The Indigenous Women's Struggle to Fight for Land


POOR correspondent - Posted on 02 July 2010

"One does not sell the land people walk on..."---Crazy Horse, Sept. 23, 1875

Mari Villaluna
Friday, February 26, 2010;

Two years ago, I went on the Longest Walk 2, an Indigenous Spiritual Walk to protect the earth and sacred sites. (For more info on the walk go to: http://www.poormagazine.org/index.cfm?L1=news&category=35&story=2061) On that walk I listened to so many stories about the land and people's connection to thier land and where they are from. There was a man in the 9th ward in New Orleans who was rebuilding his house, and while other walkers and I were laying down the foundation, he had this glow to his face. He was so happy that people he never met just started to help him. For him, the 9th ward was not his ancestral land but that is where his personal creation story started and it was important to him that his future descendants got to spread roots where he lived.

While I was in College, I went to my ancestral lands located in the Pacific Ocean. When the plane landed I almost cried, I was so happy. I finally made the journey that I was meant to learn from. After a week, I felt lonely living in the Capital, finally I got to go to my mother's village. I got to walk past the school my mother went to, and where my grandma was a teacher. I got to go to Rizal Park, I got to hang out with grandmothers at their store, and eat roasted peanuts all day. Most importantly I got to sleep in the house my mother was raised in and see the one shelf with her name on it, where she put all the clothes she owned.

I recently found out about Ida Yellowman (Dine') who is currently in the struggle to fight with her mother Helen Ann N. Yellowman to live on their ancestral lands located in Montezuma Creek, Utah. Her family has been trying to return to thier homeland, and in thier Nation's traditional 'ownership' of land is passed through the Women. Helen Ann N. Yellowman is being questioned as the rightful 'owner' based on her gender since she is not a man, and ownership in western society is passed down through men. Since only the men in her family are the ones with thier names on the land documents it is disputed that she is the rightful owner of her ancestral lands. Ida Yellowman, her daughter had this to say about her mother and her spirit, "And I am the one telling this story for my mother who is an elder at 80 years old, non-English speaking fiesty young lady who wants her story told to the world of the injustice and unfairness of being denied her use of her tribal lands."

The notion of who owns land is a battle that has existed on this land since Non-natives wanted the land Indigenous Nations were in charge of taking care of. Indigenous peoples idea of land is very different than a western view of land. Indigenous peoples see the land as being caretakers whereas a Western point of view is that it is to be owned by individual/family and can be bought or sold. Chief Seattle, chief of the Suquamis, talked about the selling of land and touched upon the process of allotment of land to Native Americans, "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?... So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves... We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs." Indigenous peoples never sold land until Non-natives came here, and even the idea of selling land is questionable.

In 1941 Grazing Permits were issued to Little Wagon's in Montezuma Creek, Utah. Then following in 1959, there was a grazing permit transfer from Little Wagon to Helen Yellowman. In 1982, the oil corportation Texaco requested temporary boundaries with Helen Yellowman to continue working on thier land and was offered compensation for livestock loss and surface damage, which proves Texaco’s knowledge of Helen Yellowman’s ownership of land. Ida Yellowman is now fighting to keep her family's land in thier care, this week in a legal battle in the case Yellowman vs. Johnson.

Just how I felt a connection to my ancestral land, Yellowman feels the breath of her ancestors who lived on this land and it is her right to return to this land. In the press release, it states, "The only primary goal of the Yellowman family to is obtain the traditional lands for the Yellowmans so she can live peaceably with freedom to live and practice her traditional and cultural ways in her own original lands. There is no other interest at hand since Helen Yellowman is at the sunset of her life and all she wants is the truth to come out and justice to be done."

Please support Ida Yellowman by praying for justice and by bringing media attention to this case. Let other people know that there are watchdogs who follow developments in tribal court cases regarding land disputes. Send economic support to: Ida Yellowman P.O. Box 236, Blanding, Utah 84511. All donations will go towards all expenses of the court case. Any donations would be appreciated.

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