Nov. 9, 2010

Panelists: Arizona SB 1070 has had profound impact on Native Americans

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 has seriously affected Native Americans, said Michael Flores, an indigenous peoples' rights activist, speaking on a panel Nov. 3 in Goldwin Smith Hall.

The bill, which was signed into law April 23, made it legal for police officers to request evidence of citizenship during a lawful stop. Illegal immigrants at least 14 years of age are required to register with the U.S. government and acquire proper documentation. Carrying these documents is now imperative to avoid facing a misdemeanor charge, explained the panelists.

The event was part of a series of activities on campus organized by Cornell's American Indian Program to recognize American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

SB 1070 also states that driving, hiding and protecting an illegal immigrant constitute punishable crimes, Flores noted. One of the most noticeable effects of the law, he said, is that increasingly, non-indigenous individuals are replacing indigenous workers in fast food chains. He added that many non-Natives claim that indigenous migrant workers take all the jobs, but the truth is that these are jobs that very few non-Native people want, he said.

More importantly, he added, since the bill became law, racism has become legitimized, and violence against Native peoples "is more blatant than ever." Recently, "tribal members out in the desert chopping wood have been handcuffed and beaten because they didn't have any identification on them," he said. Although the people were on their tribal land, he noted, "somehow the border patrol saw this as a legitimate way to detain people and abuse people violently."

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

Other Cornell events scheduled to commemorate American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, included an Oct. 29-30 conference, Sovereignty, Indigeneity and the Law, which addressed political, social and cultural issues in contemporary indigenous communities, including the political possibilities of western law and the alternatives of indigenous laws; a discussion on indigenous educational research, Nov. 4; music by Cornbred, an award-winning Native American musical group Nov. 12, 9-10:30 p.m., Townhouse Community Center; a storytelling performance by Marge Bruchac, Saanii Atsitty and friends, Nov. 13, 1 p.m., Akwe:kon; and a Harvest Celebration Dinner, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m., Risley Dining Hall.

Panelist Alan Gomez, a professor at Arizona State University, attributed such violent treatment of indigenous people to the border control's acting on the premise that "hierarchies within humanity" rightfully exist, and those on top are lawfully endorsed to enforce power.

"You do away with people's ... ability to dream and have their culture, and you limit their ability to move," he said, emphasizing that the law invokes an atmosphere where "there's an expectation of certain communities [acting] to police other communities."

This expectation of racial prejudice is troubling when considering younger generations brought up under such mentalities, he said, and how these mentalities will affect their treatment of racially diverse communities.

Panelist Margo Tamez, an assistant professor at University of British Columbia, who has interviewed Native Americans affected by the law and worked closely with various Native American tribes, remarked that indigenous communities have directly felt the Mexico-United States border wall's segregating consequences. On a physical scale, they have lost access to burial sites and other important traditional locations, she said. On a socio-cultural scale, they are losing the tribe's inherited sense of identity.

"Indigenous peoples are resisting numerous kinds of destruction to our lives, our bodies and to our communities," she said. The new law has increased racist acts against Native peoples, she added, who continue to work for justice in the region and elsewhere.

Caitlin Parker '13 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.