International Indigenous Women’s Symposium
Declaration for Health, Life and Defense of Our Lands, Rights, and Future Generations
We, Indigenous women from the regions of North America, Latin America, the Arctic, Caribbean and the Pacific, gathered June 30th to July 1st, 2010 at the INTERNATIONAL INDIGENOUS WOMEN’S ENVIRONMENTAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SYMPOSIUM, in Alamo, California, hosted by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and the North-South Indigenous Network Against Pesticides.
We recognize and thank the Indigenous Peoples of this land called California for welcoming us to their beautiful land.
We are traditional healers, midwives, youth and community organizers, environmental and human rights activists, teachers and traditional and cultural leaders. We are daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers and great grandmothers, youth and elders, members of great Nations who have always stood firm to defend our lands, our Peoples and our cultures.
We work in our communities, homes, health centers, tribal and traditional governments and Indigenous organizations, on the local, national and international levels. We recognize and appreciate the important contributions that all of us, and many other Indigenous women around the world are making to defend our lands, rights and the health of future generations, as well as the generations who have come before us.
We have come together at this Symposium to share our information about the negative impacts of mining and drilling, mercury contamination, nuclear and uranium testing, processing and storage, pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), military dumping, toxic waste incineration, desecration of sacred sites and places,introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and foods and harvesting of our genetic materials. We have listened to each other’s stories, and have also seen the tragic effects within our own families, communities and Nations of the environmental, economic,social and cultural impacts of toxic contamination.
These imposed, deplorable conditions violate the right to health and reproductive justice of Indigenous Peoples, and affect the lives, health and development of our unborn and young children. They seriously threaten our survival as Peoples, cultures and Nations. They also violate our rights as Indigenous Peoples to subsistence, spiritual and cultural survival, self-determination and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). As Indigenous Peoples, and as the defenders of our future generations,we have vocalized our opposition to these forms of contamination of our homelands, air and waters for generations in many different regions, but far too often we are ignored.
We have also shared our strategies and ideas about how to address these situations in our communities and around the world. We recognize that our fundamental, inherent and inalienable human rights as Indigenous Peoples are being violated, as are our spirits and life giving capacity as Indigenous women. Colonization has eroded the traditional, spiritual and cultural teachings passed down from our ancestors, our grandmothers about our sexual and reproductive health and their connection to the protection of the environment, our sacred life-giving Mother Earth. But we also recognize and affirm that many Indigenous women are reclaiming, practicing and celebrating these teachings. We commit to supporting these collective efforts now and in the future.
We have agreed to present the following values and principles that we recognize as a basis of this work as well as our collective recommendations for action, which we hopecan begin to address the devastating inter-linking impacts we are facing in our communities and Nations, and bring about positive change.
We therefore adopt by consensus this DECLARATION for the health, survival and defense of OUR LANDS, OUR RIGHTS and our FUTURE GENERATIONS.
We recognize and affirm the following:
Indigenous women are life givers, life sustainers and culture holders. Our bodies are sacred places that must be protected, honored and kept free of harmful contaminants in order for the new generations of our Nations to be born strong and healthy.
If the Earth Mother and the Sky Father are not healthy, neither are we.
Indigenous Peoples’ lands, waters and air and all living beings are being misused and poisoned by corporations, States and their Territories, based on foreign and colonial concepts that disregard the sacredness of life.
Indigenous Peoples, and in particular women and children, are suffering the detrimental, devastating, multi-generational and deadly impacts of environmental toxins and contaminates that were unheard of in our communities prior to industrialization.
These impacts include:
Contamination of mothers’ breast milk at 4 to 12 times the levels found in the mother’s body tissue in some Indigenous communities;
Elevated levels of contaminates such as POPs and heavy metals in infant cord blood;
Disproportionate levels of reproductive system cancers of the breasts, ovaries, uterus, prostate and testicles, including in young people;
Elevated rates of respiratory ailments such as asthma and lung disease;
High levels of leukemia and other cancers in infants, children and youth;
Rare, previously unknown forms of cancer among all ages in our communities;
Devastating, and in many cases, fatal birth defects known to be associated with environmental toxins such as nuclear waste, mining, and pesticides, including the increasing birth of “jelly babies” in the most contaminated areas;
Developmental delays, learning disabilities and neurological effects on babies and young children which have lifelong impacts, associated with prenatal exposure to mercury, pesticides and other environmental toxins;
Increasing numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths, and high levels of sterility and infertility in contaminated communities.
The knowledge to heal our Peoples is within our own Peoples. While many diseases caused by colonization may need to be addressed by western medicine, we know that our own healing knowledge and practices, passed down to us by our grandfathers and grandmothers, is essential for the healing of our Peoples and our Mother Earth.
The protection of our health, lands, resources including air and water, languages, cultures, traditional foods and subsistence, sovereignty and self-determination and the transmission of our traditional knowledge and teachings to our future generations are inherent and inalienable human rights. These rights are affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international standards, and must be upheld, respected and fully implemented by States (countries) and their Territories, UN bodies,corporations and Indigenous Peoples of the world.
Sovereignty and autonomy in relation to our lands, territories and resources are intricately connected to sovereignty and autonomy in relation to our bodies, minds and spirits.
Protection of our human rights and the rights of all forms of life must be a priority for environmental and reproductive justice work.
We have seen that the introduction of extractive industries (mining, drilling, logging etc.) has resulted in increased sexual violence and sexual exploitation of Indigenous women and girls in many communities, as well as increased alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted infections, divisions among our families and communities, and a range of other social and health problems.
While many communities have maintained traditional systems which continue to value women’s leadership, sexism in the larger society has had negative and lasting impacts within many Indigenous communities, including lack of recognition for the leadership role of Indigenous women in working for environmental protection and building strong communities.
The impacts of internalized colonization further include the loss of knowledge, awareness and access for Indigenous women to traditional reproductive health practices, birthing knowledge and healing practices, and even includes the criminalization of Indigenous midwives, healers and other traditional Indigenous health practices in many countries.
Foods distributed as commodities and other food aid programs by Government programs in Indigenous and tribal communities are unhealthy. They contain contaminates, GMO’s and ingredients that cause food related diseases and adverse health effects including diabetes and obesity. Impacts of economic marginalization and poverty on Indigenous families and communities must be taken into account. However the recognition and application of Food Sovereignty, including access to our traditional lands and resources and food related cultural practices, are the only real solutions to the food needs of Indigenous Peoples.
Based on the above principles and values of shared agreement, we respectfully recommend to Indigenous communities, tribal governments and the leaders of our Nations, to the States and their Territories in which we live, to corporations and institutions, and to the United Nations system and international bodies, the following actions: