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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Environmental racism and trees

Environmental racism is a complex topic. It is much larger than can be discussed in detail in a space such as this. However, I would just like to provoke some thought on one aspect: trees. Trees are the meeting place where government, big business and urban social planners conspire to make green deprivation of people on the margins complete.

Greenspace Deprivation
Most of my life has been spent in two cities, New York (Brooklyn) and Vancouver (Canada). The poorest sections of both these cities have two striking similarities. The first is: a scarcity of green spaces and trees. The second is an overabundance of unwanted wildlife, rats, mice and roaches. For some, the only escape from the company of these unwanted guests is a drug or alcohol induced stupor.

The euphemism, concrete jungle, is consistent with popular sentiment and public policy toward these urban areas and their inhabitants. Policy and practice convey the message that inner cities and their residents need to be managed, contained, and kept from infringing on the civilized and cultivated parts of the city.

It appears that city planners have decided that their inner city residents are not worthy of the company of trees. This may seem a bit harsh and emotional, but I feel that the presence of green spaces and trees are both necessary and nourishing to people regardless of their socio-economic standing. Therefore, I regard the scarcity of green spaces as another instance of disregard for the well-being of the marginalized. This is not to say that trees and greenery should be present solely for their usefulness to inner-city dwellers rather trees and humans are both part of what constitutes community in areas where trees had been part of the indigenous flora.

Lifeways Murder
Our rural northern counterparts escape the work of city planners but fall prey to the whims and greed of multinationals. The Boreal forest is a remarkably biologically diverse and dynamic domain, extending some 15 million square kilometers over one-tenth of the earth's northern land surface, and about one-third of Canada (Source: Boreal Forest Network).

In Canada, the boreal forest ecosystem stretches across most of the north. The survival of the boreal forest is intrinsically linked to the cultural survival of the Indigenous Peoples who live within its boundaries. It is home to the majority of the over 600 First Nation communities in Canada, eighty percent of the Aboriginal population in Canada living in this forest eco-zone. Some Indigenous communities that inhabit the frontier boreal forest of northern Canada still practice their traditional way of life and depend upon the forests for their food, medicines, and economic livelihood. For Indigenous Peoples, land is where economic, social, spiritual and physical spheres merge, which is why their cultural attachment to that land is so strong. Large scale industrial development such as forestry, mining, hydroelectricity and oil/gas exploration are threatening the Boreal forest and the lifeways of the Aboriginal people for whom it is home.

For more info:
Visit the Rainforest Action Network and Take Action for Grassy Narrows First Nation

Visit Free Grassy Narrows web site

Visit CPT in Canada

Visit First Nations and the Boreal

View the RAN report: American Dream, Native Nightmare: The Truth About Weyerhaeuser's "Green" Products and Homes (PDF)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

In print

I have the honour of being among the contributors of the newly released anthology, In Our Own Voices: Learning and Teaching Toward Decolonisation. Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Proma Tagore of the University of Victoria, editor and inspiration of the volume.

Publisher: Larkuma Press, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Cover Art:
Izmer Ahmad

Publication Year: 2006
ISBN: 0-9733821-2-0
Contributors: Olivia Ashbee; Tara Betts, njeri-damali (campbell), Chiinuuks; jennie duguay; Wil George; Naomi Horii; Rozmin Jaffer; Meghan Jezewska; Michelle La Flamme; Rhonda McIsaac; Victoria Marie; Lisa Okada; Rachel Reidner; Donyell L. Roseboro; Rubina Sidhu; Shaunga Tagore


In Our Own Voices: Learning and Teaching Toward Decolonisation is the work of nineteen scholars, poets and artists, each of whom extends our understanding of what it is to be a racialized minority in a classroom.

As Proma Tagore, editor of this anthology of essays, poems and graphic art, says, "This anthology came out of a direct need for a resource that could help racialized students to better negotiate their educational experiences and, along with others, create ways of resisting racism on campuses, in class rooms, and in class materials."

Kevin Kumashiro, Director, Centre for Anti-Oppressive Education, Washington D.C. writes:

This collection - at once moving and inspiring, insightful and troubling - speaks of the partialities of teaching, the paradoxes of change, and the intersectedness of identities, especially for those on the margins.

Ashok Mathur, Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops writes:

The excitement of a collection such as this is not just that it gives space to previously hushed positions, but that it brings these writers together as a collective movement to document problematic histories and articulate potential futures.

The contributors are from diverse disciplines, including Literature, Visual Arts, Social Work, Nursing and Women's Studies, and diverse ethnocentric backgrounds, including First Nations, Chinese-, Japanese-, African- and Indo-Canadian.

For details, please contact Dr. Proma Tagore at or Larkuma at

Peace and All Good, Dear Bishop Ruiz

Tatik (meaning “father” or “elder”) is an affectionate Tzotzil title for Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who flies home tomorrow after a 10 day visit in Vancouver. Bishop Ruiz is the beloved and distinguished retired Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico) known for the prophetic ministry of reconciliation and accompaniment he practiced for more than 50 years.

Bishop Ruiz led a delegation from Mexico at the World Peace Forum. Thousands of Vancouverites and international visitors participated in workshops, spiritual gatherings, festivals and panels organized by the “Times of Struggle” Tour. The delegation also included human rights activists from Mexico City and four indigenous leaders from the southern state of Oaxaca.

During the Times of Struggle tour, the indigenous leaders occupied the Mexican consulate of Vancouver three times, in response to acts of state violence against striking schoolteachers and their supporters.

“These are dangerous times for community organizations in Mexico— federal, state, and local governments have been complicit in horrific violence against communities in the build up to the July 2nd federal elections; Canadians can’t continue to ignore the violation of basic human rights in communities across Mexico” Said Emilie Smith, a Vancouver-based organizer of the tour.

Tonight at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre on East Hastings Street, Times of Struggle participants came together one last time to receive the Bishop’s blessing, and to give him ours. He returns to Mexico to advocate peace among the peoples of Oaxaca. He has been invited by the school teachers to lead a commission to mediate between themselves and government authorities.

In a celebratory atmosphere, Indigenous peoples and activists from the north and south danced, shared stories, networked and made plans to continue in la lucha (the struggle), together.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The month of May left a footprint in the history of Colombia

(Personal correspondence from Amanda Martin)
The month of May left a footprint in the history of Colombia.

Alvaro Uribe was elected for a second consecutive Presidential term (2002-2006, 2006-2010). His amendment to change the 1991 Colombian Constitution, to legally permit his candidacy, passed in October 2005. President Uribe was in Washington last week (his 9th visit) to discuss the Free Trade Agreement.

Also in May, a national summit was held to protect and enforce the rights of the Colombian people. 15,000 people (farmers, indigenous groups, students, labor leaders, Afro-Colombians, and many others) gathered at the Guambiano indigenous reserve of La Maria, Piendamo, in the state of Cauca (SW Colombia). This land is titled “for co-existence, negotiation, and dialogue”.

The people demanded to meet with the government to discuss the failure of the state to comply with the law. Specific issues included the indigenous and Afro-Colombian right to collective land, a national referendum on the Free Trade Agreement, Agrarian Reform, inclusion of victims in negotiations with demobilized illegal armed actors, state support of the right to protest and freedom of expression, and the right to life.

During the 5 day summit, none of the government ministers attended. The people decided to block the Pan-American highway in order to get the attention of the government. The government responded by sending the anti-riot police to enter the indigenous reserve by force.

Helicopters flew just 20 feet above the ground, shooting tear gas canisters at the people. Many were wounded, and one indigenous leader was killed. The community health clinic was destroyed. The organic coffee plants were contaminated with tear gas, while the harvested coffee beans were stolen. A house, 15 motorcycles, the entire stock of medicine from the clinic, and furniture was burned. Computers and the dry goods from the community store were stolen. The state troops defecated in the community cooking pots and on the floors of the health clinic.

The US government has just approved another $801 million for Plan Colombia in 2007. 82% of this money is designated for war (further militarization). $200 million alone is for fumigations and helicopters (maintenance and purchasing). Our tax dollars are funding this war.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


April 25, 2006. Recently, I attended an Unlearning Racism Workshop in Red Lake (Ontario) with the Christian Peacemaker Teams Kenora delegation. As a woman of colour, I had found the experience a bit unsettling. Since that time, I have had the wonderful good fortune to become part of a community that was formed by the people of colour from that workshop. Together we come from the four directions and in some instances from three directions in one person. We have become for each other a safe place to explore and discuss our feelings, to help each other heal from recurrent assaults on our hearts and spirits, and--by sharing-- be of help to others who know the daily assault of living in a society where racism is so entrenched that the beneficiaries of systemic racism react with genuine hurt and/or indignation when it is pointed out or discussed.

While looking at an old website that I created so long ago that I can no longer even access to modify, I came across the following item that I wrote around 1994. Walk with me...

Dear Sister,

Today, I spent the day in silence wrestling with some old wounds. However, I found a way to write them to you and also cleanse my heart of some of the anger that I've been holding in for so many years. So, I've decided to tell you the following story:

They Told Me
When I was little, before they could tell me things they told my mother. They told my grandmother. I remember when grandma went to register me in school. She promised mom that she would put me in Catholic School. Grandma was Baptist, she would insist, "Free Will Baptist". One day she decided it must be registration time, so off we went to the local Catholic Parochial School. The nun in charge seemed quite annoyed and said, "You people always come late." However, for some reason that I could not fathom her whole demeanor and attitude changed when diminutive five foot Grandma grew about two feet somehow, like cats do, and said, "What do you mean You People?" In any case Grandma's displeasure and her inference that our people are not always late had the desired effect and I was registered without further incident. Later on I wondered how sister knew anything about us people because there weren't any others in the school or among the parishioners. They told us we were always late but how many of us did they know?

During vocation week, the school was peppered with posters reminiscent of those outside military recruiting offices with Uncle Sam replaced by Jesus with the caption, "Jesus Wants You." The message was also communicated throughout the year with tactics vacillating between the soft and hard "sell". Like the other children in my class, perhaps the whole school, I began to wonder if I might have a religious vocation. I was too young to actually think in those terms but I used to go to Mass every morning before school, once I was old enough to go to school by myself.
I did quite well in school which made Grandma and mother proud. The diocesan high school took only five girls from each parochial school in our county and the next. The five were those with the highest scores on the High School Entrance Exams. The five from our Catholic Parochial School, included me. Although high school proved more difficult it was not insurmountable. It also had an extra bonus. There were more of my people there. Not many, only about 20 out of 400 girls, but at least I wasn't alone anymore.

In the second year, I felt that I had a vocation. This time the feeling was fully articulated in my mind, so I proceeded to seek advice. I went to my religion teacher, a nun, whose name I cannot remember, this forty years later. What surprise and disappointment overtook me when I heard her reply, "Make sure you choose an Order that accepts You(r) People." For ten years I had been told Jesus wants you, Jesus loves my people, that the church wants everybody to belong. How could it be that only one order in the whole United States would accept My People?

It would get worse. In my last year of high school in a course called, "Preparation for Marriage and Child Care", they called all of the girls who were one of my people to attend this special session. What I remember most about it is that we were advised that it was better to marry a Protestant that was one of our people than to marry a Catholic that was one of their people. Now, this is before Vatican II, before Catholics admitted that anyone besides a Roman Catholic could get to Heaven. All my life they told me my faith, my religion was the most important thing. Then they told me more important than religion, more important than faith, is that my people don't get married to their people.

I graduated and went away from their religion for a long time but on this continent you can't escape their people. I met some of their people who were nice and once I left my country, I met even more who were like normal, feeling human beings. But I didn't go back to the Catholic Church for a long, long time. You see, I had to figure out and choose between what Jesus said and what they told me.
Victoria Marie

Residents of Coast Salish Territory Support Six Nations

Photography: Victoria Marie

April 25, 2006. VANCOUVER: Today, hundreds of people gathered on Coast Salish Territory outside the Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver to show their support for the Six Nations in Caledonia, Ontario. The action was organized to serve as a deterrence to prevent any further police escalation against the Rotin'oshon'ni Six Nations. People from all races joined the Vancouver Native community in a show of solidarity for the demands of the clan mothers of the Six Nations for an immediate cessation of all construction by Henco Industries on Six Nations territory.

BACKGROUND (The following background info is from The Timeline and Info on Calendonia Six Nations Struggle)

On March 3rd, 2006, Rotin'oshon'ni Six Nations people set up camp on the Haldimand Tract, located at the entrance to Douglas Creek Estates, a 71-lot subdivision under construction by Henco Industries Ltd. on Six Nations territory.

"Six Nations" refers to the six nations that are part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy: Gayogoho:no (Cayuga), Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), Onyota’a:ka (Oneida), Onoda’gega (Onondaga), Onodowahgah (Seneca), and Ska-ru-ren (Tuscarora). The traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy crosses the colonial US/Canada border, including parts of “Ontario”, “Quebec”, “Pennsylvania”, “Ohio”, “New York”, and “New Hampshire”.

There are many Rotin'oshon'ni communities. The Six Nations reserve is in the area known as southern “Ontario”, near the towns of Brantford, Caledonia, and Hagersville. Other Rotin'oshon'ni communities include Kahnesatake (a Mohawk community near the town of Oka, which the Canadian government laid siege to in 1990), Kahnawake, Ganlengeh, Tonawanda, Allegany, Cattaragus, Akwesasne, Tyendinaga, and Gibson. There are also many Rotin'oshon'ni living outside these areas.

Canada’s Ongoing Theft of Six Nations Land
  1. 1784: In recognition of Six Nations support of the British Crown during the American War of independence, the Crown issues the Haldimand Proclamation officially recognizes land stretching six miles on either side of the Grand River from Lake Erie to Dundalk (approx. 950,000 acres of land) as Six Nations land.

