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Marchers in Washington Call for Indigenous Rights

2019-1-19

Hundreds of people gathered in Washington Friday for the first ever Indigenous People’s March.

Marchers came from big cities and small towns across the United States and as far away as Australia. Many of them are indigenous activists. They work in support of native groups around the world.

Among other things, the protesters called attention to four main issues: environmental injustices; voter suppression; police abuse; and an end to trafficking of indigenous women.

Indigenous leaders participate in a protest march and rally in opposition to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines on October 3, 2017.
Indigenous leaders participate in a protest march and rally in opposition to the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines on October 3, 2017.

Up to 2.5 billion people depend on indigenous and community lands, which make up more than half of the world’s land. But indigenous people own just 10 percent.

Campaigners said native people are fighting for land rights against governments, loggers and mining and agricultural companies.

“We’re in support of the aims of indigenous peoples from across the world – that is for our safety, health, the protection of our families and our water, for the protection of our lives,” Rufus Kelly said. He is a member of the Nottoway Tribe of Virginia.

The event had several speakers, including elected officials. Attendees also led prayers, sang and performed traditional dances.

One speaker was Deb Haaland, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As she stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Haaland shouted, “It’s a great day to be indigenous, isn’t it!?” She thanked the crowd for coming and said, “This is Indian land.”

Haaland is from New Mexico and a member of the Laguna pueblo tribe. She was one of the first of two Native American women elected to U.S. Congress.

At the march, Haaland noted that Native Americans had waited 240 years for a seat in Congress “and now we have two,” she said. “So that means we are going to make some issues front and center.”

Ruth Buffalo was another speaker at the march. She was recently elected as the first Native American Democrat in the North Dakota state legislature. Buffalo credited her win to local activists who helped register indigenous North Dakotans to vote.

Latoya, an indigenous activist from Australia, also spoke. She talked about police abuse against the country’s native population.

The Indigenous People’s March opened Friday with a prayer in front of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A prayer leader asked attendees to honor the ground beneath them, which was once indigenous land.

“And feel through your feet through this hard surface and reach down underneath – there’s soft earth,” she said.

She asked native forefathers to bless the day’s activities.

“We’re standing here this morning in the footsteps of so many ancestors,” she said.

The Indigenous People’s March was the idea of the Indigenous People’s Movement. The movement seeks to unify native people from North, South and Central America, the Pacific, Canada, and the Caribbean.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this report for Learning English. It contains information from reports by Reuters news agency, VOAnews.com and other sources.

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Words in This Story

indigenousadj. a word referring to the native people of a place

traffickingn. the act of illegally transporting people from one area to another, usually for forced labor or sexual exploitation

loggern. a person or company whose job is to cut down trees for wood

bureaun. a government department or part of a government department in the U.S.

blessv. to make something or someone holy by saying a special prayer