violence and Discrimination as a focus area.
We call on the Commission to urge national governments to promote and protect the rights of indigenous women and girls living in rural and remote areas by:
- Ensuring access to justice, including through indigenous peoples’ distinct political and legal institutions and juridical systems;
- Fulfilling indigenous peoples’ right to ways and means for financing these self-governance functions; and
- Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories, and resources.
Additional Resources & Materials
- Event program with speaker and organizational biographies
- Recording of webinar
- Video by Maria Caal Pop, Maya Q’eqchi’ Traditional Authority of the Chapín Abajo Community in El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRZnLPpF0pI
- Presentation by Teresita Antazú Lopez
- The 6-Point Action Plan: Restoring Safety of Indigenous Women https://www.niwrc.org/restoration-magazine/february-2023/advocacy-action-6-point-action-plan
- Written statement to CSW67 on “Violence against Indigenous Women,” (E/CN.6/2023/NGO/85) submitted by the Indian Law Resource Center, and developed in partnership with the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and Pouhana O Nā Wāhine (coming soon)