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Towards Walking the Earth Together

An Open Letter to the Puno Cumbre
Caminar Hacia la Tierra Juntos

Una Carta Abierta a la Cumbre de Puno

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From India, Friday, May 22, 2009

Respected friends, sisters and brothers, gathering soon at Puno in Peru for planning out the journey you have taken on ‘Minga en Defensa de la Madre Tierra y los Pueblos’ (Minga in Defence of Mother Earth and her Peoples) –

Namaste; namaskar; greetings.

I come in peace. May peace be with you.

My name is Jai Sen.

I come from the land called India. But I come to you not as a citizen of any one country but as a person of this earth.

I have travelled a long way.

Please allow me a moment to dust off my clothes as I stand at the entrance to your space.

Please allow me a moment to remove my shoes, for I do not want to bring in with me the dust of my travels.

Please give me some water to drink, so that I can clear my throat of the dust of travel and speak clearly.

Forgive me for any imperfections in what I am going to say. The language I myself speak is different from yours; today, I will try and speak in a language that I hope can cross the differences and boundaries between us, and can travel across the world to reach you.

I come to you with some memories in my mind, some reflections on the past, and some thoughts for the future.

I come to you in common cause.

I come to you as a representative of CACIM, the India Institute for Critical Action : Centre in Movement based in New Delhi, located here in India (www.cacim.net), which tries to be a fellow-traveller with you and others in movement in the struggle for achieving peace, dignity, justice, and self-awareness and that has already declared its support to your initiative, through its voice and through its actions.

I come to you conscious also of CACIM’s community - of all our associates and friends scattered across the world who in our various ways, are all on this same journey for peace, dignity, justice, and self-awareness; and I thank them for their spirit and for their presence in my life and in my words.

And as I speak to you, I pay respect to my many teachers in life, and here in particular to John Brown Childs, Taiaiake Alfred, Jeff Corntassel, and the Zapatistas, and also Kolya Abramsky, Jeremy Brecher, Lee Cormie, and Brian Murphy; to my partner in life, Julia Sánchez; to my late wife Munni Sen; to my children and their futures; and to ancestors of mine from whom I am drawn and from whom I have learned. And to all our children, and to their children, and to their futures. And to our common mother, Mother Earth.

Over the next some days, you are gathering in Puno to discuss your plans for the new journey you have proposed, towards ‘Minga en Defensa de la Madre Tierra y los Pueblos’ (Minga in Defence of Mother Earth and her Peoples).

My community and I are aware that you have come to this place for having your discussion after already having travelled for many years in struggle.

We believe that your proposals for this journey – which has a truly planetary vision – are extremely significant, and stimulating, both because they have this vision and also because they are being independently and autonomously being taken by indigenous peoples. As we see it, this action, of reclaiming, recovering, and protecting our Mother Earth therefore has a very special historical significance. This is perhaps one of the first times in human history that an initiative like this has been taken by such peoples, at a global level, anywhere in the world.

We applaud you for this, and wish you well for your deliberations, and hope that they will bear fruit.

Allow me to now present to you some memories, some reflections, and a proposal.

Memories
I was at the World Social Forum that took place in Belém, at the mouth of the mighty Amazon River, where I had the privilege of meeting some of you who are gathering in Puno.

I was witness to much of what happened there.

I attended meetings of the Campaña Pueblas Indigenas en la Amazonia; and I also attended various meetings of various other organisations who are also struggling for peace and justice.

I myself was involved, as a member of CACIM and along with others, in organising meetings at the Belém Forum that looked at the politics of the Belém Forum and of the real meanings and implications for the WSF of, from now on, the organised presence and participation of indigenous peoples; that looked at the organising principles that underlie the World Social Forum; and that tried to look at and face the future that is emerging all around us. (For details of what we planned, see http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=CACIMatBelem; (external link) and we will shortly be posting reports on each of our three meetings.)