  2. 1795: Lieutenant-Governor John Simcoe decides to reduce the area formally recognized as Six Nations land by the Crown to 275,000 acres.

  3. 1924: Department of Indian Affairs imposes band council system on Six Nations, to undermine hereditary systems of governance and facilitate land theft.

Since 1795 the Crown has continually stolen more and more land for occupation by settlers, sale to developers, and road construction. The area officially designated by the Canadian government as the Six Nations reserve is now less than 5% of the original area promised by the Crown in 1784.
Brief Chronology of the Camp

  1. June 13, 2005: The province of Ontario passes the Places to Grow Act. The act provides a legal framework for the provincial government to designate any area of land (including unceded First Nations land) as a “growth plan area” and decide on its development. A regulation was also passed identifying the “Greater Golden Horseshoe area” (which includes unceded Six Nations land) as the first area for which a growth plan will be prepared.

  2. October 25, 2005: Six Nations people and supporters hold an information picket at Douglas Creek to raise awareness of the ongoing theft of Six Nations land.

  3. November 24, 2005: The Ontario Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal releases the Proposed Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Unceded Six Nations land is part of this development plan.

  4. February 28, 2006: Six Nations people and supporters reoccupy the land to block further construction by Henco Industries, saying they will stay until jurisdiction and title over the land is properly restored to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

Apr 20, 2006: Police invasion fails, Six Nations resistance holds against military and racist mob

At 5 AM over 150 heavily armed Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) invade the camp, using Tasers, batons, tear gas, and pepper spray against unarmed Six Nations people and arresting 16 individuals. The people at the camp courageously resist and force police to retreat. Supporters from across North America pledge to come to the camp to stand in solidarity. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says the police action is "completely independent'' and that his government didn't learn of the raid until it was already in progress.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Racism: Is There a Future Different From the Present?

Racism: Is There a Future That is Potentially Different from the Present?
Dr. Victoria Marie, o.s.c.
(adapted thesis excerpt)

The Anglican Archdiocese of New Westminster, which includes Vancouver, conducted a study a few years ago to determine what was needed most in terms of drug treatment facilities for the Downtown Eastside. In addition to finding that treatment and recovery resources were insufficient, the task force found “the client group in greatest need of recovery facilities is single aboriginal women aged 18 to 25 years” (Downtown Eastside Working Group, 1998, n.p.). Despite this lack of treatment resources, there are several Alcoholics Anonymous groups whose members are First Nations women and men with long-term sobriety. Therefore, one of the issues that has plagued me since the completion of data collection for my thesis is why almost all of those who agreed to participate in my study were white. One reason is that some potential participants of colour were tired of being researched, that is, of being treated as tokens or representatives of their particular group. This led me to ask is it possible that there are obstacles to recovery for certain groups. If, as McIntosh and McKeganey (2001, p. 57) suggest, “a desire to restore a spoiled identity and a sense of a future that is potentially different from the present” are key factors in successful identity transformation and recovery from addiction, racism is an impediment to both of these factors. For example, in discussing the impact of minority status on success in school, Ogbu (1992) argues that one reason for the poor school performance of “involuntary minorities” is their distrust of “White people (or their minority representatives) who control [schools and] other societal institutions” (p. 291). Ogbu defines voluntary minorities as those who immigrated in search of a better life. Involuntary minorities are those groups who were colonized or those who are the descendents of slaves. These groups include Native Americans/First Nations and African Canadians/Americans, those who have no other homeland. He suggests that voluntary minority group members are more successful in school than those from involuntary minority groups.

One between-group difference is the percentage of strategies any given minority group has that enhance school success. Those groups with a high percentage of success enhancing strategies have more choices that lead to success. Those groups with a lower percentage have fewer choices that lead to success (p. 292).

Involuntary minority groups have had to deal with institutional racism as an historically entrenched reality. The psychological effects of systemic racism are intergenerational. Apprey (1998) uses the term “transgenerational haunting” to describe how the negative psychological effects of institutional racism change as they pass from one generation to the next.

Under the rubric of transgenerational haunting, we come to the transfer of destructive aggression from one generation to the next. In such a transfer we may witness a shift from suicide in one generation, murder in the next, followed by, let us say incest or physical abuse in a subsequent generation, and so on and so forth. It is as if the injured group has accepted the message that they do not deserve to live and therefore must die in one form or another. At the very least that injured group may exist in a reduced form such as living— but living a most unproductive life. Here the motor of ambush toward one's death remains the same but the license plate, that is, the form of reducing oneself to nothingness, changes from one generation to the next (n.p.).

In addition to the legacy just described, there are what Gooding (2003) terms microaggressions, which describe the day-to-day racism people face, “the kind of thing that happens when you step into a lift and the [white] woman inside pulls her bag slightly closer to her” (p. 5). There’s nothing the Black person can do. “It happens every day—it’s these acts that change the way you view yourself and the world around you” (p. 5). It is interesting to note that in the original Gooding uses simply the word ‘woman’ as if accepting the unstated ‘white’ as normative. The next section affirms my contention that these microaggressions cause traumatic and cumulative stress. I omit the term ‘post’ because for members of visible minorities, the traumatic experiences recur continually and are therefore never ‘post’.

Several researchers agree that people are traumatized when they face uncontrollable life events and are helpless to affect the outcome of those events (Lindemann 1944 in Dayton, 2000, p. 5). Individuals may be traumatized by the experience of growing up in a home where addiction, chronic physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect are present. Middleton-Moz (1989) posits that children who have faced cumulative traumas

might never remember what really happened, yet the buried feelings and emotional reactions to these experiences may direct the course of their lives. As adults these individuals may suffer from panic attacks, bulimia, chronic depression, antisocial behavior, compulsive behavioral problems and addictions (p. 4).

She acknowledges that pathology is not inescapable but cautions,

Some children of trauma may eventually become leaders of corporations, doctors, psychologists, artists or poets. The pain and sensitivity of past experiences may help them create gifts to the world, yet many will treat themselves with disdain and neglect through workaholism, extreme perfectionism (p. 5).

Racism and discrimination are sources of cumulative trauma. Middleton-Moz (1989) tells the story of an Inuit boy, Danny, who was with his parents in a department store, “running his hand gently across the face a blond white-skinned doll” while within earshot the father of a white boy chastises his son, saying ‘Damn it, son.… Get up off that floor; you look like a drunk, squattin’ Indian!’ In response, Danny’s parents look away and silently lead him from the store” (p. 4). She states that the lesson Danny may learn from instances like this could lead to the internalization of self-hate. According to Milora (2000) “a negative sense of self derives, at least in part, from one imagining being perceived in a less-than-positive light by others. Cultural racism assaults victims with real experiences of being perceived as less-than-human” (p. 44, italics in original). The accumulation of racist incidents over time is devastating to a child’s self-concept. Middleton-Moz explains:

The trauma in this case is the continual erosion of self-esteem faced by ethnic and cultural minorities in a world where they are seen as lesser than others. The belief may develop early in these children’s lives that their families lack power in the majority culture. Cultural and ethnic self-hate leads to a sense, deep in the core of the self, that “there is nothing I can do to make up for the lacking in myself and the awareness that I am deeply and profoundly unlovable.

