Statement By The Indigenous Women's Network

March 8, l999

RE: Killings of Indigenous Activists

We the members of the Indigenous Women's Network address our comments to the world. On February 25, we received word that our sister Ingrid Washinawatok, the Co-Chair of The Indigenous Women's Network and Lahe'ena'e Gay and Terence Freitas ,two other members of a humanitarian delegation to the U'wa people of Colombia were kidnapped. It was during the end of their visit that our sisters and brother were kidnapped by hooded men in civilian clothing from the car they were traveling in. The three were part of a delegation that had been invited by the U'wa People to join in prayer and solidarity. The purpose of the trip was to assist the U'wa People in establishing a cultural education system for their children and support their continuation of their traditional way of life.

The morning of March 5, the U.S. Embassy contacted the families of Ingrid, Lahe'ena'e and Terence informing them their bodies had been found in Venezuela about 30 yards from the border of Colombia. They had been bound, blindfolded, beaten, tortured and shot numerous times. It was through Ingrid's credit cards, which were still in her possession that they were able to trace their identity so rapidly.

The Indigenous Women's Network, joining with the Menominee Nation, and other Indigenous Nations, is calling for a full prosecution of those responsible, and an investigation into the actions of the US State Department in reference to this incident. We believe that the US State Department destabilized negotiations and ultimately cost our sisters and brother their lives, in a possible attempt to gain financial support for US policies in Colombia. We attribute this assertion to the fact that exactly during the negotiations for the release of the three humanitarian workers, the US State Department released approximately $230 million in military support for the allegedly Anti- Drug War in Colombia. The Colombian government then attacked and killed over 70 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC in an orchestrated attack. We believe that these two overt acts may have destabilized any hopes for the release of our sisters and brother.

The U'wa People live in the Arauca province in Northeastern Colombia. The U.S. oil multi national corporations, Occidental Petroleum and Shell Oil had been carrying out oil exploration in the area know as the Samore block, the ancestral homelands of the U'wa People. It is estimated that these oil fields hold less than l.5 billion barrels of oil, equating to less than a three month supply for the US. The U'wa people had threatened to commit mass suicide if these oil companies were successful in their exploitive endeavors.

US and Colombian government Officials were prompt to lie blame on the left wing guerrilla forces of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). This situation is not one that blame can be established through words of Government officials without conducting an investigation. It is a much more complex crime.

The reality is that the Indigenous community and the US State Department had both been involved in negotiations for the release of these three humanitarian workers. Apesanahkwat, Chairman of the Menominee Nation was active in attempting to negotiate the release of the hostages as soon as he heard of their capture. "I sent a direct communique to the leadership of FARC two days after she was captured. ..The FARC leadership had sent a response by e- mail the morning of the hostages' death," Apesanahkwat said. " They sent greetings to us as a relative indigenous group, and said they were optimistic about seeking her release," he said. Yet, as Apesanahkwat noted, the US government sent money for arms to the Colombian government four or five days after the kidnappings, knowing that those arms might be used against the rebels who may have held the kidnap victims, and that the kidnap victims might well be executed in retaliation. Seventy FARC rebels were killed in a government-led attack just before the kidnap victims were executed.

We, the Indigenous Women's Network join with the Menominee Nation in calling for a congressional committee inquiry into the State Department actions in Colombia, with regards to this incident. We also request, on behalf of our sister Ingrid, that her death not be used to forward political ends of the US State Department, but that instead, it be recognized as a crime, a continuation of the Indian wars.

It is a crime against humanity. Against the mothers who's daughters and son's moccasins walk no longer walk on our Mother Earth. It is a crime against the sane, the Indigenous Peoples and all peaceful citizens of the world. This crime was committed by the insane, the greedy, the corrupt and those that will ignore the exploitive trade agreements which allow and accept these practices as business as usual ,all in the name of protecting "National Interests", and subsequently the interests of multinational corporations. We believe that responsibility for these deaths rests with all of these parties.

Ingrid and her companions gave the ultimate sacrifice - their lives - in the struggle for the attainment of human rights for Indigenous Peoples. State Department support will increase the militarization of a country already fraught with one of the highest rates of violence in the western hemisphere , and a state continuing violence against Indigenous peoples. It is against violence, and for the life of the people and the land, that Ingrid, and the others stood. Ingrid as well as her companions viewed the situation of the U'wa as a part of the global struggle for Indigenous self determination as well as the preservation of the natural environment. The deaths of our three companeros must be understood as having a direct relationship to the many thousands of deaths of those who seek human justice not only in Colombia but throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.

We who work for social justice must ensure that further repercussions do not fall on the U'wa community simply because they sought and received international solidarity and support from groups like Project Underground, the Indigenous Women's Network and the Pacific Cultural Conservancy International. The Indigenous Women's Network and others will do our utmost to see that justice is done and that we will continue Ingrid's fight in her support of the U'wa Peoples and all those who work for social justice.

The history of violent repression in Latin America against Indigenous Peoples would lead us to believe that right wing governments, and their death squads supporting the interests of resource companies and those wanting to interrupt the peace process are more likely to have been involved in the deaths of our three companeros. We also demand that financial support to the Colombian military be withdrawn until the true facts surrounding the deaths are revealed.

As Women, we are the Mothers of our Nations. We share the responsibility of being life-givers, nurturers and sustainers of life- as Mother Earth is a life giver.

The Indigenous Women's Network is committed to nurturing our children and planting seeds of truth for generations to come. We do not want to repeat past mistakes. We will continue our work to eliminate the oppression of colonization, and to end the Indian wars.

The Indigenous Women's Network demand that the parties responsible for the abduction and execution of Ingrid Washinawatok,Terence Freitas, and Lahe'ena'e Gay, be brought to justice, they must make themselves known and not hide behind the corrupt plunders of those that rape our Mother Earth of her blood and the parties that protect them.

In the Spirit of Mother Earth,

The Indigenous Women's Network

For more information contact Charon Asetoyer at (605)487-7072 or Priscilla Settee at (306)653-4101.