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1992 is fast approaching and for many people it promises to be it year of controversy. 1992 marks 500 years of European colonization of the Americas and some of the European and American nations are planning massive celebrations to mark the so called "year of discovery". Most of the Indigenous peoples worldwide plan to celebrate - in many different ways 500 years of resistance, rediscovery, and survival.
In November, I attended the Ottawa conference Strengthening the Spirit Beyond 500 Years that was organized by the Indigenous 500 Committee. This conference - to date - was perhaps the largest and strongest co-ordinated celebration of Indigenous peoples' resistance, rediscovery, and survival. It brought delegates and participants from all over North, South and Central America, Australia, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Europe who are involved in one way or another in the Indigenous peoples' struggle.
While the majority of the conference participants opposed the forthcoming celebrations planned to honor Christopher Columbus as the so called "discoverer" of the Americas, the primary agenda identified for 1992 and beyond is strengthening Indigenous peoples, our communities, and our nations.
Not surprisingly, the most popular word at the conference was "healing". Indeed, throughout the whole conference Indigenous peoples communicated with one another about the necessity to encourage healing albeit in the colonizers' English French and Spanish.
For many attending the conference, listening and dialoguing with other Indigenous peoples was a valuable educational experience. Listening to Elders, women, men, and youth from war torn Central and South American regions, we learned of their daily struggle to stay alive. A photocopy being circulated of a cartoon - which caricatured a Soviet and an American imperialist fighting with an Indian on a crucifix supported by a christian bible on the left and a book of Marx on the right - vividly conveyed the Indigenous peoples' compromising position between the left and right wing ideologically based powers in South and Central America. While many of us look at it with amusement, it also reminded us of their seemingly no win position.
But, we also hear stories of strength and promises of commitments and solidarity from Indigenous peoples from the Phillipines and the Caribbean areas (people who according to some `educators' don't exist because they were supposedly killed off)
Delegates from North America referred to our own struggle to survive. Although, as many pointed out, we do not have the daily horror of mass murders or death squads, we continue to fight the dis-ease of colonization which has manifested itself as a deadly violence turned inwards. This fatal cancer like dis-ease is seemingly 'genetically' transmitted from one generation to the next and appears to quickly consume our strength and hope. Deaths from this dis-ease are slow and perhaps less direct but it still claims far too many of our peoples' lives each year!
Nevertheless, as Indigenous peoples, we are survivors.