This shame is frequently multigenerational. The child not only receives continual cues of his lack of power and lovability from the real world outside the family but may also feel it deeply from his parents whenever they have contact with the broader community (p. 10).

Researchers agree that trauma victims try to control their inner turmoil and their struggles with the outside world by self medicating with drugs, alcohol, over-eating or other addictive behaviours (Davis, 1997; Dayton, 2000; Fullilove and Lown, 1992; Kaslow, Thompson, Price, Young, Bender, Wyckoff, Twomey, Goldin, and Parker, 2002; Middleton-Moz, 1989; Miliora, 2000; Price and Simmel, 2002). Dayton (2000) asserts that unresolved childhood trauma may result in the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in adulthood, “which can and often do lead to addiction” (Dayton, 2000, p. xxi).

When the self-medicating substance wears off, the person is again overwhelmed by the pain, which now has further isolation, shame and unresolved pain added to it. Hence, the need for a substance to assuage a stormy inner world becomes even more pressing. Thus, the trauma victim enters a vicious circle: emotional and psychological pain—self-medication with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc.—sobering up—reemerging of unresolved pain—more medication, and so on (Dayton, 2000, p. 18 emphasis in original).

Culture provides a sense of coherence for a people (Lowery 1998). Culture does this because it offers the group a way to answer life’s questions on a daily basis, provides a sense of place in the world, and gives a worldview appropriate to the group’s structure.

Contact with white men brought viruses and diseases that the Yup'ik shamans had never encountered and the people could not overcome. The "Yup'ik world turned upside down" in the face of the "Great Death"--an influenza epidemic originating in Nome in 1900 (Napoleon, pp. 10-11in Lowery 1998). It spread throughout Alaska, killing 60 percent of the Eskimo and Athabascan people; it claimed whole families and whole villages; it spawned a generation of orphans--the great-grandparents and grandparents of the people living today. "The world the survivors woke to was without anchor. The angalkuq [shamans], their medicines, and their beliefs had all passed away overnight. They woke up in shock, listless, confused, bewildered, heartbroken, and afraid" (Napoleon, 1991, p. 11 in Lowery 1998).

According to Lowery (1998), alcoholism among Native Americans is primarily a crisis of spirit. “The sense of coherence of an entire people was shattered at the turn of the century. There was no lawfulness, no cultural explanation, no magic, and no predictability. The world truly went upside down” (p. 4). Lowery suggests the generic substance abuse treatment of the dominant society is insufficient to heal, “the devastation to the spirit that American Indians addicted to drugs and alcohol suffer” (p. 5). She suggests that although Aboriginal populations are often seen as powerless, they are not. Rather, it is that the powers they possess are not valued in the dominant society. Lowery states,

Their cultural teachings of interdependence—obligation and caretaking, the sharing of power, the recognition of the spirit in all things, the responsibility given by the Creator to preserve Mother Earth, and acknowledgment of those who have come before them and those who will come after them—are all part of who American Indians are. These teaching[s] provide the strength from which Indian peoples come (p. 5).

Lowery (1998) argues that we must acknowledge the interconnectedness of all living things and “that human beings are only a part of this total ecology” (p. 5). We must acknowledge that alcoholism is a crisis of the spirit, which requires a healing of the spirit, of the mind, and of the body within a larger framework of existence (p. 5).

While Lowery doesn’t state or may not even intend to suggest this, I would argue that part of the larger framework of existence must entail the self-examination by the members of society of European descent. There must be a willingness on the part of this segment of society to stop their assault on the culture and spirits of the neighbours of non-European descent. Is there a future that is different from the present?


Apprey, M., Ph.D. (1998). Reinventing the Self in the Face of Received Transgenerational Hatred in the African American Community, 2003, from

Davis, R. E. (1997). Trauma and addiction experiences of African American women. Western Journal of Nursing Research (Reprinted with permission by Gale Group, pp. 1-18), 19(4), 442.

Dayton, T. (2000). Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain Through Emotional Literacy. Deerfield Beach (Florida): Health Communications, Inc.

Downtown Eastside Working Group. (1998). In Support of Recovery - An Anglican Response to Addiction. Vancouver: Anglican Church of Canada - Diocese of New Westminster - Stewards-in-Action Ministries.

Fullilove, M. T., & Lown, A. (1992). Crack 'hos and skeezers: Traumatic experiences of women crack users. Journal of Sex Research, 29(2), 275.

Gooding, L. (2003). The 'drip, drip, drip' effect of racism takes its toll. Mental Health Practice, 7(3), 5.

Kaslow, N. J., Thompson, M. P., Price, A. M., Young, S., Bender, M., Wyckoff, S., et al. (2002). Risk and Protective Factors for Suicidal Behavior in Abused African American Women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(2), 311-319.

Lowery, C. T. (1998). American Indian perspective on addiction and recovery. Health & Social Work, 23(2), 127.

McIntosh, J., & McKeganey, N. (2001). Identity and Recovery from Dependent Drug Use: the addict's perspective. Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 8(1), 47-59.

Middleton-Moz, J. (1989). Children of Trauma. Seattle: Health Communications, Inc.

Miliora, M. T. (2000). Beyond Empathic Failures: Cultural Racism As Narcissistic Trauma and Disenfranchisement of Grandiosity. Clinical Social Work Journal, 28(1), 43-54.

Ogbu, J. U. (1992). Adaptation to Minority Status and Impact on School Success. Theory Into Practice, 31(4), 287.

Price, A., & Simmel, C. (2002). Partners' Influence on Women's Addiction and Recovery: The Connection Between Substance Abuse, Trauma, and Intimate Relationships. Berkeley, CA: National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center, School of Social Welfare, University of California at Berkeley.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Boycott Film Press Release

Women’s Memorial March


VANCOUVER, BC, MARCH 6, 2006: The Boycott the film, “Killer Pickton” Petition, which was hosted by, collected over 1200 signatures in just over a month (January 30, 2006 to March 3, 2006). Signatories were asked to pledge to boycott the film by signing the petition, which stated in part.

This film serves only to feed the prurient interests of misogynists, while making violence against women a commodity. We feel the film is disrespectful to the memories of the murdered and missing women and their families. We are tired of the women being referred to as "mostly drug-addicted prostitutes" as if killing them were not as heinous as killing other women. The film and the publicity surrounding it, shows a total disregard for the humanity of the women. They are daughters, sisters, mothers and friends who are loved and who are missed by their families and friends.

I consider our petition campaign as success. Yet, I can not help but find it a sad commentary on our times that our petition collected just over 1200 signatures and a petition requesting that the television program, One Tree Hill, not be cancelled has collected almost 20, 000 and counting. It says that keeping a TV program on the air matters more than doing something to ease the pain and suffering of real people such as the victims, family and friends of women on the receiving end of violent acts.

