“This building has a story. If you listen close enough you will hear it.” Educator and peace advocate David West was talking about the Longhouse as he kicked off of the annual Lane Peace symposium on April 30 with a prayer.
More than 250 people gathered to hear keynote speakers Suzan Harjo and Dennis Martinez talk about justice through repatriation and ecological sustainability.
Harjo, a Cheyenne/Muscogee, spoke about the return of ancestral remains and sacred lands, highlighting the ongoing struggles of American Indians.
American Indians are being denied constitutional rights she said, adding that they have been battling for years trying to repatriate land, sacred religious sites and even human remains.
Harjo talked about roadside attractions where people show off the mummies of her people’s ancestors. This isn’t a new fad she said.
In fact, Harjo claimed, that there have been reports for hundreds of years about post-burial exhumations, sometimes explicitly carried out by the United States government right after a burial ceremony.
American Indians have recovered over one-million acres of land with her help she said. “It sounds simple and doable and it is, if only [our opponents] didn’t come from the same educational system as the rest of America,” Harjo said.
She went on to explain how general misinformation taught to people about American Indians seriously hurts and dampens repatriation efforts.
Harjo spoke about the establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. She loves that the museum can teach people about American Indians. A smile crossed her face as she remembered the opening ceremony — an eagle soaring overhead and a pond full of ducks.
“How wonderful, something in Washington that wasn’t planned,” she said, closing with an appeal to end racial stereotyping in athletics.
Writer and advocate for American Indians Dennis Martinez continued the theme of repatriation, extending it to include not just objects, but nature. He mentioned the various plants and trees of the Willamette Valley that are not protected, including “the oak tree [that] is the tree of life.”
Martinez called for a better understanding of language, to bridge communication between Traditional Environmental Knowledge and western science. He said that humans are the “apex-omnivore,” the keystone species of earth. Our influence, therefore, is not only top-down, but bottom-up as well, he said.
“It isn’t just a social justice issue, it is an environmental issue,” Martinez said. He talked about how people with TEK see nature differently than western scientists. “It is a landscape of stories,” he said.
Indigenous people shape an American landscape that includes greater biodiversity and surplus he said. One of the methods he supports is prescribed fires combined with the planting of dry, native grasses in forests. This, and other methods, lead to abundance in nature, he said.
Martinez finished by outlining land ethics, which he said includes regulation, taking minimum sustainable yields, creating greater biodiversity and respecting natural law. He emphasized the importance of communication in reaching these goals.