By Alison Marks
In early April, the Indigenous Summit of the Americas took place in Panama, concurrent with the Summit of the Americas, which many folks in the US heard about because of the historic handshake between the presidents of the United States and Cuba.
But there was another story going on that our Shift community was deeply connected with. Our good friend and host of The Shift Network’s Global Indigenous Wisdom Summit, Chief Phil Lane Jr., alerted us that the president of Panama did not follow through on his promise to fund the Indigenous Summit of the Americas, and our brothers and sisters were left to pay the expenses themselves. Furthermore, Indigenous delegates were denied access to the Summit of the Americas.
Shift Network CEO Stephen Dinan saw an opportunity to support our friends and channel some financial resources through an Indiegogo campaign. In three days over 800 people from 42 countries pitched in to raise our goal of $50,000! (Perhaps you were one of them?)
This event also turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for me, serving as the Shift Network’s Director of Summits, to go along for the ride to conduct some interviews for this year’s Global Indigenous Wisdom Summit. (The Shift Network covered my costs, separate from the Indiegogo campaign.) Not only did I get some wonderful video interviews (which you’ll get to see in November - sign up here to get access to last year’s summit and be notified about this year’s), but I participated in the events surrounding the Summit itself. Below are my reports back from Panama to the campaign donors, describing a dramatic and triumphant series of events.
[By the way, some of the Indigenous folks from throughout the Americas who were in Panama will be meeting again in Canada in June. As we ultimately raised nearly $65,000, all the funds left over from the Panama summit will be used to support this gathering. If you’re moved, come join us by contributing! The Indiegogo campaign is still open.]
UPDATE #1 - April 9
I'm writing to you from my hotel room in Panama City where the Cumbre is happening, and feel moved to share with you just how incredibly important your contributions are. Yesterday - the day before the summit started - I spent several hours at the travel agency booking flights for some indigenous leaders from Peru, Bolivia and Honduras. Until I arrived with your donations in hand, they couldn't make reservations - meaning that some people couldn't even get flights to arrive here until late in the day today, thus missing half the summit. When I asked if it was worth it to spend these precious dollars to bring them in for just the second and final day of the summit, I was put through immediately to the head of the Coordinating Committee and assured that yes, the second day was most important because that is the day that the document to be delivered to the governments will be signed. The leader coming from Bolivia represents MILLIONS of indigenous people throughout all of South America. The leader from Honduras also represents several different groups in that country. It is VERY important that they all be here, get a chance to meet with their contemporaries, and have a presence in the official proceedings.
This morning we started the day with a sunrise ceremony at a local park, with fire and smudging, drumming and song, blessings and prayers, followed by a spontaneous march through the streets back to the hotel, whose way was opened for us by a police officer who wanted a photo with some of the participants decorated and dressed in their traditional indigenous outfits (and, I suspect, by much larger forces as well!).
A fun highlight was when the 15 chiefs and caciques who were at the head of the line crammed into a small elevator back at the hotel - that then got stuck! I was waiting when they were finally freed. We heard banging but no one on the ground knew who was in there. A great roar went up when the doors finally opened and out came Brother Phil with his full headdress, followed by one of the oldest and most revered Guna (Kuna) leaders. Someone had introduced me to this man, Gilberto Arias, yesterday and said, "He is the last of his kind. With him will go so much knowledge."
I wasn't in most of the official sessions today because I was getting the video crew set up for interviews. Yes, this year we're going to include video in the Global Indigenous Wisdom Summit, and it's going to be AMAZING! The two incredible human beings I interviewed today were Darcy Demas - Dakota from Canada, who is a drummer and singer and beautiful soul - and Irma Caisamo, an Emberá healer from here in Panama who works with plants and energy. She has known she would be sharing her message with the world, and was waiting for the opening for doing so. I feel like I found a long-lost family member in her, and we both finished the interview in tears.
So, my friends, you can rest assured that your donations are being put to good use, and that your prayers are being felt - in the answered prayers of others. Thank you again for making this Cumbre possible. (We'll save details about all the political shenanigans that are still going on for another email!) It really, truly would not be happening without you. As I'm coming to appreciate even more deeply, supporting our world's indigenous people is one of the most noble and important things we can do with our precious time, energy and resources. I'm so thrilled that you agree...
UPDATE #2 - April 15
We’ve made history!
Now back home after a week in Panama at the Indigenous Summit of the Americas / Cumbre de Abya Yala, I’m thrilled to be writing you with even more knowledge and conviction that your contribution to this campaign made - and will continue to make - an important difference.
We'll send an official - and very moving - Thank You video from some of the organizers of the summit soon. We’re getting it translated to English for you, so keep your eyes open for it. In the meantime, let me share with you a few things…
I talked with Brother Phil yesterday, who said the networks are blowing up with news about what happened last week... the declaration that was drafted, the alliances that were woven, and the visibility that indigenous people of the Americas got.
My last report came after the first day of the two-day summit, and I shared with you that Cumbre participants would be drafting a declaration intended to be delivered to the heads of state at the Summit of the Americas. (Check your email for Thursday's email if you missed it.) Since the official pathways for submitting the document were blocked, after the closing ceremony of the Cumbre everyone gathered outside and peacefully marched through Panama City’s streets to deliver it personally. After a mile or so of marching, the crowd turned a corner and up ahead in the distance there was a cordon of riot police stretched out across the street awaiting us. As we approached, the drum beat got louder and more insistent, and the press became thick.