On March 3rd, 2006 the completed petition was sent to the following recipients to ensure that it was in their hands by March 8th, International Women’s Day:
  • Los Angeles Times, Letters to the Editor

  • Motion Picture Distribution, Alliance Atlantis

  • Tom Alexander, Director, Theatrical Releasing, Mongrel Media

  • Pat Marshall, Vice President Communications and Investor Relations, Cineplex Galaxy LP

  • Jon Bain Senior Vice-President of Theatrical Distribution & Publicity, Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation

  • Chris Adkins, Operations, Telefilm Canada

  • Dean Leland, Vice President Marketing and Media, Empire Theatres Ltd

  • Hon. Libby Davies, Canadian House of Commons, Vancouver East

  • The Shadow Factory, Inc. (makers of the film)

For more information or for a copy of the petition and signatories’ names, please contact, Vikki at (604) 255-1555 or (604) 339-6413 or by E-mail at


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The High Cost of Free Trade for Indigenous and Afro-Colombians

Victoria Marie, PhD
Presented at the
Racial Violence and the Colour Line of the New World Order Conference
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia
April 2, 2005

The power of spreading the word… When governments speak they don’t speak the truth. Plan Colombia is not addressing social probems but spending more on war, which seems to have the aim of eliminating the civilian population (OFP, 2004).

Colombia has been in a state of civil war for the past 40 years. The combatants are the legitimately armed actors, such as the army and police; paramilitaries, who protect the interests of legal and illegal businesses; and two major groups of revolutionary forces. However, it is the civilian population that is most adversely impacted from the ongoing conflict. They are endangered by the warring factions, who routinely murder, displace or conscript them. The aim of this paper is to explore how this conflict and economic policies have adversely affected the people of colour in Colombia, from the perspective of Colombian women. Data gathered in Bogotá and rural Cauca from mestizo, indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups form the basis for this paper.

In November 2004, the author was part of a Witness for Peace (WFP) women’s delegation to Colombia. After we settled in our hotel in Bogotá, we went on a mini tour of the city by bus. We passed a section of town that looked as if it had been devastated by bombing or some other kind of mechanized erasure. There were people huddling over fires, others combing through rubble and others seemingly looking on aimlessly. Our guide explained that this section had been a particularly violent and dangerous part of town. As part of the effort to cleanse the city, the area was bulldozed. Both the criminal element and the poor who could not afford to live anywhere else were rendered homeless. In vivid contrast, we next went to the Presidential Palace and other edifices of the state as well as the Basilica. Palace guards inspected our bags before we were allowed to walk past these seats of state and religious power.

The purpose of the delegation was to stand in solidarity with Colombia’s women of peace and through meeting these women, to learn about the effects of United States and other foreign policies on the lives of the Colombian people. The delegation attended the Fourth Congress of Women Workers CUT (Central Unitario de Trabajadores), Women and Society, where we spoke with women from the health, education and farm worker unions. The group also had meetings with a cross section of 12 other organizations, as well as a meeting with representatives from the United States Embassy in Bogotá and a meeting with a representative from the Colombian army. The organizations visited were concerned with issues of labour, internal displacement, the disappeared/detained, health, education and the militarization of civilians. At the 1995 United Nations World Conference on Women, the indigenous women of the world declared,

The 'New World Order' which is engineered by those who have abused and raped Mother Earth, colonised, marginalised, and discriminated against us, is being imposed on us viciously. This is recolonisation coming under the name of globalisation and trade liberalisation. The forces behind this are the rich industrialised nation-states, their transnational corporations, financial institutions which they control like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They will cooperate and compete among themselves to the last frontiers of the world's natural resources located in our lands and waters (Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women, 1995).

Little has changed since 1995, as the economic and physical violence in Colombia continues to be concentrated on indigenous groups, African Colombians and mestizo campesinos (mestizos are people of mixed indigenous and European and/or African heritage and campesinos are small farmers). The women of these groups suffer the most from displacement and genocidal practices that are perpetrated with seeming impunity. The impact of private and public practices on the lives of Colombian women of colour is the focus of this paper. The issues are presented using documentary sources but primarily through the voices of these courageous women. The initiatives they have taken as paths of resistance are presented to show that although they have suffered many forms of repression and violence, their creativity, resourcefulness and resilience has not been vanquished.

Free Trade Agreements and the Internally Displaced
IDP (Internally displaced person) is the acronym that hides the reality of people forced to leave their homes to settle in unfamiliar and unfriendly urban fringes. Transnational interests and the hope of free trade agreements are the chief producers of the displacement of people from their homes.

Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) eliminate trade barriers, which are set up to protect small farmers and manufacturers. Without the trade barriers, transnational business interests can set prices that undercut local prices. Forced out of the market by the inability to compete, small farmers are usually forced to sell their land because they are no longer able to make a living. This in turn, forces mass influxes of people to urban areas, where their situation would be better described as that of domestic refugees.

For culturally unique groups, the process of shifting from traditional economic contexts to urban environments spells assimilation. Indigenous languages rapidly vanish, and cultural traditions of all types, be they Afro-Colombian, indigenous or Appalachian, disappear within a few generations. Within the cities poor health conditions, poverty and a lack of opportunity combine, and sometimes the only options seem to be crime, prostitution and drug abuse (Hodges, 2004).

Ciudad Bolivar, the last stop for many domestic refugees, is situated on the outskirts of Bogotá. It has the worst social conditions of Bogotá. For example, the first cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 44 is violence and for people between 45 and 59, violence is second. A spokeswoman for Organización Femenina de Popular (OFP), a local women’s group, describes the situation in Ciudad Bolivar of as follows:

It is hard to know which armed actors are here. This is like a corridor, which one day it’s one group. The next, it’s another. It’s hard here because the legal armed actors make it difficult for our youth. These armed actors detain young people and humiliate them. They do this not only to youth but men, women and children as well. There are murders here everyday, this is part of the process of “social cleansing.” There is a systematic policy of extermination being carried out by the government and the legal armed actors.

Amnesty International reports that in January 2004, an OFP worker was abducted by armed men, believed to be paramilitaries, who reportedly scalded her feet with boiling water and shaved her head. They told her she was being tortured because, “we want you out of OFP” (Amnesty International USA, 2004). In spite of the ever present danger, the OFP is struggling to end political and economic violence. The organization has helped over 373 families since their inception. Their motto, “Las mujeres no paramos ni forjamos hijos e hihas para la guerra” (“We do not give birth and raise sons and daughters for war”). The OFP are human rights advocates concerned with health care, decent housing, public services, schools and the rights of women inside and outside the home.

Speculation that the Andean Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement will be signed is behind the quest for new avenues to transport goods. There is also growing transnational interests in natural and other resources in north western region of Colombia. These factors contribute to the social injustice perpetrated against the local populations. For example, a Boston Globe story picked up by Colombia Week reports,

As he explores running for Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick is drawing criticism from labor leaders who say he ignored alleged labor and human rights violations at Coca-Cola while he was its vice president and chief legal counsel. The violations include paramilitary attacks on workers and labor organizers at Colombian facilities (Boston Globe 2/8 in Colombia Week, 2005).

Rich in timber, platinum, gold, uranium, abundant water and great biodiversity, Choco has been called Colombia’s “piggy bank” (Hodges, 2004). The only obstacles to extracting resources are physical access and the local population. Therefore, the old Panama canal, which cannot accommodate some of the modern big ships, makes the Panama-Colombia border an attractive site in various proposals for an alternate canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Between these proposals and the Pan-American Highway, plus large-scale hydroelectric and natural gas pipeline projects already in the works, this real estate becomes some of the most valuable in the world. Panama has always resisted completion of the Pan-American Highway, for a number of reasons, but Colombia’s government is working hard to persuade its neighbor. Colombia, along with all its business partners, knows that the riches of the Chocó are unparalleled (Hodges, 2004).

Colombia’s black population is concentrated in the Choco region along the Pacific Coast where they represent 95% of the population. The Black presence in Colombia dates back to the early part of the 16th century. African slaves replaced the Indigenous slaves, who were literally being worked to death. Today, Afro-Colombian labour drives the coffee and banana plantations of Antioquia and the mines and trade services of Choco. Yet, the living conditions of the African and Indigenous residents of the Chocó, 80 percent of whom live in extreme poverty and have an illiteracy rate three times the national average, provide a stark contrast to the potential riches of the region. “Only four countries—Afghanistan, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone—have a higher infant mortality rate than the Chocó, where 125 children out of every 1,000 die before reaching their first birthday" (Gibbs and Leech, 2003). They are plagued by the deterioration of public health, forced migrations to urban centers and the dispossession of land by armed actors. (Minorities At Risk, 2004).

Article 55 of the 1991 Constitution dealt with lands on the Pacific coast watershed and out of that article Law 70 was created, which gave certain cultural and organizational rights to Afro-Colombians as a distinct group. For example, it gave the right to participate in local government as an Afro-Colombian. Particularly significant was that Law 70 paved the way for them to work for collective title to their lands.

Immediately after collective title was granted the army came in and started bombing, indiscriminate bombing. The pretext was clearing out guerrillas. Because of that 20,000 fled in deep fear…. Quite a few fled to Cartagena, some to Panama, a city near Panama. But the vast majority went to Pavarandó, Antioquia (bordering Choco). This has been, until now, the largest ever displacement in Colombian history (Witness for Peace, 2002).

The greatest threat to Afro-Colombians are the armed actors: military, guerrilla, and paramilitary forces, all of whom share responsibility for killings, disappearances, and land displacements in black communities.

Paramilitaries and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) units have surrounded villages in the western province of Chocó for a week, trapping up to 1,000 people and preventing food and medicine from entering, Lt. Gov. Fredy Lloreda said (Colombia Week, 2005).

The principles demands of Black Colombians, including the women of AFRODES are: greater political rights in their own communities, greater participation in decision making at the central state level, equal civil rights and status, greater economic opportunities, and protection of land and jobs used for the advantage of other groups (Minorities At Risk, 2004).

Soacha, a part of Ciudad Bolivar, looks very much like a refugee camp on the outskirts of Bogotá. It is the new home of many displaced Afro-Colombians. Witness for Peace has visited AFRODES in Soacha several times over the years, including visits in 2001 and again in July/August 2002 and the quote above is from the 2002 delegation. AFRODES, founded in 1999, is an organization that helps displaced Afro-Colombians (Podur and Witness for Peace, 2001). In November 2004, our Witness for Peace delegation visited Soacha but this time we focused on the voices of women. The women of Soacha told us the following (I have used pseudonyms for the women.)

I came because of the violence. I came with my grandchildren. We went through a lot of pain. AFRODES helps but it is not enough. There are so many bad times for our children. It is a hard life for women with children. So here I am, without work. They don’t give us work. We don’t have friends here. We have no chickens. We have no farm and we don’t have work. We used to live off agriculture in the mountains. We had a little farm. But we had to leave because of the violence.

I am the head of the household with three children. Right now I am unemployed. It is important to give employment to women heads of households. I come from a small town [in Antioquia], very tranquil. Then one day we found bodies. We were not used to violence. That is why we started our group. We need to organize to protect ourselves. I have been in the city seven years. No work. I have to be mother and father to my children. My children can’t be in school because there is nobody supporting me. My daughter is in AFRODES kindergarten. Even in the AFRODES kindergarten, you need to support or how could the school remain open.

We lived in Rio Sucio in Choco. My first husband was murdered. We don’t know why they killed him. They gave us 24 hours to leave. We went to a small town then I moved to Quito with two small children. Then I came to Bogotá. I have been here three years. In the beginning I got help from Network Solidarity and priests. I married my second husband and had another child. My children are in school. My husband does day labour sometimes. He has work sometimes, sometimes not. When we do have work we put the money aside so the children can go to school.

We find work through word of mouth. Do any kind of work but I would like to work in a factory or selling clothes in a shop of my own.

No one will give me work because of my age. I like to work. I want to work. I would like to raise chickens and then sell them.

We feel secure but insecure at the same time because there is no law or authority that ensures our safety.

The situation is very hard and very difficult. We want peace. We reject violence. We don’t want violence. We want peace.

We want a future without violence, with love. We want our children to study and have a better life. They should give money for displaced people, so our children can move forward.

As ominous as the experiences of the displaced are the experiences of the families with loved ones’ whose whereabouts are unknown. The Association for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared (ASFADDES) was born in 1982 and came out of the disappearance of 13 students. People went to the government to try and find out about their family members to no avail.

22 years ago, we began our struggle and 4 years ago, a law was put in place that forced disappearance is a crime against humanity. Until then the government of Colombia did not have disappearance as a crime. Kidnapping was a crime because it mainly happened to the rich but disappearance was a crime against the poor. One day after Law 589 was passed, our colleague was killed. Many of my colleagues have had to leave Colombia because of persecution. They have bombed my house, threatened my daughter, they follow us and take photographs. My promise is to my disappeared partner and all the disappeared in Colombia and elsewhere. My son is 25 and my daughter is 18. I was pregnant with my daughter, when my partner was disappeared. My son now works with me in this work. We continue this human rights work because we continue to dream and hope that we can have a dignified life.

ASFADDES was founded to find out information about family members and to work for peace, justice and human rights. The organization has several areas of work, one of which is education and human rights.
We also work on denouncements to make the government give reasons for the disappeared and killed. Something we do that is very import is every May, we make a memorial in memory of the disappeared to show the people of Colombia that there are disappeared here and we remember them.

The other piece of the work we do is legal assistance and documentation. We document from the first moment that a person is disappeared. We document everything including the fact that the government does not respond. Legal assistance includes taking the person to the different NGOs. Another area is the internal structure, fund raising, and collaboration with other organizations. We receive some funding but it is shrinking.