I had the privilege, while at the Belém Forum, of meeting and exchanging thoughts several indigenous people, mostly from the Americas, among them Roberto Espinoza, Coordinator of CAOI (Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas – Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organisations, headquartered in Peru); Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Dine' and Dakota nation, of the USA/Turtle Island); Hugo Blanco (of the Confederacion de Campesinos del Peru, Lucha Indigena, and CAOI, from Peru), Adolfo Montero (of OIK - Organizacion Indigena Kanuama, ONIC - Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, and CAOI, from Colombia), Ben Powless (representing the Indigenous Environmental Network, from Canada/Turtle Island); and Ron Rousseau (of CUPW - Canadian Union of Postal Workers, from Canada/Turtle Island). I also had the privilege of sitting and speaking at some length with Ivaneide Bandeira Cardozo (General Coordinator of Kanindé - Associação de Defesa Etnoambiental, based in Rio Branco, in Brazil) and with three of her Suruí brothers, about their impressions of the Belém Forum.

I also walked extensively in the grounds where the Belém Forum was taking place, both in UFRA and in UFPA, to see and sense what was happening.

These are my memories.

My reflections
My reflections are that while being able to be at the Belém Forum and to witness and take part in all of the above was truly extraordinary, we, all of us, but especially the organisers of the Belém Forum, missed a huge opportunity.

As I now see it, to some extent while I was still in Belém and much more so after returning, ‘Belém’ – the Belém Forum – was an extraordinary opportunity for building peace between peoples and for building the future together; and beyond this, for taking forward the task you are now undertaking, of re-quickening the world.

Allow me to explain.

After all is said and done, the World Social Forum is still largely a civil organisation and process, made up of people more related to settlers than to indigenous peoples or to other historically oppressed peoples. While this is changing in small ways (the International Council of the WSF so far has, among its 200 plus members, just one indigenous peoples’ organisation as a member – CAOI – and only a handful of organisations of peoples in struggle), and for all its achievements, and for all its very noble objectives as laid out in its Charter of Principles, it remains this. And perhaps as a consequence, it therefore sees the world this way.

I believe that it was because of this that the reason the WSF presented for organising the Forum at Belém was that it is in Amazonia, which is under ecological threat – and the organisers therefore appealed to our sense of crisis, within the larger climate crisis that we today face.

But while this is true, and also very significant, equally true and significant however is the fact that Amazonia is also symbolic at a world level of the existence and struggles of indigenous peoples – who have been colonised and exploited by settler societies for centuries and today remain under intense threat across the planet.

But by choosing to organise the Forum at Belém, which is not only in Amazonia and at the mouth of mighty Amazon but also at the mouth of a continent that has faced some of greatest acts of violence against indigenous peoples, at a civilisational level the WSF had an extraordinary opportunity to create a space and a time where indigenous peoples and settler peoples could meet each other with respect and in peace, and to talk to each other and to smoke with each other, in peace; and that could even, perhaps, have contributed to opening a process of historical reconciliation and remedy between indigenous peoples and settler peoples, at a people-to-people level, should indigenous peoples have wanted this.

The WSF could have done this recognising that after all is said and done, the civil peoples and organisations that are its core are, in historical terms, complicit with the violence and crimes that have been inflicted through colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Latin America, as well as elsewhere. It was not only the European states that so violently conquered and colonised the Americas; it was also, very much, civil society (or rather, the predecessors to civil society) in those countries, and the Church, and driven by them.

Progressive sections of civil societies across the world today, which includes the WSF and the global social justice movement which it sees itself a part of, therefore need not wait for the governments of the world to own up to the crimes of the past.

If any of us had seen this window, and had recognised this opportunity, this opening, this initiative could perhaps have been taken at that time and at that place.

But this is not what happened at Belém, and I believe that we can usefully reflect on this and draw lessons.