Brother Phil was definitely the hero of this story! He moved right through the crowd, looked over one of those shields with a warm smile and eyes of deep conviction, and started engaging the officer in front of him with light conversation about how hot it must be in that helmet. He knew he was getting through. Period. And he was going to do it with love.
Sure enough, at a certain point, it was like the police all suddenly thought, “What are we doing here?” and they just peeled away, one by one. Fourteen Indigenous brothers and sisters packed into a van, where they were taken to the Summit of the Americas. The rest of us marched a bit further then stayed for a few hours there in the middle of the street, and passed the time with lots of music and dancing and talking with new friends as we waited for the leaders to return so we could all walk back to the hotel together.
It was beautiful to watch groups coming together that previously weren’t connected or aligned. Darcy (who I talked about in the last email, who is Dakota) lent his drum to the young Emberá dancers, and later to another group, who was drumming on it to another beat with empty water bottles. People joined in to learn dances from other groups. Barriers were broken down and alliances formed as we stood around together. Walking back to the hotel I translated between two men who were from totally different parts of the world but who had had very similar experiences growing up as Indigenous boys. And this was a theme I heard over and over again throughout the Cumbre - “We are different, but we are also the same.” And also, “I thought we were alone, but now I know we are not.” And that second one is also where you come in.
I can’t tell you how grateful people were, not just to have received your donations, but to know that over 800 PEOPLE FROM 42 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD SUPPORT THEM. Incredible. Beyond anything they could have imagined. When your donations were mentioned, there was a standing ovation - the only time that happened during the Cumbre. I’m so excited for you to watch the thank you videos we’ll send soon because you will see and feel in your heart that your stepping up as you did gave fuel to a fire that will not be extinguished.
What is happening right now is so important. Indigenous communities that were once isolated are connecting with one another, fulfilling the prophecy of the reunion of the condor (South America) the quetzal (Central America) and the eagle (North America) - and beyond. The image I have is of mycelium - the beautiful and complex networks that live in soil and without which life couldn’t exist. Indigenous communities are connecting with each other. While maintaining their own unique identities, they’re also weaving and strengthening bonds with other Indigenous peoples creating a strong network that, as this work continues, will become more and more impossible to destroy or even ignore. And just like the mycelium, this network across the planet is vital for life here to continue.
We are all in this together… I’m glad you know that, too, and that we’re all part of this incredible movement at this incredible moment in history.
UPDATE #3 - April 22
If you’ll recall, last week I shared with you some photos and the story about the march to the Summit of the Americas. What I didn’t tell you is that the leaders who did make it through the cordon of riot police to be escorted the Summit a few miles away were treated well, but after a few hours were asked to come back the following day to address the presidents and prime ministers. So the following day, a van arrived at the hotel and whisked them across town, where they were heartily greeted by Panama’s Minister of Foreign Relations - and a gaggle of press!
But as has happened so many times, they discovered that the warm welcome they received was spoken out of a different side of the mouth from what they heard just moments later when they were escorted to the entrance of the Summit of the Americas across the street: that while the government was glad the Indigenous leaders had arrived, they would not be permitted to enter! (Do you detect a theme?)
BUT! Moments later, Chief Phil Lane, Jr. saw President Evo Morales of Bolivia — himself an Indigenous leader — entering a building nearby. And Brother Phil took off, with the other Indigenous representatives and the press in tow. President Morales met briefly with the delegation to receive the Declaration. After so many defeats, this was a victorious moment! Our videographer was there and captured this video of the meeting of leaders - it’s uncut so a little rough, but you’ll get the idea.
There have been a lot of roadblocks — from losing the pledged financial support of the Panamanian government for the Indigenous Cumbre to being blocked from the formal proceedings at the Summit of the Americas, to, later, the literal roadblock in the road (and then being blocked again from entering the Summit).
And yet in the end this is a story of victory. I just got an email from Brother Phil where he told me that a major international press story will be coming out about the Indigenous Summit of the Americas. He went on to say, “As well, formal invitations are in process to invite our Indigenous Summit Commission to deliver the Declaration to various heads of states directly. Strange... if the government of Panama would have let us complete our work and meet directly with all the heads of state, as they promised, these other multiple opportunities to share would not be manifesting with greater impact across the Americas. As they say, the Creator does not close a door without opening a window!!!!!”
The Declaration of the Indigenous Summit of the Americas is an incredibly full and beautiful document. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read what representatives of the Indigenous peoples of the hemisphere are coming together around. It’s a no-brainer for all of us to learn from and move forward with, as our destiny in these times is truly one.
Again, thank you for being part of this piece of history. It is more essential than ever to continue the leadership development and collaboration that can give indigenous peoples the voice, influence, and respect they deserve - and that all of us will benefit from as a result. Stay tuned for more soon!
With much love,
Director of Summits for The Shift Network
Watch this special and very moving video message of thanks from our partners in Panama — Candido Mezua and Williams Barrigon Dogirama of COONAPIP — as well as Chief Phil Lane, Jr.