ASFADDES is responding to the needs of the families of the detained and disappeared. Likewise, there are other sites of resistance. When the delegation visited El Cedro, a local community outside of Popayan, we were told,

We don’t want the FTAA because producers, subsidized by the U.S., come down and undersell the local farmers. For example, coffee, they use chemical input in their farming. Now they’re pushing eucalyptus, which uses up resources, big companies like Monsanto. Now, we are looking to develop our own seeds from around here and not to use chemicals and that gives us an economy that promotes our own well-being. We know that you like these things because you also like organic agriculture. Our problem is water, the water springs are low. We have to look for another spring for our water. We are looking to reforestation. We love these trees. We are so proud. I can tell you about this place, El Cedro, what we have accomplished. We will continue to be strong and move forward.

In the next section, I give a brief description of Plan Colombia and present some of the ways in which others are taking part in the struggle to alleviate the effects of social injustice and to end the violence.

Plan Colombia, Armed Actors and Sites of Resistance
Everyday we struggle to improve our communities. All we want is a dignified life, to recover our culture that we have lost, reclaim our history, so we can retain it. We have income generation for the countryside. With all the human rights violations, it is hard to go forward. Don’t believe what they say in the media, that we are all terrorists and drug dealers. We are hard working people (Campesino).

Under Presidents Clinton and Bush, Plan Colombia is the latest aid package and initiative designed to bring about an end to the violence and drug trafficking in Colombia. It is also includes strategies that are designed to stabilize the economy, promote trade and investment and social development.

The plan includes ten strategies (economic, fiscal and financial, military, judicial and human rights, counter-narcotics, alternative development, social participation, human development, peace and international affairs) designed to address all aspects of the problems Colombia faces (Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU), 2001).

Of these ten strategies, the bulk of the funding goes to military and counter-narcotics strategies. While Colombians are suffering health problems, environmental degradation and the loss of legal crops from the aerial spraying, foreign companies are benefitting. For example, Lockheed Martin, Textan Industries and United Technologies manufacture the armaments and helicopters used in the spraying and Monsanto produces RoundUp Ultra, the chemical used in the spraying.

RoundUp Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, with additional surfactants to increases its lethality.… Over the past century, global water supplies have been contaminated with the full gamut of Monsanto's chemicals, including PCBs, dioxin and glyophosate (Roundup). So now the company, seeing a profitable market niche, is taking control of the public water resources they polluted, filtering it, and selling it back to the people. In short, Monsanto is making a double profit by polluting the world's scarce freshwater resources, privately taking ownership of that water, filtering it, and selling it back to those who can afford to pay for it (Organic Consumers, 2005).

(Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU), 2001)

The most onerous part of Plan Colombia is that it appears to ignore human rights violations and the destruction of the environment. For example, we were told of the situation of the banana workers when the delegation attended the Fourth Congress of Women Workers CUT (Central Unitario de Trabajadores), Women and Society, held in Bogotá.

The first women with whom we spoke worked on large banana plantations. The majority of plantation jobs in Colombia’s banana industry are held by Afro-Colombians. They told us that in the agribusiness sector women are discriminated against because they cannot be fired if they get pregnant. Companies either do not hire women or the women must submit to sterilization if they want to obtain employment. There are no women in management or upper level positions.
  • Colombia is considered to be the most dangerous country in the world for union leaders. Over 4,000 union activists have been murdered since 1980 (Witness for Peace, 2004).

  • In 2003, 172 trade unionists were assassinated, 164 received death threats, 26 were kidnapped, 7 disappeared and 50 families were forced to flee into exile (Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), 2004).
The banana workers also voiced fears of traveling in Colombia by land. One of the women said, “This is the first time we had to travel by land. But the men never have to travel by land. For women in Colombia, being part of a union is very difficult.”

Banana plantation workers face acute public health risks from exposure to the chemicals used in the agribusinesses. The women we spoke to stated that the chemicals used on the banana farms have caused rashes, ovarian cysts and impaired vision.

The women stated that 80 percent of the women in Uraba region were widowed heads of their households. “When our husbands die or our fathers die or our children, we are the ones who cry, we are the ones who have to keep the family going.” However, these women have found the strength to become agents of change by addressing those responsible for the conditions under which they work. Two years ago, they began to do research by passing out surveys to discover the concerns of the women in their industry. With the results of their research, they launched a campaign, In Banana Plantations, we accept women (En las fincas bananeros, aceptamos mujeres). This campaign promotes women’s labor, sexual and reproductive rights in the agribusiness sector.

After the Conference in Bogota, we travelled to Popayan in the Department (State) of Cauca. From there we visited organizations in the city of Popayan and the rural communities of Timbió and Cajibio. In Timbió we visited the local Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Macizo (CIMA). One of the primary goals of CIMA is to make known the plight of the civilian non-combatants– the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Macizo—who for years have been caught in the crossfire. The Human Rights Coordinator of the Women’s Program of CIMA spoke eloquently about the militarization of the region. She told us—

For 50 years, there was no presence of armed actors in the area. Then military incursions into Santa Rosa began in 2003. This has caused a lot of hardship in Santa Rosa and other communities because farmers have been pointed out as insurgents. The last mass detentions in Santa Rosa occurred in 2003 and 2004. Students, old people— the only thing that matters is that you’re indigenous and a farmer.

The number of selective assassinations is also on the rise. There used to be one assassination per year. This year there has been six. It keeps increasing. They torture people, come into your house and take you. Landmines have also increased from last year. So, as women, we ask what is happening. Why are these atrocities happening? Why has there been such an increase in 2004?

These people have only small plots of land to grow crops to feed themselves. The spraying, the fumigations are poisoning the crops, causing physical deformities in children, and this is because of fumigation. It is hard to prove and the Health Department says those are just regular illnesses.

The public forces and the paramilitaries are the same people. The paramilitaries are not doing massacres any more. They are killing one by one. They are not spreading the word anymore but, we know.

But in the midst of this devastation, our struggles and our pain, we work to effect change. We work with other groups and the women are working on nutrition issues and ways to help ourselves. Now in communities women are starting gardens. This is a form of resistance. Women, men come forward and tell them what we are doing.

In Popayan we visited the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC). Cauca’s Indigenous peoples had lost much of their land and CRIC was founded in 1981 to address the right to land. On our visit to the CRIC office we spoke with the coordinator of women’s programs. She told us decisions in CRIC are made by the Cabildo (Council) and until a few years ago, Cabildo members have been men. Since 1996, there has been an increase in the involvement of women. Now, seven out of 87 Cabildo members are women. It is a small number but when you think that there were none before, it is an important change.

Before the Spanish came, there was harmony between men and women. Men and women complemented each other and there was much more harmony. When the Spanish came we had to adapt to new ways and a new religion. At this point discrimination began. Men began to discriminate against women. And this was brought to us. An example of the violence of the Spanish is they would rape the women repeatedly and cut their nipples off so the couldn’t feed the babies.