Let us imagine what could have happened IF :

  • IF we had all been conscious at Belém of the historical fact that we were meeting not just in Amazonia, and at the mouth of a great river, but on a land that had been violently conquered by settlers and taken away from the indigenous peoples whose home this had been, since time immemorial; and so we were in fact meeting on their historical home and land;
  • IF the organisers of the World Social Forum that was held at Belém had not just ‘invited’ indigenous peoples to come and attend the Forum at Belém – just like everybody else – and made them come through gates, get registered and pay money for this, and then hang identification badges around their necks; and had, instead, recognised and respected indigenous peoples as, at the very least, the original owners of the land the WSF was organising its meeting on; and had personally met and welcomed all the indigenous peoples who came, honoured them, and helped them make it their home again;
  • IF this act of reception and welcome moreover, had taken place in an area without any walls and gates and military police (the river side would have been an ideal place), and the organisers of the Forum had respected the cultures of so many peoples around the world, and especially of indigenous peoples, by conducting welcome ceremonies that signalled and heralded new cultures and new discussions – and the possibility of new futures;
  • IF the organisers of the Belém Forum had also conducted a special gathering of peace during the Forum, after all the indigenous peoples from around the planet had arrived, in a very special way, in recognition of this extraordinary moment in space and time and of the confluence of many great rivers, and to have drunk together from the waters of the confluence;
  • If the organisers of the Belém Forum had, in further recognition of this special moment, also organised the closing of the Forum in a very special way, not by asking the indigenous peoples only to read out their conclusions just like everybody else, but by very specially recognising the moment of the ending of this first convergence of the diverse peoples of Mother Earth, and looking ahead to more such convergences;
  • IF the members of the International Council, as the leadership of the World Social Forum, had also recognised the moment by organising their own meeting not after the Forum, when everyone – including the indigenous peoples – had left, but during the Forum, and in the indigenous peoples’ tent, with a thousand indigenous warriors seated around them;
  • IF the members of the International Council had, at their meeting, not just listed the proposals of the indigenous peoples who were present, and not simply read out the proposals and just added them to its ‘list of forthcoming actions’, as just as one more action, but – in recognition of the very special convergence that would have been taking place in that great tent, that longhouse - declared that they were willing to now join the indigenous peoples of the world in their 2,000 years of struggle for peace, dignity, and justice, and to henceforth walk together; and -
  • IF the organisers of the Belém Forum and the leadership of the WSF had left the Belém Forum together with the indigenous peoples of the world, arm in arm, out into the great rivers of history.

I am aware that all this is only in our imaginations – but can we see these as signs, not only of the past but also of the future ? Can we draw lessons from all this, for what we next do ? In how we conduct ourselves, and in choosing the paths that we take, the waters we drink ?

My proposal
I come now to you with a very simple proposal : Can you, in your deliberations in Puno, consider the possibility of finding ways where some of this ground, and these possibilities, can be perhaps recovered over this next year of activities that you are planning, and in the course of all that you do in this long journey you are undertaking ?

But with the essential difference being that this time, the initiative would come and the ground laid, as would be fitting, from the indigenous peoples of the world, and not from the settlers.

Let every action that is taken be an opportunity for this convergence, with meaningful ceremonies and meaningful actions, respectful of all cultures that are taking part.

Respectful of all boundaries that exist, treating them as bridges, and crossing them with care.

Respectful of pasts, of the present, and of possible futures.

Respectful of the dreams of other worlds.

Because I have invoked them in this letter, I am paying respect to them by sending copies of this open letter to my teachers, to my partner in life and to my children and family; to my colleagues and community, and to some respected friends who are members of the International Council of the WSF; and also to others across the planet who may also be watching your gathering with the interest that I am.

I end here, and leave my thoughts with you, with all due respect. Please take care of them. I bid you well for your deliberations and actions in the days ahead, and salute you in your struggles.

With respect, in peace and in hope and, I believe, in common cause,


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Page last modified on Tuesday 26 of May, 2009 11:13:33 IST by System Administrator.

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