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American Indian WTO Protesters Fear Loss Of Rights

Subject: WTO: Indian Country Today article

Native Peoples Protest WTO Activists Fear Threats To Sovereignty

By Valerie Taliman - Today correspondent

SEATTLE: Indigenous elders, students and activists were at the forefront of thousands of peaceful demonstrators representing labor, environmental, consumer, health and food safety groups protesting closed-door meetings by trade ministers from 135 countries gathered here to set the global economic agenda for the next 10 to 20 years.

Braving tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber pellets and hundreds of police officers in full riot gear, some 50,000 protesters succeeded in shutting down the opening session of the World Trade Organization's four-day ministerial conference Nov. 30.

By nightfall, Gov. Gary Locke had declared a state of emergency, called out the National Guard and placed a 7 p.m. curfew on the downtown area. An additional 300 officers were brought in to quell a small group of gangs who shattered windows, looted stores and painted anti-WTO graffiti on downtown businesses.

The massive demonstrations were largely fueled by concerns that global free-trade policies set by the WTO will weaken fair labor standards, environmental regulations and protections for human rights.

Many object to the sweeping powers of the WTO to over-ride the laws of nations, states and tribes if those laws present barriers to global trade.

"The WTO is here to impose corporate-managed trade rules on our food, agriculture, health, education, intellectual property and patents on life-forms," said Richard Moore of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice.

"We're the low-income, rural people of color who are disproportionately victimized by members of the WTO who want free trade, not fair trade. This profit without principles mentality is directly responsible for increases in hazardous waste, birth defects, undrinkable water and air pollution in our communities."

A delegation of Indigenous peoples representing more than 1 million constituents from communities in the United States, Canada, Asia and Central and South America joined the four-mile march bearing banners that called for protection of cultures, languages, sovereignty and Indigenous homelands.

"This isn't just about trade and economic development * it goes beyond that," said Tom Goldtooth, coordinator of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a coalition of grass-roots Native organizations. "We have grave concerns regarding free trade and its impacts on the environment, food safety and our treaty rights."

"We're concerned about the domination provided to corporations by the WTO that commodifies our water, our forests, our genes, and the theft of our intellectual property rights." In the U.S. and Canada, some tribal leaders fear new WTO trade policies will erode tribal sovereignty, trample long-standing treaty rights and threaten existing tribal laws to protect Native lands and peoples. Alvin Manitopyes, a Cree traditionalist from Calgary, Alberta, predicted that WTO's policies will mean more outside control over tribes.

"Our youth are being bombarded by corporate advertising and as a result there's a loss of culture, language and identity. The impact is going to create more economic and social hardship for our communities."

Indigenous representatives from Panama, Mexico, Columbia, and other South American countries say the current WTO policies have encouraged murder, genocide and dislocation of Indigenous peoples in their homelands.

"The weakening of trade policies and mining laws allows the free entry of corporations to take over Indigenous lands, evict Indigenous peoples and claim the rights over their resources," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Indigenous Peoples Network for Policy Research & Education, based in the Philippines.

Tauli-Corpuz was one of many Indigenous women who took part in a "Women of Diversity" forum, one of five special public forums organized to voice the views of Native elders, women, environmental justice groups and pro-sovereignty advocates.

"We came from South America because the situation for Indigenous peoples there is getting worse due to economic globalization," said Nilo Cayuqueo of the Abya Yala Fund. "Our territories have been seriously contaminated because of oil, mining, dredging of rivers and clear-cutting of our forests. In some places, we can no longer drink the water. We hope the trade ministers here will listen to us because they affect the future of Indigenous peoples and other peoples worldwide."

As the ministerial meetings finally got underway, with continued tests outside, activists of many colors and races expressed skepticism that the WTO will include a seat at the negotiating table for their causes. But they vow not to give up.

Many representatives said the ministerial negotiations will serve as a catalyst for more people to demand accountability from the WTO and to restructure the corporate-heavy WTO rule-making process.

"We're issuing a call to action to all our tribal leaders to learn more about the WTO's powerful influence and to assert our inherent rights to protect those things that are sacred to our people," said Goldtooth as the Native delegation reached police barricades.

"The bottom line is that the rights of all people to have a say in their destiny must be respected."

Debra Harry, Director Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism

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