Woman began to fight back against the Spanish and the men. Women also fought in the struggles and were leaders. Women have always played a part in the struggle, in the process of defending their land, defending the right of the land. Gaetana and Rosilina were two who gave their lives … for the struggle.

We were informed that that in addition to their founding concerns about land rights, they are now concerned about the behaviour of armed actors. She told us—

One of the problems, in terms of government policies and the militarization of our territories, is the presence of the military. They like our young women, make them pregnant and leave. This is a big social problem.

CRIC has expanded their mandate to address these and other new problems.

Women became more involved in CRIC and the struggle for land rights. Women were concerned about the decisions being made and asking were the concerns of women being addressed. First we had to come together. As more indigenous women were trained we began to identify and address social problems.

For example, the “Treca” or exchange is the indigenous peoples’ resistance to Free Trade Agreements. They barter local crops and products with each other. Therefore, each farmer, craftsperson and artisan bypasses the unjust prices for their goods and the necessity to buy foreign goods that undercut local producers.

If ideas or strategies like the treca were to become popular and were allowed to take hold, it would offset free trade agreements’ devastating effect. However, I do not believe that these groups can achieve the economic autonomy they deserve without outside help. For example, one way we can help is to buy fairly traded goods, such as fair trade coffee, tea, and cocoa; union made clothing; and support local vendors who sell fairly traded goods. In the next section, I show how some returning delegates joined ‘la lucha’ (the struggle).

The Way Forward in Solidarity
The power of spreading the word… When governments speak they don’t speak the truth.

I have tried to show three things with this paper. First, the actions of armed actors have resulted in the displacement of many campesinos, Indigenous and African Colombians. Second, the interests of foreign business, including U.S. companies like Monsanto are profiting from, and in some instances causing, the deleterious conditions of these populations. Third, and most importantly, I have shown the resilience, diligence and creativity of the people in dealing with their adverse condition. Now, it is time to suggest what we can do by showing what has been done by some of the delegates on their return home.

Gail is a founding member of Witness for Peace says she,
gave a talk to a house meeting of about 20 people, gave a public talk in Moore Square downtown to about 100 which was televised...wrote a piece on Colombia which has been published in a number of places and had a letter to the editor published.

Ann has
visited Senator’s office and made presentation on Colombia to staff. As a result of my last trip to Colombia two years ago, Syracuse now has a Sister Community with Cajibio in Cauca. This year we met with an organizer from the Community and material aid was delivered. This relationship will continue.

has had articles published in the Winston-Salem Journal: “U.S. Aid Worsens Poverty, Oppression” (September 27, 2003) and “Brenda-Witness puts Plan Colombia in sharp focus” (December 18, 2004). In addition to her membership in Witness for Peace, she is a member of the Peace Brigade.

Margaret, who has written articles and put on a photo exhibit among other actions, stated:
Well, I knew already during the 2002 delegation that I would want to be able to return to Popayán, Cauca, to offer some trauma-reduction support to the families of the Association for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared (ASFADDES), with whom our delegation had spent an amazing afternoon and evening. In April of 2004, I was approached by a doctor/art collector who wanted to purchase MB Hopkins' painting from me. To make a long and wonderful story short, the local arts community rallied around a project that enabled me (a bodyworker) to return to Popayán in August 2004 with two psychotherapists (one of whom, Judy Bierbaum, was also on the 2002 delegation) and a translator, in order to offer trauma-reduction work to families affected by the forced disappearance of loved ones. We spent about a week in Popayán doing that, and trying to lay the groundwork for future work.

Patrick states:
since my first trip to Colombia, in 1997, I have worked toward forming a group here in Los Angeles to do advocacy for the nonviolent efforts in Colombia. I continue to monitor the situation there, to respond to urgent actions, and to inform others about congressional action and alert them to appropriate times to contact Congress about specific legislation. My subsequent visits to Colombia have broadened and deepened my understanding of the situation and therefore my ability and motivation to continue doing those things.

This is but a small sample of the people from Witness for Peace delegations who have returned home and have joined the struggle of their Colombian brothers and sisters for peace and justice. In essence part of what I have tried to do in writing this paper is fulfill one of my promises, which was to share the plight of the people we visited with the Canadian people in general and the academic community in particular. However, it is hard for me to convey the emotions that accompany being witness to what we saw in Colombia. Marilou, a member of our delegation captures so closely the unarticulated feelings that I have about our experience in Colombia and in writing this paper. Her words are the best way to conclude and if one listens closely enough, these words are also an invitation.

I realized that I don’t believe I shared with you the true impact of my Colombia experience (which I am actually still trying to come to terms with). Granted, one of my goals is to educate others about what’s going on in Colombia, but the reality is, I only understand but a miniscule piece of what’s going on there (or in the world for that matter!) and my contribution now is not so much to be able to have intellectual discussions about Colombia and the impact of US policy on other countries because … it’s not that simple, it isn’t – the war has been going on in Colombia for over 40 years and I don’t know the answer to how we put an end to it. What I do know is that I connected with so many incredibly beautiful, gentle and strong souls while I was there. I do know that my heart was touched by their hope and struggle for a day when the words “illegal armed actors”, “massacres” and “disappeared” would no longer be a part of their vocabulary; when mothers standing up for basic human rights didn’t have to worry every morning if their kiss goodbye to their child would be their last kiss; when union leaders didn’t have to worry if today would be their last; when a young woman whose father “disappeared” ten years ago no longer has to shed any more tears because she can once again be in the arms of her dad; when campesinos can grow subsistence crops and not have their land fumigated; when Afro-Colombians can go back to their land and not fear for their life….(Marilou, 2004).

Other Works Cited:
Amnesty International USA. (2004). Organizacion Femenina Popular -- Colombia. Retrieved January 12, 2005, from

Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women
. (1995). Retrieved March 9, 2005, from

Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). (2004). CLUW decries exploitation of women workers by U.S. multinational corporations. Retrieved January 12, 2005, from

Colombia Week. (2005). Tuesday, February 8, 2005: ETC. Retrieved March 5, 2005, from

Ecumenical Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU). (2001). Plan Colombia and its Consequences in Ecuador. Retrieved March 9, 2005, from

Gibbs, T., and Leech, G. (2003). Displacing Development in the Choco. Retrieved January 10, 2005, from

Hodges, S. (2004). Notes of a Botanist on CAVIDA’s Fifth International Encounter, December 4-9, 2004. Retrieved February, 2005, from

Minorities At Risk. (2004). Assessment for Blacks in Colombia. Retrieved November 13, 2004, from

Organic Consumers. (2005). Monsanto Corporation: A Biotech Company Responsible for Roundup Ready Soybeans. Retrieved March 9, 2005, from

Podur, J., and Witness for Peace. (2001). The Afro-Colombians: AFRODES. Retrieved November 14, 2004, from

Witness for Peace. (2002). Soacha - City of displaced Colombians. Retrieved November 13, 2004, from

Witness for Peace. (2004). How Would AFTA Impact Colombia Civil Society? Retrieved November 13, 2004, from